Putting things off – Why do I do it?

Putting things offI decided to write about the topic of putting things off. Yes, you’ve guessed right – I couldn’t get started, and kept delaying until the deadline almost passed me by. Of course I blamed this on ‘writers’ block’.

Then I remembered what Bill Watterson wrote:

“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
What mood is that?
Last-minute panic.”

Anyway I do feel that writing is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Putting off things like getting started can be fatal.

 

Who hasn’t failed to take some action because they couldn’t be bothered ‘just now’? It’s so much nicer chatting with a friend on the phone or watching a tv programme than doing something that involves concentration and is a bit boring or unpleasant. When putting things off, it’s not really that you didn’t decide to do it – somehow it just didn’t happen.

Saying ‘I forgot’ to keep the important hospital appointment or ‘I never found the right time’ to renew the expired passport, starts to wear a bit thin and family members can get really exasperated. People tend to assume you are lazy or lack will power. So why can anyone be so tardy putting things off — even important things — when the disapproval of others is hard to take?

One possible reason might be that you have no updated ‘to do’ list.  Dealing with the complexity of life these days does require careful personal organisation: something like a personal planner to remind you what needs doing and by when. A stitch in time saves nine. You may not always have a pen to hand when you need one, so these days many people are using the organiser section of their mobile phone to make notes of names, times of buses, the name of the play group, a reminder to contact so and so about a booking, gifts you could buy etc. More difficult putting things off when you are better organised.

A reason for putting things off might also be because you find some tasks just add to your daily ration of stress and you are the sort of person who emotionally copes by not thinking about things that you don’t like. Put them out of mind and they may go away. Except that putting things off doesn’t mean they will go away, which you find out to your cost later.

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”(Charles Dickens)

Another reason for putting things off might be a self-defeating mentality.  It is sometimes said ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. But you don’t feel tough — just pretty hopeless and demoralised by the whole thing. The more one says to oneself – ‘it isn’t easy,’ ‘I don’t want to have to think about it,’ ‘it needs a lot of time’ then it’s a strange thing how the task can become a burden. What started off as a little molehill gradually turns into something bigger. You found that the more you put the job off the more a mountain it felt you had to climb to get it done.

“There’s nothing so fatiguing as an uncompleted task” (William James)

Many procrastinators overestimate the unpleasantness of a task. If they give something a try they often find it wasn’t as difficult as they thought.

Having said that, carrying out one’s pledges is a challenge for everyone. Whether it be athletes or dancers keeping to their training programme or parents following through consistently threats made to naughty children. It’s not just politicians who make broken promises.

Actually doing what we plan to do is an issue that also applies to bigger personal changes: like adopting better habits of eating, moderating alcohol intake, and regular physical exercise. In fact any personal or spiritual goal that challenges our resolve comes to mind. Such a needed change can be a prime candidate as a reason for putting things off; such as setting aside time and energy for one’s children, keeping to a new spiritual discipline, or contributing to a good charitable cause.

But isn’t this what our human existence is all about? Is not our determination and resolve to tackle personal challenge, always being tested by life? Set backs, disappointments, extra demands, and other unforeseen circumstances seem to conspire to defeat our good intentions.

“It happens time and again, putting things off that we convince ourselves might be better, more meaningful, more appropriate for another time. So often that better time either never comes or really isn’t better or more appropriate after all. And then, sadly, the window of opportunity — to do something great — closes.” (Tim Tebow, Through My Eyes)

It is one thing to write down in one’s diary an important task but when you are still putting things off, quite another thing to carry it through.

Many religiously-minded people have wanted to be saved from their sense of personal inadequacy. They believe they cannot just in their own strength withstand this sort of temptation: the selfish or worldly attractions to put off accomplishing spiritual tasks and give up following a moral path.

Have they not found something greater than themselves working in them and helping them to carry out their pledges, their personal goals and their desire to change their conduct? Like members of Alcoholics Anonymous they have turned to their concept of a higher divine power and there have found hope and encouragement. After all their God is no procrastinator!

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems