It’s on my ‘to do’ list

by Bill Ralston / 29 January, 2013
A Procrastinator Pro, eh? Let me think about that.
Bourgeois Man cartoon by Steve Bolton
Bourgeois Man and his ceaseless mission to tell everyone else how to live /cartoon by Steve Bolton

Don’t you hate it when scientific research confirms a weakness in your personality that you’ve always secretly suspected but were too afraid to admit?

I stupidly participated in an online research survey after reading a New York Times article that said a worldwide study of 24,000 people found that procrastination was pervasive, 95% of us do it occasionally and 15-20% of us do it so much that it’s a problem. I know, the figures don’t add up, but I couldn’t be bothered working out why that was. I’ll try to check it out tomorrow.

After laboriously clicking “agree/disagree” on dozens of answers, I thought I’d put up a decent showing that would prove I was a go-getter, an up-and-at-’em kind of guy who never left until tomorrow what he could do today.

“Your score is 64 out of a possible 100”, flashed the screen. “You’re a Procrastination Pro!”

“I am not!” I bellowed at the page in front of me. It went on, “You’re in the top 10-15% of the population in terms of your procrastination.”


“Probably your work doesn’t engage you as much as you would like or perhaps you are surrounded by easily available and enticing temptations.”

“Am not!” My tantrum continued. “I love my job. I’ve just come back from a long holiday. It takes time to get into full work mode, you know. What temptations? I haven’t had a long boozy lunch all year!”

Well, this year, anyway.

The annoying thing is the site didn’t have a comment or feedback box where I could lodge an appeal. The cunning researchers must have expected that kind of flak and wisely made the post-survey conversation entirely one-way. Bastards.

More frustrating – even if I was tempted to agree with them – was the advice it handed out to help overcome my alleged procrastination disability.

  • Goal-setting. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all set goals – it’s achieving them that’s the problem, for heaven’s sake.

  • Stimulus control. The advice here is to rid your desk and office of temptations; no chitchat, no web-surfing. How the hell do I do that? I work on a computer that’s logged into the interwebby thing, my office is my home where the fridge is just a few paces away and I work with my wife, who definitely would not approve of my apparent all-day no chitchat sulk.

  • Routines. Set yourself a regular series of things to do. “Eventually, like brushing your teeth, it will likely become something you just do, without taking too much effort at all.” That is a Tui billboard. People put off doing things that are too hard, too time consuming or too awful to contemplate. For most of us, brushing our teeth is none of those things. Unless you are a teenager.

My advice to fellow procrastinators is much better. Draw up a “To Do List”. I know, it’s hard, but you’ll get around to it eventually. Cross off the list everything that will not result in death, bankruptcy, divorce or social ostracism. Having got rid of the irrelevant stuff, you can concentrate on the truly important tasks at hand. The chances are there will be nothing left on the To Do List by that time, anyway.

Most chores solve themselves without having to angst about them. For example, we have run out of fly spray and I really should go to the dairy and get some more. At the moment I can’t be bothered as the flies are few, but when the heat in the day builds up and the wind drops, the house will fill with the vile winged foe. At the point at which I am spending most of my time swotting them with a rolled-up newspaper and waving my arms like a whirling dervish, I will lose patience and storm up the road to buy a new can. Problem solved.

The lesson from all this is – don’t do online surveys and any problem will sort itself out eventually. Don’t sweat it.
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