Young girl displaying poor social skills as identified by a social skills coach

Alarmed Social Skills Coach

Have you ever faced a quickly approaching deadline and said, “I’ll get to it soon. I have plenty of time to finish.” Maybe, if you were being perfectly honest with yourself, you might admit that what you were really saying was, “I don’t want to do it. Maybe if I delay, it will go away or eventually I’ll feel motivated to begin.”

If you procrastinate you are not alone. Experts estimate that 95 percent of Americans procrastinate habitually. Up to 20 percent of those people procrastinate so badly they injure their relationships and careers. As a social skills coach dedicated to instilling effective behaviors, I find these numbers alarming.

According to Wikipedia procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task which needs to be accomplished. It is the practice of doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, or carrying out less urgent tasks instead of more urgent ones, thus putting off impending tasks to a later time. Sometimes, procrastination takes place until the “last minute” before a deadline.

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I’ve got my faults, but procrastination doesn’t happen to be one of them. In fact, I find it anxiety provoking. How would I sleep if I had something hanging over my head?

Being a social skills coach, I was intrigued by a book review recently in the Wall Street Journal written by Laura Vanderkam. The book reviewed, “Soon: An Overdue History of Procrastination” by self-proclaimed procrastinator Andrew Santella. Santella uses famous procrastinators like Leonardo da Vinci and Charles Darwin to make the case that procrastination might facilitate creativity.

In the Amazon description of the book it says, “Santella offers a sympathetic take on habitual postponement. He questions our devotion to “the cult of efficiency” and suggests that delay and deferral can help us understand what truly matters to us.”

That’s an interesting take on procrastination that I haven’t ever considered. Perhaps in the race to get things done on time we miss the opportunity to take time to think about the process? Could he teach this social skills coach a new way of looking at the world?

But then Ms. Vanderkam writes that Santella “likes the rebellious aspect of procrastination” and quotes him as saying, “I like that it (procrastination) seems to bother so many people.”

Bothering people must be a secondary benefit of procrastination next to fostering creativity?

Interesting that Santella includes bothering people as a benefit of procrastination. Why would a person intentionally set out to irritate others? Is it necessary to bother others when trying to “understand what truly matters to us?” Suddenly Santella’s argument for embracing procrastination seems suspect to me. Might Santella’s procrastination merely be a tool to control and manipulate people?

Bothering people is bad social skills.

This social skills coach would argue that when one’s own procrastination infringes on others, it hinders creativity and becomes antisocial.

If the procrastinator misses a deadline that others are relying on him to make, that places an undue burden on them and likely ensures a rushed and shoddy product. If an upcoming deadline causes chaos in a family or in the workplace it’s thoughtless and insensitive.

The fact that Mr. Santella gets a thrill from his procrastination upsetting others, sounds hostile.

I suppose that Mr. Santella receives the added bonus of an excuse for his late, shoddy and rushed work. When people are unhappy with his work product he has a built-in excuse that as a procrastinator he was unable to give it his all. HAD he done it on time he of course would have given it his all and it would have been great.

My experience with procrastinators has not been a positive one. I have not noticed bursts of creative genius when it came down to the wire. What I have seen are tears, anxiety, frustration, anger, embarrassment, and missed opportunities.

Often procrastinators drag others into their mess by requesting help that they wouldn’t have needed had they tackled the project in a timely fashion. Suddenly the procrastinator’s emergency becomes the family’s, co-worker’s, teacher’s, or project partner’s emergency.

Because my husband and I are both proactive we have instilled a healthy dose of time management into our parenting. Mr. Santella may say that we are stifling our children’s creativity by helping them to manage their time. I disagree. People who respect deadlines, prioritize projects and manage their time well build in time for the creative process.

For example: our children have been studying piano for many years. Each year they prepare for an event that requires them to play two solo pieces for a panel of judges. We pick the pieces one year in advance. We require our kids to practice on a daily, set schedule so that by the time the event arrives, each is fully prepared. Every year we say the same thing to our children, “Whatever happens, happens today. Please rest assured that you are completely ready to perform and totally prepared.”

There are students of our piano instructor who procrastinate. As the big day approaches they struggle to learn and memorize their pieces. Many work hard as the event approaches sometimes tacking on extra lessons to help prepare.

The difference between the way those children who diligently prepare and those children who procrastinate is very noticeable. The prepared pianists might be nervous but the pieces are in their fingers and their fingers take over. You can hear the personalities come through the young pianists music.

The procrastinators on the other hand, have not allowed themselves the same advantage. They might have memorized their pieces, but they have cheated themselves out of the chance to allow the pieces to marinate. They play more hesitantly, make more mistakes, and look anxious. They miss the joy of letting their personalities shine through the music. You can almost see the wheels turning in their heads because they still have to think about the notes. What should be triumphant opportunity to excel becomes a stressful ordeal that leaves the procrastinator depleted.

Charles Dickens said, “Procrastination is a thief of time, collar him!” I agree.  When we allow children to procrastinate we never allow them the chance to feel what calm, well-managed, preparation feels like. To the procrastinator the house is always on fire. Every paper, project, deadline, piano recital, is a sweat inducing, race for time. “Will I get it done?” When does the procrastinator ever get to say, “I got this! I am totally prepared. Let me show you my best!”

As a social skills coach who creates etiquette class curriculums for children, I will continue to include discussions for prioritizing projects and time management. Time management is a gift that allows people to find out of what they are truly capable. I don’t buy the idea that procrastination breeds creativity I believe it causes frustration, anger, sadness and missed opportunity.

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