October 14, 2018: “Realizing Intentions” (Bill Welge)


The topic for my message today is realizing intention, coping with procrastination. 57 years ago when I was a teenager, my parents told me that I was thinking too much and if I weren't careful I could go off the deep end. People seem to worry a lot about the deep end in those days, and though everybody had an uncle or cousin who had met that fate what was most feared was having it happen in your immediate family. I never heeded their warning, so I'm here today to share the results of my thinking too much about procrastination.

The experience that piqued my curiosity about the nature of procrastination happened when I was a print planning and purchasing agent in a large power transport plant in Muncie Indiana. In this position I collected information from others in order to create plans and order material. Unfortunately these folks that I needed information from did not share my sense of urgency. It was a union shop. So one of my core functions was to expedite them so that I could meet my deadlines. I have eventually concluded that these people were serial procrastinators and that I was wrong for this kind of work. I spent the next 20 years self employed.

In the standard-definition, if we procrastinate we put off intentionally and habitually replacing high-priority actions and tasks of lower priority. We delay an intended course of action in spite of being worse off for the delay. What we do to delay working on our obligation or commitment is referred to as the distraction. In fact the Urban Dictionary tells us that street talkers have turned the "crast" in procrastinate into a word meaning a distraction or set of distractions. Certainly the internet is probably our most common crast today. Moralists and psychologists have weighed in to tell us that procrastinating may result in stress, a sense of guilt and crisis, with a severe loss of personal productivity. Of course this may be a sign of an underlying psychological disorder which could maybe qualify for a listing in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, indicating professional treatment for chronic prophetic procrastination. Does there need to be a pill for this? Could something called Procrastinex have a future in our medicine cabinet? I want some. Procrastination seems to be a basic human impulse but anxiety about it seems to emerge not until the early modern era. The term entered into the English language in the 1500s. It is derived from a Latin word meaning to put off until tomorrow by the 1700s it was being described as a general weakness but not yet a moral failing. But think about it: in a largely agrarian societies many of the deadlines and consequences were imposed by mother nature, and will be to you if you didn't follow those. This was before the complex division of labour and proliferation of tasks that create jobs that make work, such as expediting each other, which refers to beating each other up for procrastinating.

I have here a piece of evidence indicating that morality issue may have entered into the picture in the mid-1800s. This is a copy of my grandfather's report card when he was in the fourth grade from 1885. And if the minimum acceptable grade for deportment was a hundred and luckily Willie Welch they pronounce it Welch it's not Welge in Illinois, didn't get a hundred in deportment. So bordering this report card was scrollwork, and interspersed in between this scrollwork was little moral truisms so I will share some of those with you. Honesty is the best principle. Do right for the sake of right. Idleness is robbery. Procrastination steals time do you detect moral judgment here? In recent years we're seeing a backlash against the notion that procrastination is a moral failing or mental disorder. Listen to the defiant tones from the Procrastinators Creed. These are people that are proud of their procrastinating. Number one: I believe that if anything is worth doing it would have been done already. Number two: I shall meet all my deadlines directly in proportion to the amount of bodily injury I can expect to receive from missing them. I firmly believe that tomorrow holds the possibility of new technologies, astounding discoveries, and a reprieve from my obligations. As a confirmed do it yourselfer I prefer to turn a deaf ear to the moralizers and pathologizers and even the defiant Creed followers. And yet I freely acknowledge that procrastination is somewhat of an impediment to realizing my intentions. So where to turn for help?

