I do everything last-minute. Does that make me a bad person?


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Hi Cary,
I’ve had a problem for most of my life of being a procrastinator.  When I was younger, I just thought that’s how it was.  I did well in school but I’d usually wait until the last minute to do my assignments.  When I got into college, I was intimidated and sometimes started earlier and worked harder.  Then, when I made good grades, I slipped back into doing things last-minute.  Sometimes these things turned out well and sometimes not so well, but I graduated with mostly good grades.
When I got out into the working world, I followed much the same pattern.  I would talk about work and worry about work and procrastinate around work, but I still wouldn’t really work until I had to.  So my work has never been as good as it could be.  I went to counselors about it.  One gave me the typical time management advice to break projects down into small pieces, work for short periods of time, and so forth.  Another counselor told me I was bored and should do something more stimulating.  But I didn’t know what might be more stimulating and I needed a paycheck, so I stayed where I was.
I liked writing and wrote fiction part time, but I would never totally complete something.  I get close and then lose interest.
A few years ago I got to retire early because the place I worked was offering buyouts.  It wasn’t a lot of money, but my husband had already retired and between us we had a good income.  I got involved with some hobbies and volunteer activities, but I still have the same problem.  There are things I need to do, that I realize it would be to my benefit to do, but on some level I don’t want to do them and I can’t make myself.  Such items might be turning in volunteer paperwork or keeping an area of my home tidy that drives me crazy because it’s such a mess.  I try making plans and schedules, setting a timer and working for just 20 minutes, and so on, but nothing really works.  If there’s no hard deadline, I won’t do the task, and more and more, I won’t do the task even if there is a hard deadline.  It’s very frustrating when I feel at odds with myself.  Part of me sees the benefits of doing the task but another part says, “You can’t make me.”  I’m tired of this issue.  What am I, five years old?  I’m retired for god’s sake!
Any thoughts?


Dear Kathy,

What would happen if you just let it go? Would the whole world fall apart? Why not find out? Why not start by telling people about your limitations?

I’ve done this before. I’ve said to people, you know, I know myself pretty well, and I’m probably not going to fill out that form and send it in, so really, you might want to just not give it to me.

You might get some guff, of course, and some funny looks, and some things might not get done. But lots of things aren’t getting done anyway. They’re not getting done, plus you’re torturing yourself.

OK, lets do this but with a safety net. Write down the few absolute necessary paperwork things. Pay medical insurance? Pay DMV fees? Pay bills? Who pays the bills, you or your husband? If he pays the bills, then you are probably not in danger of screwing up anything major if you just heave a big sigh of self-acceptance and start not doing stuff. If you are responsible, though, for life-giving chores like paying medical insurance or the mortgage, then just list those few things. Then, if you can manage that, or if you’re already doing that OK, then just do that. If not, have somebody else do them. Like your husband.

And let the rest of it go!

Isn’t that better than torturing yourself? Let it go. Lower your expectations. You’re retired.

I think it’s funny that the time-management people told you to break things down into small chunks and it didn’t work. That’s what I would have said, too. Obviously that doesn’t work for everybody. Maybe you genuinely don’t want to do this stuff. Had you considered that?

Maybe you have been doing stuff you really don’t want to do and what this is telling you is that you have to actually change your life. Getting better at filling out forms is not going to help. You need to change your life. The conversation you have in your head is a big clue. The side of you who says, “You can’t make me” has a grievance. You need to listen to her. I’ll bet she has been belittled all her life and made fun of because she’s not super organized and efficient. Well, she needs some loving care. She needs to be cut some slack. She has value, too. She’s the one who writes your stories and walks around in the woods. She’s also the one who looks at the way we live and work today and says, “Phooey. Who needs it?”

She’s got a point. So cut her some slack. Next time you have this inner conversation, let her speak. Let her say more than just “You can’t make me.” Hear her out. She’s put up with bullshit for a long time but now she’s in rebellion. I say let her rebel. Listen to her. She has wisdom. She’s a neglected part of yourself.

Perhaps she is spontaneous and every time you make plans a little part of her dies. It’s OK to not like to make plans. Maybe you don’t want really want to be a volunteer. Being a volunteer and making plans and sticking to the program may be killing a vital part of you that needs to be heard.

So stop trying to change yourself. Instead, try to be yourself. Hear yourself. Honor yourself. You will be OK. Some things may fall apart. That’s OK. Let them. It’s not the end of the world.

Be yourself. Enjoy retirement. Let it go.

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