When I was a kid, my parents would tell me to do something reasonable like clean my room. I’d probably do it, or at least make a token effort. Sometimes I wouldn’t do it, and my mom would do it for me. Or maybe I’d be out at school and she’d be sick of me having a messy room, so she’d just clean it without asking me to do it first. In school I’d be assigned stuff to do. Usually I’d do it, but when I didn’t, there weren’t really any consequences. I’d get worse grades, but the impact of one assignment on a grade always seemed so tiny, and I never really cared about grades beyond not getting in trouble with my parents.
I got used to the idea that if I was supposed to do something, but didn’t do it, it didn’t really matter. Maybe someone else would just do it for me, or maybe the problem would just go away. There are probably a million different reasons that people procrastinate, but this was probably the biggest one for me. It wasn’t that I thought that I would prefer to do something later– it’s that I sort of subconsciously thought that if I didn’t do it now, maybe I’d never have to do it.
In real life, though, this isn’t how things work. If I don’t do something right now that needs to get done, then I’m going to need to do it later.
I remember the first time I came face to face with this. Two thousand three was the first year I made a significant amount of money gambling online. I think it may have also been the first year my parents stopped filing taxes for me. They told me to take care of my taxes and even told me how to take care of them. April fifteenth came around, and I kept thinking about how I should realy get to those taxes, knowing I wasn’t actually going to do them. On the sixteenth, taxes felt just like a missed assignment. Too late to do anything about it now!
A couple years went by and I got a letter from the IRS. They noticed that I hadn’t paid taxes, and they wanted a lot of money. I had to hire a tax attorney, file an amended return, and pay a lot of money. Procrastination had cost me money and headache. I actually flew all the way to New York just to work with a Tax Attorney who knew a lot about gambling income.
Since then I do my taxes every year– no extensions or anything like that. Just sit down and file, because I learned a lesson: I’m going to be the one doing the work anyway, and it’s only going to get harder.
This applies to hassles like taxes and tickets and registrations, but it also applies to work and learning, too. Any time I find myself not wanting to write some big chunk of code for SETT, I remind myself that I’m going to be the one writing it anyway– may as well just get it over with.
Same with learning. At some point I realized that my Japanese was just languishing, not really getting better and not really getting worse. I thought– you know– you’re either going to learn Japanese in your lifetime or you’re not. Either way, you’re going to be the one flipping the flashcards. So decide to give it up or start working on it every day and actually get better. Every day now I learn 10 new words, which doesn’t sound like all that much, and really is only about 30 minutes of work, but it’s the difference between no new words per year or 3650 new words per year.
Have a bunch of stuff you “really should” deal with? Sit down today and get it done. Avoiding some tough work? Sit down today and just get started on it. Want to learn something, but keep putting it off (sometimes for YEARS!)? Sit down and do a lesson today, and commit to doing a lesson every single day. You’re going to be the one doing the work anyway– may as well just get it done.
Photo is a watercolor of bok choy in the Asian Art Museum in SF. I love that someone painted bok choy.
As promised, here are posts from the new batch of SETT blogger. I haven’t read them all, but several of the posts were really good. I’m going to have to make it so that the SETT front page automatically features the latest/best posts on SETT.
No particular order:
Day 4 is the Day FOR fun (his fourth day on raw food)
If I missed your blog, send me a PM. Some posts looked like test posts, so I didn’t include them, and my method of finding these posts in the database was sort of strange.