The Art of Procrastination

Nancy Giles sunday morning contributor

Like many people, Sunday Morning contributor Nancy Giles has a procrastination problem. She discusses the many reasons and ways she finds to put things off until later.

Did you know that there are over 14 million Google listings about procrastination? One could read article after article, from scientific and psychological journals, to business magazines, self-help books and the like, take notes, be actively involved in researching the subject, feel incredibly productive, and actually be procrastinating all the while. It's a perfect procrastination storm!

From Scarlett O'Hara's last lines in "Gone With The Wind" - "I'll think about it tomorrow, after all, tomorrow is another day!" to modern icons like "Seinfeld" and even Charlie Brown, many of us do it: Put things off, hem and haw, deal with things "later." According to Psychology Today, 20 percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators.

There's a Spanish proverb: "Tomorrow is the busiest day of the week." I can relate. When I sit down at my desk to write, strange things happen: I'll sit down, open the computer, write a list, and that's a start, but I never did call that guy at the union, and aren't there dishes in the sink?

Then back to the desk, and I've got a bunch of one-step-above-Spam e-mails to read and delete. And where's that tall clothing Web site for the perfect long jacket "nipped at the waist," like Trinny and Suzanne suggested on BBC America's "What Not To Wear?"

Then the phone rings, and I'm flossing my teeth - what is that, a popcorn skin? I look for it in the mirror. What's wrong with my hair? Maybe if I wash it and put the cream moisturizer on it while it's wet and let it air dry, I'll have the texture I want. And so goes a typical morning. And it all eats up time, and I'm no closer to doing the thing I really need to be doing.

Deadlines help, even though the word "dead-line" is harsh. But harshness with the procrastinator is sometimes called for.

So is setting smaller goals, making molehills out of projects that seem mountainous, and rewarding yourself each time the smaller job is done. Those perfectionist day-dreams where months, or years go by until the thing is "just right" in your mind? Hello! Wake up, so you can actually start something in your real life.

So. I'll ignore the lint trap in the dryer, find my perfect felt-tipped pen later, and take the sage advice of Dr. Martin Luther King: "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."

Wish me luck.