Thursday, May 13, 2010

Trouble with Compound Interest

Are you a procrastinator? If you're like me you'd probably say yes, in some situations, but no, in others. I do know people who procrastinate a lot of things - and others who almost never do. But most of us are somewhere in the middle.

So I don't see myself as a procrastinator, but I don't see any reason to do things in advance unless I have to.
If I learn on Monday that something needs to be done "by Friday,"  the two mostly likely days I'll do it are Monday (responding to it immediately - come to think of it, this is what I like this best) or Friday. I'll write a paper or plan a teaching session the week before, not the month before. If I need to go someplace, I'll calculate when I need to be there and leave that many hours or minutes before, adding in some margin for getting lost or caught in traffic, etc.

Mostly this works better for me and causes less stress than another strategy.
If I start a project way in advance I end up flailing around trying to figure out how to approach it, or letting it expand too much - or circumstances change and my work is wasted. Even deciding in advance what to wear or eat or do often increases mental pressure rather than relieving it; one more thing to remember, and then I will still feel I have to reconsider my decision when the time comes.

What about you? Do you "do it now," "start it soon," or "do it when it needs to be done"? Probably psychologists have other terms for those things.

But there are certain situations, where, yes, I do not do things when they need to be done: I push them off as far as I can. I procrastinate about making phone calls. I wait until the last minute to buy plane tickets. I have a hard time picking up big, messy projects that won't offer immediate satisfaction and that I may not have time to get my head around, much less finish. I procrastinate facing conflicts or conversations I think will be unpleasant, even if they are just conversations with myself.

What happens when we procrastinate? Why do we do it? I think it's largely a strategy for avoiding pain, though not a very effective one - delayed pain usually means more pain, doesn't it? We add on worry, dread, guilt, embarrassment, and regret. "Deal with it now, or deal with more later," might be the message we need to hear. Putting difficult stuff off is like buying on credit. You may end up paying so much in "interest" you are stuck with the burden much longer than you have to be and may not even touch the "principle."

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