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Columns : In My Sights

To Delay is Human

Why do today what you can put off 'til tomorrow?

February 01, 2009  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

One of the things that really drives me crazy is when someone procrastinates. I just don't understand why some people put off critical tasks until the last possible minute. I know my editors here at POLICE are sitting at their desks shaking their heads in wonder and alternately laughing and cursing at my apparent hypocrisy, but I must protest that they simply don't understand how I use deadlines as special "intensifiers" to my mental processes.

In fact, many a commander was amazed at how my evaluations would appear only at the appointed hours at which I would become essentially a police pumpkin rather than a sergeant.

My wife, the Sergeant, is constantly calling me a procrastinator, but I just don't think she gets my logic. For instance, she was commenting on my piles of camouflage clothing as being in her way as she tried to walk around our home office.

"My God!" she cried, "the hunting season has been over for months!"

"That's right," I calmly replied with my powerful command presence honed over my years of crime fighting and teaching young cops, "and that means the next season is just a few months away, so I might as well just keep them here."

After putting my camo clothes away in the attic, I began to reflect on the years of accusations I had faced and the common term thrown at me…procrastinator. I thus resolved to study this misunderstanding.

When one studies the nature of procrastination, it becomes immediately apparent that it is one of the most common of human traits. In fact, it might be said the folks who jump right on things and get them done immediately are the deviants. When C. Northcote Parkinson wrote his famous law, "Work expands to fill the time allotted," he was simply explaining that it is a natural human trait to take as much time as possible to get things done.

Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen in their book, "Procrastination," wrote that the primary reasons for this tendency are a fear of failure, a fear of success, a need to control, and a need to be perfect…hmmm. It seems each of these has a cost and procrastination is one way to pay the bill.

It seems there is a multitude of reasons why we put things off, but the real issue is: What is the effect of waiting to get those evaluations done 10 minutes before the lieutenant calls you to tell you that you will soon have the only walking beat in the Highway Patrol!?

Procrastinating can take a terrible toll on us if we let it get out of hand. And a lot of officers do. It can hurt you professionally and personally and, even though it is an acknowledged human trait, it is one we need to fight since the greatest toll is to the procrastinators themselves. Doing things late or not at all is a sure way of creating a huge amount of stress within.

In the crime-fighting profession, procrastination can also get us hurt or killed. For example, after qualifying your firearm needs to get cleaned now, not next week, or even next year for some of you.

I suggest you start fighting your procrastinating tendencies by picking a single goal at a time and getting it done right now. In other words, change your habits to the unnatural state of doing things promptly. I know this sounds crazy, but it is important and most of you reading this have something you need to have done already but have put off.

Even I have things I have put off that need to get done…like my next "In My Sights" article since this one is a bit tardy and then there's the thank you cards from my last birthday, no…not my last…my fiftieth, and of course there's the…

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' "Street Survival" seminar.

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