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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Simple Cost Benefit Analysis of Procrastination


As I prepared to file my 2007 taxes, I realized that I had not entered one of my accounts into Quickbooks. It wasn't a very active account, but it did have some activity so I needed to file it. I happen to be extremely, shall we say, "motivationally challenged" when it comes to filing. I have a large filing cabinet, but my efficient method of organization involves throwing everything into a "to be filed" box. The box does sit right in front of the cabinet, so I can fool myself into thinking I am doing something right (and I ignore the voice that says, "no Avish, no you are not doing something right.")

In any case, one year's worth of bank statements were somewhere in this box. No, I couldn't just go download them on-line, because this bank only posts the last two months worth of activity online. This, from "America's most convenient bank" - sure, whatever you say...

My task was clear. I needed to sort through that box, find all the statements, then manually enter them in the computer. This sounded about as much fun to me as watching the movie "Goodburger"... the Director's Cut version...with Director's commentary turned on.

So this item made it's way onto my "to-do" list everyday for about three weeks. I would see it on my list, think about doing it, and ignore it. I would see that box, sitting there in front of my filing cabinet, staring at me as if to say, "ha! you can't ignore me forever. Sooner or later you'll have to give me some attention!" And everyday and every night I would expend mental energy thinking about it.

Finally, this week, I did it. I sat down with box while watching an episode of "Law and Order," and sorted through all the papers. Took me less than one episode. The next day, I sat down with my laptop and all the statements in front of another episode of "Law and Order," and again, had added all the data before the episode finished.

(Side note: As you may have guessed, I watch a lot of Law and Order re-runs. That may be because TNT shows about 37 Law and Order episodes every day. I think my dream episode would be Lenny Briscoe and Ed Green investigating with Jack McCoy and Jamie Ross prosecuting, and have the case involve Mike Logan on trial for being involved in Claire Kincaid's death and being defended by Ben Stone with Abby Carmichael in second chair. It would be like an Law & Order All Star Game!)

Anyhow, the total time was less than a couple of hours, and I managed to do it while having fun doing something else. The amount of time and energy I spent procrastinating was waaaaaaaaaay more than that. You wouldn't spend $1000 to try to make $500 (unless you were like many business owners who don't understand basic math and accounting, but that's for another post), but that's pretty much what you are doing with your life when you procrastinate.

The Lesson: Contrary to what you might be thinking, the lesson here is NOT "stop procrastinating." Rather, when you catch yourself procrastinating, realize you have two choices: 1) Just do it, or 2) Don't do it now, but stop thinking about, focusing on it, or beating yourself up over it. Doing anything else is just wasting time...

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