Heidi Grant Halvorson (Harvard Business Review) opens her article, which outlines ways to avoid procrastination, with the following question:
Can you imagine how much less guilt, stress and frustration you would feel if you could somehow just make yourself do the things you don’t want to do when you are actually supposed to do them?
When I read these lines, I was tempted to weep tears of joy and scream: Yes! A thousand times yes! (If you didn’t catch that allusion, it’s from “Pride and Prejudice”). Let’s see, I was supposed to fill out, scan and email my W-9 to my editor so I can get paid. I didn’t do it. And that was more than three weeks ago.
According to studies, about 20 percent of people are chronic procrastinators. But even the best of us are guilty of procrastination. In a 2007 meta-analysis by University of Calgary, psychologist Piers Steel, PhD reported 95 percent of college students procrastinate.  Judging from my peers and myself, I would not hesitate to say that graduate students are no better than undergrads. Eric Jaffe, a Association for Psychological Science Observer contributor, reports that people who procrastinate have higher level of stress and lower level of well-being.
Halvorson summarizes the why into three neat bullet points. According to her, you are putting something off because of the following:
- You are afraid you will screw up
- You don’t “feel” like doing it
- You find it hard, boring or simply “Urg!”
Sounds familiar? The good news is, you can fight procrastination.
Of Halvorson’s points, I find reason #2 the most fascinating. How many times do you avoid doing something because you simply don’t feel like it? I know do. For example, “I am awake. But I just can’t get out of bed,” or “I will hit the gym… tomorrow” or “I need to call her for an interview but I just don’t feel up to it.” I talk myself out of doing something (even though nothing is physically stopping me from doing it) because “I don’t feel like it.” Well, the hard truth is that you don’t have to feel like doing something to act.
Consider my interview call. Do I have 30 minutes? Do I have a phone? Do I have data plan? Do I know her number? Yes to all of the above. Can I make the call?
Yes. As Halvorson suggests: Make like Spock and ignore your feelings. There is nothing stopping you from doing. And of course, throw in a little Jane Austen: Yes! a thousand times yes!