There seems to be countless self-help books addressing procrastination. The main thing that's needed to sell one is a catchy title. Well that helps with just about any book though doesn't it? If the book even makes it to the shopping cart of a serial procrastinator what are the chances of it being read? This fact is supported by customer book reviews for example this review said: looks interesting. I plan to read it someday. Says another: I'll post a review tomorrow. Here are some examples of catchy book titles: The now habit. The idiot's guide to overcoming procrastination. The 60 second procrastinator. I guess that means that you cut your procrastinating time down to 60 seconds. That's the that's the ideal. The tomorrow trap. The procrastinating equation. Still procrastinating, and finally the joy of the quickie: do it now. That sounds more like a sex book. Beware of computer sorting book titles. Evidence that these self-help books are helping is not showing up in surveys. The number of people reporting procrastination as a serious problem seems to have roughly quadrupled in the 24 years between 1979 and 2002, with a continuing trend upward. What could be fueling this trend? Could it have anything to do with the internet and social media? What other compelling distractions can you think of that puts you in such a time warp where an entire afternoon can disappear in what feels like 30 minutes? When I researched this five years ago, internet blocking productivity software had already sold over 300,000 copies and it was just beginning at $30 a copy. It is still widely available. The name of this software: freedom. It will lock out the users from the internet for blocks of time up to eight hours. Additionally for only ten dollars you can purchase soft software called antisocial guess what that's for? It will turn off Facebook and Twitter for prescribed blocks of time. Here are two testimonials from satisfied users of the freedom internet blocking software. I'm still surprised by the relief that floods over me whenever I bind myself from going online. Wow. Another: I love freedom. If I ever finished writing this book this is why. Now I want to talk about how to procrastinate an entire life. Years ago if you'd asked a farmer about the concept of procrastination, this response might have been something like the phrase made popular by the country comedian Larry the Cable Guy. Just get her done. Although fans of Larry are most likely to be wearing their get her done t-shirts while standing around swilling beer and maybe talking about work. That wasn't very nice. The urban dictionary has to say this about the phrase get er done. This is even less nice. It's used to express an imaginary connection with country or cowboy lifestyles, most often used in reference to a task, meaning to finish a job primarily something associated with manual labor. The biggest fans of this phrase in a subsequent cultural niche are either those who never lived on a farm or had never seen a cow, or maybe obsessed with country music. Well I saw lots of cows. I still procrastinated. They often drive pickup trucks they don't actually haul anything in but like to rig out with winches and tool boxes as if they have something important to do.

I'm feeling some compassion for these folks that I would hope for their dreams to come true. In the meantime it just seems like a good way to procrastinate an entire life. Which brings us to poly-procrastination and its evil twin multitasking. A poly-procrastinator puts off more than one high priority at a time and appears to be juggling several high priority items at once, while the balls that should be in play lay hidden in a closet. By the time these balls comes out of the closet a serious violation of the time slash effort law has occurred. This law states that given sufficient time to do something the initial effort will be small as time goes to zero if it goes to infinity. I once stayed up all night to do a scrapbook for a high school class that it was supposed to be working throughout the entire second semester. Instead of coasting to the deadline it felt more like crossing the event horizon of a black hole. And my scrapbook was certainly far from stellar. So how can a skilled poly-procrastinator cheat the time effort law? Multitasking. But please don't tell them of the studies that consistently show that multitasking drains the brain of energy. As we force it to jump back as we force it to jump back and forth to complete tasks resulting in less quality and less efficiency. It might spoil their fantasy. Here at the Institute of Poly-procrastination and Multitasking, the IPPMT, we try to perform shock therapy to help people overcome this dreadful duo before they commit something like our poster child Polly the procrastinator. Here's her story. Polly realizes that she doesn't need to be late for the Mary Kay face painting party she only needs to multitask the things she procrastinated by doing them while driving to the party. These include painting her nails and eating her footlong veg subway BLT with extra Mayo. Climbing into her apartment size 202 Sequoia SUV, Polly amazes herself with her multitasking dexterity, negotiating traffic, expertly implying the nail polish, while dribbling no mayo. But the end timely signal for a text message creates the inevitable overload. She failed to notice a red light and a beige Buick that was waiting for the green light. Polly percussively propels the Buick through the intersection in spectacular Sequoia style. Unfortunately all were finalized in the resulting accident as none were airbagged to safety. Face-painting would need to be left to the Undertaker.

