• Living in ProcrastinationLand

    by Sunny Schlenger

    Putting things off and wandering around under the cloud of anxiety caused by putting them off can greatly affect our ability to enjoy the present moment. For instance, there are generally two types of people when it comes to tax season: those who deal with April 15th in January and those who deal with April 15th on April 14th. Yes, some of us fall in the middle, but if, by the end of March, you’re just getting around to beginning to think about the possibility of doing your taxes, you qualify for membership in the second group.

    The thought of dealing with taxes is usually not a pleasant one, especially if you do not expect to receive a refund. And what do we do with unpleasant thoughts? We shove them into a tiny mental closet and try not to have anything to do with them until or unless they ooze out from under that closet door.

    The mind games we play to avoid doing what we don’t feel like doing can be truly amazing. They can even surpass the complexity of the task itself. To give you an example: I’m five feet tall. Most pairs of slacks that I buy need to be shortened, which means making occasional trips to the seamstress. This is not very difficult to do, in and of itself, but I tend to put it off.

    This brings us to the secondary difficulty with procrastinating: the act of putting something off engenders its own guilt and makes us uncomfortable. We then try not to think about the fact that we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing. So my bag of unaltered clothes has now morphed into a guilt trip, which totally bypasses the logic that I’m putting off something that I need to do and want to do, and the doing of which will make me very happy.

    At this juncture in ProcrastinationLand, it should be obvious that it would be easier to just go ahead and do what I’m putting off rather than to continue to avoid it. Oh, but no! By this time, I’ve had a go at the “Drink Me” bottle that makes things appear much larger than they normally are. The simple little prospect of dashing in and out of the seamstress’s place has become overwhelming. I think about it every time I walk by the bag of clothes, and every time I drive by her storefront, and when I see her somewhere else in town. (“Off with her head!”) This undone task is haunting me, and I want out.

    And then one day I have nothing to wear, or so it seems. I go to the seamstress with my bag of clothes and have them altered. The End.

    Why do I do this to myself? Why do any of us put off things that have to be done eventually, aggravating ourselves unnecessarily in the process, especially when they’re not that big a deal to begin with? (In my case, I believe it has to do with my seamstress’s location in the dry cleaner’s shop and how uncomfortable the very small dressing room is there.)

    There can be a number of psychological reasons why people procrastinate in general, but when it comes to taxes, one of the main reasons is disorganization. When systems aren’t set up and active during the year, the thought of tackling the paperwork preparation can be overwhelming. It can be “taxing” enough to have to go to your accountant to see what you may owe, but the anticipation becomes much worse when you don’t know whether you can find what’s required to substantiate legitimate claims.

    My hat goes off to the legion of dedicated accountants who calmly and patiently hold their clients’ hands and explain for the umpteenth time that the process would go much more smoothly if the clients would only keep records throughout the year. Even a simple $15 accordion file, divided by tax categories, would make everyone’s life easier.

    So why is it so hard for some people to follow that suggestion? It’s hard for the same reason I didn’t get my bag of clothes out of the house. In ProcrastinationLand, nothing is what it seems. Many things appear to be much larger, but some actually appear to be smaller than they are — so small, in fact, that we’re sure we can dispatch them quickly at a later date. We put them off, and when the time comes to deal with then, we find that we’ve left out a good part of the equation. And, unfortunately, there aren’t enough hours left to do the job right.

    When we’re lost in ProcrastinationLand, having good organizational systems to fall back on is key. We all put things off from time to time, but the fact is that being able to find what we need to find in the time available to find it, allows us to do what we need to do in the time available to do it.

    There’s no time like the present!


    Sunny Schlenger is a professional organizer, author and mentor with over 30 years of experience as a pioneer in her field. She helped launch the “custom-tailored” approach to getting organized in the 90’s with her best-selling book, How To Be Organized In Spite Of Yourself, whose approach was licensed by Harvard University’s training and development program. She then took the concept of organizing to the next level by integrating it with spirituality. The result, Organizing For The Spirit was published in 2004.

      • David

      • March 13, 2011 at 9:02 am
      • Reply

      Good to see a Sunny piece again! And one I DEFINITELY needed!

      • Judy

      • March 13, 2011 at 10:06 am
      • Reply

      Helpful. Must read Organizing for the Spirit. I have only one rule for that–do not work or organize work on the weekends. Hard but some inner core disappears if I don’t obey.

    • Self Profiling Prophecy. I am the exact opposite of what you describe because the anxiety for me is far worse than doing the project on time. I help others to organize as a friend. But usually it isn’t effective until crisis mode hits in. I worked for a boss years ago who only put out fires. I tried for years to help by giving false deadlines to him and lots of other tools in my toolbox. He actually had me pick up slides a day and a half before a talk was due in DC (we live in LA)and had me go to LAX for the last flight of small parcel pickups to DC. He was so proud of himself because it arrived in the morning and his talk wasn’t until the afternoon. He was “Proud” and I was aggravated. He needed to operate like this and I eventually moved on. I have examples and examples (prediction of a heart attack way before it actually happened) when I worked for a doctor (quit before the attack) but when I called him he told me I was soooooooo right. He just couldn’t do what it took so when it got to the point of near death he was on time.
      These are deep psychological issues for most “late” people and they need more than organizing-they need to reach deep inside and organize from the outside in before they can do the surface stuff, in my opinion. Love your article today.

    • Of course, I’m with madge again. The last sentence si sooo me. I am the latest of late people.

    • Meant to say Self Fulfilling Prophesy.

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