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Don't procrastinate - undress

Nobel-winning economist George Askerlof wrote a paper called "Procrastination and Obedience" in 1991 that I haven't read yet, but I will soon. But not before I read the collection of essays on procrastination titled, "The Thief of Time."

But I've put off reading those books because I've been able to read about them and have learned that I'm not alone in this world when I put off until tomorrow or the next day or the day after that what I should be doing today. For example, I haven't put my 2010 income tax papers together yet because, after all, the deadline isn't until April 15th (though I'm claiming now that my personal deadline is March 31.)

Back to George Askerlof, who became a central figure in the behavioral economics. He was a procrastinator himself. Yes, even a procrastinator can win a Nobel Prize.

Serious students of procrastination (the word comes from a Latin word meaning "to put off until tomorrow") speak of "the fluidity of human identity" and suggest there are two main causes. The first is that we are more than just one person. While being a person with purpose, goals and the intent to start and finish a job, there is another person inside the same body with a shorter attention span that would rather attend to some other less challenging and more pleasant task. They call this "the divided self." The second cause is simply that most of us have a limited amount of will power and we use it up in no time at all.

One of the most famous procrastinators in American history was General George McClellan, leader of Lincoln's Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. McClellan, considered a military genius, who once told Lincoln "I can do it all," had opportunity after opportunity to trigger huge victories for the Union Army, but never could pull the trigger and launch an attack. He continually delayed, "prepared," drilled the troops, asked for more troops, asked for more equipment and stalled. Lincoln finally said, "I need a general who will fight," and replaced McClellan.

As for the lack of willpower, some who recognize the two competing persons within themselves have devised schemes to defeat the weaker self. For example, some problem gamblers have entered into contracts with casinos banning them from the premises -- wise, but rare. Another guy, a Ph D candidate at the University of North Carolina who wasted huge spans of time surfing the Internet, wrote a software program that shut off access to the internet for periods up to eight hours. Brilliant, but I'll bet he didn't sell many of those programs.

As you might guess, writers know first hand about deadlines, missed deadlines, putting off until tomorrow and procrastination. One example was Victor Hugo (1802 - 1885), a brilliant French writer known for his love of liberty, strong sense of justice and his sympathy with the suffering of ordinary people. Hugo's writings included poetry, fiction and plays. His most famous early novel was "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." But his masterpiece, later to became a dramatic musical, was "Les Miserables." Hugo had a valet who looked after his wardrobe. (I have one too, don't you?) Hugo knew his own weakness for procrastination so he wrote naked and directed his valet to hide his clothes so that he'd be unable to go outside when he was supposed to be writing.

So if you have a task to complete and know you are a procrastinator or can feel two or more people inside you pulling in different directions or feel your supply of willpower getting low, stop your endless preparation, block the internet and have your valet hide your clothes until the job is finished.