Okay I bet you couldn't tell I made that up. Well let me tell you reality can be much darker. March 29th, 2017 a pickup truck collided head-on with a church minibus near San Antonio Texas, killing 13 people. The pickup driver who served in his Lane in front of the bus apologized afterwards and admitted to texting at the time of the crash. There is a growing trend for time-starved Americans to multitask behind the wheel. Recent nationwide survey found that 80 percent of drivers identified as multitaskers. 65 percent eat while driving. Texting or fixing hair is practiced by 20 percent of drivers. 14 percent discipline children while behind the wheel. Boy there's a hard one to not do. Eight percent drive with a pet in their lap. Really outlandish things include changing clothes, balancing a checkbook and shaving. Too bad the hurrieder I go the behinder I get. This reminds me of the time that a brother and I, we were about 19 and 23 years old, something like that, driving my 59 Chevy back from the farm in Southern Illinois back to Muncie and we decided to change drivers. Well, a 59 Chevy Biscayne, you had this great big open expanse of seat that, it's the kind where the little old lady went to the Wendy's in this thing in the commercial sliced cut across the seat when the car makes a sharp turn. Okay. Surely you can change drivers without stopping right? In a car like that with that big white seat? And amazingly we did manage to do it without a crash but it was very awkward and of course without cruise control you know how you keep one foot on the accelerator. We didn't we didn't manage so we almost slowed down to a stop on the interstate. Saved a lot of time!

Why don't we look at the bright side of procrastination which would be non-doing and the art of passive achievement. Non-doing is a concept central to Taoism. Non-doing is not so much about doing nothing as it is about aligning our movement with the greater flow of life. Moving with the energy of the movement moment and responding freely to whatever situation arises. [ ? ] says the 18th century painter, look carefully. Pay attention. He says there's no end to seeing. How much undo and redo with associated grief could we avoid if we practice this? Rush to judgment can result in serious misidentification of priorities. Something in here needs to go into Procrastinators Creed I'm detecting. For example you can get committed to an organization that seemed to stand for your cherished causes before realizing key philosophical differences between yourself and the leadership. He who hesitates may have a good point. The following quote comes from the book Antifragile by Nassim Talib. In the event that some of your planned doing means hiring professional assistance, beware of how intervention has accelerated in professional society. It is much easier to sell look what I did for you then look what I avoided for you. It is also easier to charge for what I did for you.

Look at history for people who became famous for what they didn't do. Would George W. Bush today be credited with saving untold lives and destruction in the Middle East if he had not rushed our country into war? He probably wouldn't have got credit. Few understand that procrastination can be our natural defense. Letting things take care of themselves may result in some ecological or naturalistic filter. Wisdom. At an existential level that may be our body or soul rebelling against its entrapment. That was off from Nassim Talib. That's the end of the quote. So here's my personal prescription for coping with procrastination. First be aware of the status of your reservoir of willpower. Studies have indicated that your willpower gets exhausted from concentrated effort, and that willpower can be depleted as the day wears on, and that you will be stressed and tapped out from situations that require self-control. Choose your peak in energy time to tackle your most difficult or dreaded tasks, second, have a realistic assessment of your past performances, and use it to create an environment that doesn't set you up for failure. For example if it means investing in an Internet blocking software, get her done. Third, observe Parkinson's law which states that work expands to fill the time for its completion. It's one of my favorite laws. This guy wrote his tiny book in the 1950s called Parkinson's law, and he predicted the proliferation of middle management. And what happened when middle management's ranks swelled was that so many people, part of their job assignment was to keep track from other people doing their jobs. So, led to the great downsizing at one point. I think that's when I became self-employed. Fourth, if you have an aversion for list-making, reconsider. Lists are a simple but invaluable tracking tool that also give you a foundation for altering course. Importantly, a good list can reduce the distracting mind chatter that can happen when you try to keep track of everything in your head.

The paralyzing guilt and anxiety that comes with procrastination can steal your happiness. This doesn't mean you should never procrastinate. I think it means that you should employ strategies that will allow you to enjoy it when you do procrastinate, that sets off an alarm when it's time to start getting her done. I wish you all the best as you seek the balance between doing and non doing in the meantime, don't overthink this -- you could go off the deep end.

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