Don't Delay

Understanding procrastination and how to achieve our goals

March 4th! - It's National Procrastination Week

Why National Procrastination Week misses the point.

National Procrastination WeekIt's March fourth, and, of course, time to "march forth" right into the middle of National Procrastination Week. I suppose you could say it's ironic. I'm sure many see it as funny. I just think the farcical week reflects a misunderstanding of the difference between delay and procrastination.

If you search the Internet for or as we often say "Google" National Procrastination Week and read the thousands of posts that you'll find, you'll soon see a theme emerge. Most are "tongue in cheek" examples of  putting off tasks until next week. The image that accompanies my blog posting is also typical. I can't help but smile at the irony here.

Common also is this sentiment that I found at answers.com - National Procrastination Week: "To promote the many benefits of putting off until tomorrow everything that needn’t be done today." This national celebration puts an emphasis on the good side of procrastination, right?

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I certainly agree that delay can make sense. Who in their right mind would do today what "needn't be done today"? Putting off until tomorrow what could be done tomorrow seems like a sagacious delay to me, not procrastination. Of course there are many benefits to delay like this. I'm all for putting off until tomorrow tasks that needn't be done today.

The trouble is, it seems common to define any and all delay as procrastination, and then, because we all realize that some delay is bad (true procrastination) while some is good, we create a positive side to procrastination.  I've even seen published research that has done this, even though I and my colleagues with decades of research experience specific to procrastination balk at the notion. It's impossible to do meaningful research or even discuss concepts in a meaningful way if we don't define our terms carefully and consistently.That's the problem with National Procrastination Week. It means everything and nothing.

As for really celebrating procrastination with a National Procrastination Week, I'm all for it. Next we can add: National Over-Eating Week, National Compulsive-Shopping Week, National Addicted-Gamblers Week, and we could even add a week for problem drinkers as well. In fact, I'm sure we could find something for at least one week a month to celebrate all the flavors of our self-regulation failure.

No doubt there will be people who defend life-styles that lead to obesity, unmanageable debt and substance abuse. Hey, Vegas does a great job of this 24/7, 365 days/year.  We humans are expert at self-deception and cognitive-dissonance reduction. It seems to be a cultural epidemic of our time in fact.

We can rest assured that neither human nature nor our seemingly limited willpower will  be changing soon. So, I think it's time I get into the spirit of National Procrastination Week and transform my Carpe Diem cartoons into a greeting card business. Ok, I may make them all belated greetings, but that's in keeping with the spirit of things, right? Yep, it's time I got going on this new business. But not this week!

 

 

Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he specializes in the study of procrastination.

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