When members of the Procrastinators' Club of America get around to it, they plan a few inactivities to commemorate National Procrastination Week, an occasion already gone by that we're just getting around to noting.
"We pride ourselves more on our inactivity than activity," says Les Waas, president of the Philadelphia-based club. the Procrastinators' Club ejected one member for sending his Christmas cards out on time. The club holds its Christmas party in June and celebrates the Fourth of July in January.
Membership in the club now stands at 4,900, with another half-million or so who haven't gotten around to joining yet, says Waas, the club's "acting" president since he founded it in 1956.
"I appointed a nomination committee in 1957 to select candidates for president, but they haven't come up with a slate yet," says the 57-year-old ad executive. The club defines its purpose as promoting "the philosophy of relaxation through putting off until later those things that needn't be done today." The club's motto: Behind You All the Way.
"By putting off those things that don't have to be done right away and those things we don't like to do, we are not only more efficient, but we also have a more pleasant life," says Waas. "So many people are literally rushing through life. They are rushing to get everything done and rushing to an early grave. And then they become 'the late so-and-so.' We like to be called the 'late so-and-so' while we're still alive."
For members of the club, procrastination is a good-natured antidote to the hectic, accelerated pace of modern life. But for many other people, procrastination is psyche paralysis -- a debilitating affliction that creates anxiety, stress and depression.
A study in 1982-83 by University of Vermont researchers found that 40 percent of the 350 students surveyed said they always or nearly always procrastinated and that it caused them anguish and anxiety.
"It is very prevalent," says Esther Rothblum, an assistant psychology professor who conducted the study. "It is a very large problem in that it affects a lot of people."
For most people, procrastination is a familiar element of everyday life. Just about everybody procrastinates about some area of his or her life, whether it is postponing household chores, avoiding unpleasant job responsibilities or waiting until the last minute to pay the bills.
Where procrastination becomes a problem is when the delays result in personal crisis -- the chronic missing of work deadlines that costs the individual a job; the perpetual tardiness that jeopardizes relationships; the inertia that prevents someone from achieving desired goals.
The most common cause underlying the problem procrastinator is the fear of failure, says Rothblum. Fear of failure results from low self-confidence, high expectations or the avoidance of criticism. Often, chronic procrastinators are perfectionists at heart who use delays and indecision as excuses for not meeting their high standards. They reason that because they had to rush to get the project done or left it incomplete, it really wasn't a true test of their abilities.
"Perfectionism really is deceptive," says California psychologist Jane Burka, co-author of Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It. "Most of us think of it as a motivator, but it actually interferes with a person's ability to get anything done. Procrastinators have to accept that it doesn't have to be perfect -- it just has to get done."
In their book, Burka and Lenora Yuen discuss how family attitudes produce problem procrastinators:
*The Pressuring Theme. Extremely achievement-oriented families can set standards for their children that are difficult to live up to. The result may be a procrastinator who is so afraid of failure that he or she consistently puts off trying.
The Doubting Theme. Some families' expectations are so low or uncertain that the child fails to develop proper self-esteem. Procrastinators reared on their parents' doubts may either avoid trying something they feel incapable of obtaining or, when they do achieve something, feel the success was undeserved.
*The Controlling Theme. Parents who make all the decisions for the child may be creating a procrastinator who is afraid to make choices. On the other hand, a child might take up procrastination as a means of breaking the parents' control over his or her life.
*The Clinging Theme. While controlling families make children feel they can't get along without their parents' help, clinging parents project the feeling that they can't get along without their children. Procrastinators raised in clinging families may develop insecurities about their own autonomy, putting off decisions that would separate them from their parents.
*The Distancing Theme. Families where parents fail to develop close relationships with their children may produce adults who feel they are so alone in the world that they fear asking anyone for help. Afraid to ask for assistance, procrastinators agonize over making their decisions.
Procrastination affects not only the procrastinator, but relatives, co-workers and friends as well. For those who don't suffer from procrastination, the behavior of those who do is hard to comprehend.
"From the outside, procrastination doesn't make a lot of sense. The person knows what to do and how to do it, but just doesn't do it," says Burka. "An efficient person looks at that and doesn't understand. The temptation is to nag or shake them up or organize them. That is completely counter-productive."
To overcome procrastination, says Burka, people must first understand why they put things off and then dedicate themselves to changing their behavior little by little -- starting today.