Friday, July 11, 2008

The Road to Wealth is Procrastination?

"Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow" has always been trumpeted as the losers motto. Lazy ne'er-do-wells who choose to eat, drink and be merry, as long as someone else is picking up the tab. So how can the vice of procrastination put you on the road to wealth?

Any tool or personality trait has its pros and cons and procrastination is no different. Let me share a little trick I invented in college. Its called "creative procrastination."

I have never been noteworthy for my housekeeping skills. Yet when I left home & started college, something became apparent to me. I noticed there were about 2 times a semester or quarter when I got the house-cleaning bug. They happened to be mid-term time and finals time. For some reason, whenever a major exam loomed, I suddenly noticed just how disgusting the kitchen floor was. In fact, there turned out to be some grease behind the stove that really needed scrubbing. And those cupboards! I never noticed the spatters on them before! On and on it went, until my kitchen was spotless and I was too exhausted to study.

After exams were over, my kitchen slowly went back to its normal disgusting state.

Being a fairly intelligent person (yes, I graduated cum laude) I finally put two and two together and realized that the procrastination was a way of dealing with the stress of exams. Once I made the connection, I figured I could use my seemingly self-destructive behavior to motivate me to achieve higher levels of success. The trick was to find something I didn't like that I "had to do" to balance the thing I really had to do. That way I could procrastinate on one task by doing the other task. Given that I was going to feel guilty either way, I'd at least feel a little less guilty because even though I procrastinated on the one task, I actually DID do something I was supposed to do.

For example, I hate running even more than I hate cleaning my kitchen. So I would schedule jogging time when I needed to study for my exams. I'd put on my shorts and running shoes, While I was stretching & warming up I'd look at the textbooks on the table. Then I'd guiltily decide to skip the running tonight because I really ought to be studying for tomorrow's exam. But I could feel a little less guilty about not running, because, after all, I really DID have to study.

I've also used this technique at work. I always have a foreground project that is the main thing I'm working on at work. But I also have a background project. When I hit a roadblock on one, I work on the other until my brain unwinds & I'm able to think again. Or I guiltily procrastinate on one by working on the other. As always, I assuage my guilt by knowing that I really AM doing something useful.