A Different Take On Procrastination

SF Ferry BldgBy Anis Salvesen

Ever wonder why you put off things even if they are not unpleasant?  We all know about putting off writing that term paper until the night before it’s due or playing a who-will-break-down-first game with a roommate or spouse when the trash bin is full.  But what about putting off things you enjoy?

This weekend, for example, I was at a picnic, and I was talking to a guy about how much I enjoyed my trip to Chicago last year.  One of the highlights of my trip was taking the architectural river cruise.  The guy’s response was “That cruise was always high on my list of things to do, but I never got to it!”   Mind you he had lived and worked in Chicago for something like seven years.

Living in San Francisco, I suffer a similar fate.  I meet tourists on the trolley every day who have seen more of the city in two days than I have in the past two-and-a-half years I’ve lived here.   You know the new California Academy of Sciences building designed by the world-famous architect Renzo Piano – the building with the “living roof”?   Well, I’ve driven guests there on two separate occasions, but I have yet to go inside.  This despite the fact that I had anticipated its grand opening for months before it happened and actually braved the crowds on opening weekend, only to find there were no more tickets available.   Something like 20,000 people had beat me to them.  Even though I was so excited to visit the museum, I have yet to go back and actually go inside.

I was still thinking about the picnic conversation with the guy from Chicago and my own instances of procrastination on the drive home yesterday evening.  And then I remembered a fascinating article I had read, related to procrastination.  A couple of behavioral economists conducted some research, and among other things, they found that “people don’t put off only unpleasant tasks like doing taxes or cleaning out the garage. They also procrastinate on enjoyable experiences like going to the spa.”

Aha.  So the guy from Chicago and I were not just a couple of weirdos – “outliers” to put it more formally.   Apparently it was a common phenomenon, putting off even activities one enjoys.  But how, you ask, does this relate to donating and volunteering?  I’ll just tell you one more quick story.

I was running frantically down the street, hair flying everywhere, cheeks flushed, eyes tearing up, doing my best to dodge tourists and not hit them with my numerous bags – the usual morning romp to work.  The tourists would likely go home and talk about how this crazy little person practically ran them over as they meandered peacefully down the street.  At least this is what I was thinking while I was waiting for the light to turn so I could continue my sprint to the office.  Just then I noticed a truck turning right in front of me that had the logo of a very well-known charity emblazoned on the side of it.   It reminded me of my intentions to volunteer somewhere.  But where?   I would do a Google search later.  The light turned, and I thought nothing more of it for the rest of the day.

Then I found UniversalGiving.  I realized that here was a site where I could find opportunities both to donate and to volunteer.  I  liked the site so much, I joined UniversalGiving.  Obviously I’m not recommending that everyone who reads this blog post join the non-profit, but I do recommend you check it out.  I embedded a link, so it’s just a quick click away.  Thanks for your time. And remember – if you’re ever in San Francisco, and you see a little person sprinting past you like there’s a fire, don’t worry.  I’m just really excited to get to work.  🙂


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