Are We All Procrastinators? Community Prospectives

Are We All Procrastinators?

This month, I was a bit late submitting my column to the editors, I even had to ask for an extension of a few days, and I don't even recall asking for an extension in college. So, that does not make me feel good.

The editors were gracious about the delay, but I was uncomfortable about asking for an extension in the first place. Sure, I have had to juggle many business trips — in the past two weeks alone I have had to be in New York City, Philadelphia, and Toronto, where I spoke at the Canadian Condominium Institute's 11th Annual Conference (held jointly with the Association of Condominium Managers of Ontario — ACMO).

I am just as thinly spread as the average modern-day business executive, and could use that as an excuse. But if I am honest with myself, I should ask if I could have planned it all better to avoid asking for an extension, and, above all, did I procrastinate? Could I have multi-tasked more effectively?

We live in an era where children grow up multi-tasking, where workplaces place greater expectations on their employees, and where everyone seems to be running out of time. Part of the greater pressures has to do with advances in technology, and the expectations that we place on ourselves and others relative to performance because of technology.

I have met people who have taken multi-tasking to the extreme, for instance, bragging that they respond to emails while driving and while stuck in traffic jams — a deplorable and dangerous act that could result in fatalities, and definitely not justifiable grounds for bragging.

But then again, technology has its effects on our mentality and expectations. You have to admit that you sometimes get anxious when the computer takes too long to load all the files and the seconds you wait appear to be interminable. Or, when the elevator doors take too long to close, or open, you get jittery.

Considering how impatient we are with technology, one might think that we might be impatient with ourselves as well, pushing us to complete projects as soon as they land on our laps or desks. But that is not how human psyche works.

Most people experience some sort of procrastination — some are mild procrastinators, while others are chronic procrastinators, and yet others are downright hopeless procrastinators. Most procrastinators live pretty successful lives if they are on the mild end of the spectrum. The chronic ones live stressful lives, and the hopeless ones, well, the category is self-explanatory, never get around to accomplishing much, always looking for external explanations.

There are various scientific views trying to get to the core of what causes procrastination, and the one that makes most sense is that procrastination is a handy subconscious buffer protecting us from failure.

For instance, as many students can relate to this scenario, if you start studying until the night before the exam or don't start writing the paper until the day before it's due, even if you don't get a good grade, there is a good explanation that you did not dedicate as much time to it, which is why the grade is not good.

But if you make all the effort and the grade is still not good, then the blame would be internalized. In essence, procrastination plays a cushioning role in protecting people from failing, at least in their own self-perception.

John Carroll writes that "Confucius said a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step. For procrastinators, the trouble starts with that first step: They don't take it." This act of not taking the first step takes its toll, though, pushing the procrastinator into a sense of indecision — which is known to be most stress- and anxiety provoking, whether we realize it or not.

Procrastination has been part of human condition from time immemorial, and will likely be with us for millennia to come. However, is there a way to combat it, to make us more effective, and less susceptible to it? One would think that multitasking enabled by computer technology might make us more effective in addressing procrastination. Turns out that the opposite is true. In fact, multitaskers rely on interruptions caused by their behavior to further their ways of procrastination.

For instance, if you compulsively go to check your e-mail — not to mention to that solitaire or other computer game — in the middle of writing a report, it's not multitasking, but rather a way of extending procrastination.

Actually, a series of recent studies have shown that multitasking in all likelihood makes us less effective. Charlotte Huff writes that "One study reveals that the practice can undercut learning. Another study demonstrates how it [multitasking] causes the brain to develop a neural bottleneck and become unable to process even two simple tasks simultaneously."

So, multitasking is not the answer to conquering procrastination. So, what effect does procrastination have on community associations? The short answer is: great. Community associations are run by people, in the roles of trustees and managers. Organizations and institutions actually take on the behavioral patters of their decision-makers, as the latter set the pace and define the culture.

So, if you hear statements such as "Things in this condo take too long;" "Or nothing in this association happens from a meeting to a meeting," it would be more apt to rephrase those statements to say something along the lines of ,"The decision-makers in this organization have a chronic procrastination problem," which is the root cause of the matter, after all.

Below are a few tips that can help procrastinators, mild and extreme act faster:

Recognize your own procrastinating behavior for what it is — unless you do that, you will not conquer your procrastination much.

Do not shoot for perfection, rather aim for completion. Develop a mindset that what you do should not be ideal from the first pass. Think in terms of incremental improvements. The more you see results, the less you will be inclined to procrastinate.

If you get an adrenaline high from doing things under deadline pressure, then break up the project into smaller segments, and attach daily or weekly deadlines. That way, you are bound to be making steady progress on the project.

If you respond well to lists, then make a list of tasks that make up the project and check them off as the tasks get completed. The checked tasks will give you a sense of progress and confidence, and are more likely to spur you forward.

Set certain times aside to FOCUS just on the issue or project that you have been procrastinating about — this means no multi-tasking, as you make certain headway, you are bound to be more successful with the project, and procrastinate less.

And last, but not least, take a break and get some rest — our brains do get tired and exhausted, and in such a state have a harder time focusing, which may explain why some projects become backlogged. In our wired world, it is sometimes hard to do this, but you must give yourself some "unplugged rest" to become more effective and less prone to procrastination.

I am curious to hear if any of the readers have combated their procrastination with effective results, and if you have any tips to share. In the end, our community associations will operate far more effectively if we procrastinate less, which, counter to common expectations, requires less multi-tasking!