Procrastination Nation Weíve all been there. Dr. Scott gets this column done just in time to give you some tips on ending the "Iíll get to it later" in your life. BY DR. SCOTT HALTZMAN
Gabriel Lefrancois, hitched
Don't ingore your chores, learn how to defeat your procrastination problems
Why do I procrastinate!
For weeks, my wife had been pointing out to me that a light in our hallway was out. For weeks, I had been promising her Iíd get to it as soon as I had the chance. Then, one morning at about 3 am I noticed that a car was stuck in the snow in the street in front of our house. As the car spun its tires in vain, I quickly threw on sweat pants, grabbed my shovel and salt and went out to help the driver. For 30 minutes we shoveled, pushed and skidded until he finally broke through the snow bank. I returned home, got back in bed and drifted off to sleep, feeling good about my work.
In retrospect, it seems absurd. I had believed I didnít have time to change a light bulb for my own family, yet I sacrificed my comfort and safety and gave time to a total stranger. What did the man in the snow have that my wife didnít? Urgency.
In day-to-day life, urgent matters often require immediate action, so, naturally, they take precedence. In married life, however, itís critically important to understand what your partner sees as urgent, even if you donít. Most people agree thereís no great emergency if an envelope from a vinyl siding salesman goes unopened on the coffee table. But, if your wife calls and says the ceiling collapsed, thatís urgent. If your husband calls and says his shirt is stuck in the subway door and heís floating above the third railÖ well, thatís pretty urgent too. So, somewhere in between the clear-cut calamities and the mundane lies a Grand Canyon of interpretation.
One reason a partner gets labeled as a procrastinator is due to the difference in his or her level of concern about things that have to get done. When something doesnít get seen as a priority, it gets put off. Fair enough when you live by yourself, but when you have a mate who identifies a problem that needs to be acted on, he or she expects you to adopt their attitude about its level of importance. If you act like itís no big deal, you give the message that your spouse isnít important. That feels like disrespect to your mate, and thatís a very corrosive force in marriage.
If youíre the one who procrastinates, you can take some easy steps now (not when you get around to it) to help yourself and your marriage:
Try to see things through your partnerís eyes, and absorb some of the urgency to get things done if he or she sees it that way.
Take advantage of your impulsivity: the minute you think of doing it, do it! Donít tell yourself that it can wait.
Donít think about all the reasons why something canít be done right now; picture how happy everyone will be when it gets done.
If you really canít do it this moment, then set a time to do it in the future. Most Americans have cell phones, and most cell phones have alarms or schedulers. Use this nifty feature to remind yourself to get something done that you promised to do (like empting the dishwasher during halftime).
Donít get defensive if you have to be reminded. After all, youíre the one who said "later."
If youíre the victim of procrastination, here are some things that you might do to ease the stress.
Figure out if what you need done is really urgent. Sometimes procrastinators pull away from tasks because they believe you think everything has to happen right now.
Help define tasks that have to be done one at a time, and donít ask while he or she is distracted or just coming in the door from work.
Agree that if a task is put off, you have the right to remind (not nag) in the future.
If thereís something youíre waiting for that you need help with, start doing it yourself in full view of your mate; sometimes thatís enough to get him or her jumping out of their seat to help.
If your soul mate canít be budged, hire somebody. Yeah, it costs money, but it probably costs less than a divorce lawyer!
Itís no fun feeling like your needs are ignored, but remember not to personalize your mateís slowness to respond. If you work together on this, you can both find ways to help the procrastinator become a more active member of the marriage team.
Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is the author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wifeís Heart Forever." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com