Note: I wrote this column before the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Perhaps another lesson to be taken from this senseless act is related to procrastination. Don’t wait to tell those you love how much they mean to you. Don’t wait to do those things together as a family that you often put off. Put down your devices and LOVE your family now.
Procrastination. Who hasn’t procrastinated in their lives? Don’t we all have those things we put off and those things that somehow always get done? Eating isn’t something I usually miss. Housework is often delayed. College life is replete with stories of caffeinated all-nighters. Where do you procrastinate and what things are you not doing that you really want to do?
I was that rare college student who never did put in an all-nighter. This wasn’t due to my diligence, but rather my love of sleep. I just preferred not to have “it” hanging over my head. In fact, I’d often get a paper done far before it was due. Clearly, this was a peculiar personal trait of mine that has no relevance in my life now or in most anyone else’s life. Now, I put off certain things and attack others with relish, just as most people do.
The irony of human nature is that most of the time the things we put off are the things that are most important to us. They are the things that will elevate us in our lives, whether it be going back to school to change careers, doing something above and beyond at a job that gets noticed and garners a promotion. Or, it may be something as simple as finally moving to that city/state you’ve always talked about moving to!
When it comes to our personal lives, the examples of procrastination apply to everything from dieting, quitting smoking, to starting to date again after a relationship has ended, especially after a protracted, ugly divorce.
Think how often you’ve taken that scary leap and gotten positive results? Why haven’t those positive results “resulted” in less reluctance to do it the next time? I don’t have a simple answer other than repeating the mantra to you and myself to, “Do it NOW.”
Parents see procrastination in their kids often and have varying strategies to combat it. Since our behavior is the model our kids first have in their lives, do think about how they perceive your attention to getting things done now. That would be the very first step in helping them tackle their life chores and work in a prompt manner if they see dad and mom doing so.
“Back in the day” before personal computers, I kept a “To-Do” list in my former career in showbiz. It was written on paper, in longhand, and I took GREAT pleasure in crossing each item off as each task was done. I re-wrote that list every work morning and especially every Sunday night prior to the next week starting.
For some inexplicable reason, certain tasks were regularly carried over. Those were obviously the tasks I dreaded doing. Yet, every time I did one of those dreaded tasks, I got even more internal pleasure and even pride in crossing it off the list.
So for your kids, let’s consider some options to help them finish their “To-Do” lists:
1. Model a focused behavior yourself. Simply show them that mom and dad get things done. Guys, this applies to you when your wife says, “Take the garbage out.”
2. Create your own family form of the “To-Do” list. Given all the high-tech options, you can certainly do “reminders” on your iPhone, alarms on any device, and keep a to-do document on your computer. BUT, when the kids are younger, I’d suggest the old-fashioned high-tech method: paper lists held by cute magnets on the frig.
3. Consequences are always a great parental tool. But, equal to the idea of consequences is actually implementing them. If they are grounded because they didn’t accomplish something, they need to stay grounded.
4. Positive consequences have equal value as negative ones. Reward good behavior. There’s always been a debate about “buying grades,” but I am one that weighs in on the “Why Not?” side of that argument. Isn’t it essentially just like real life? We work; we get paid. We don’t work; we don’t. Not too complicated, especially for those of us – more and more every year – that work for ourselves.
5. My wife has the #1 suggestion: Nagging. You may enjoy my Nagging Song in light of this tip.
The irony of this discussion, like so many things in our lives, is that we usually feel a heckuva lot better when we Do It Now. Again, for me, this has often been a wonderful reward in and of itself. Ironically, the older I get the harder it is for me though I was that unusual kid, as mentioned earlier, that rarely had an issue getting homework done, especially and ironically in college.
Also, and finally, I would advise not trying to implement a change in your procrastinating ways all at once. This is the same advice I give people who want to begin exercising. Start small. Add one thing to your “To Do” list and cross it off. Once that’s become habitual, make it two, then three, etc. When you’ve actually Pavloved* yourself successfully, just make the whole list and have at it!
*No, this isn’t a word. I like creating my own words. This one is inspired by the famous Psychologist, Ivan Pavlov.
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