Procrastination: Readers' tales of epic time-wasting

Man procrastination

Our article about procrastination generated a huge response.

Readers found the time to send hundreds of emails after Rowan Pelling described the all-too recognisable world of indecision, missed deadlines and delaying tactics.

I started decorating the bathroom in 2000 when I moved in to this house. The tins of paint are still on display 12 years later and the work awaits completion. I still haven't decided what colour towels I'm having. Caroline, Wirral

I'm still getting round to putting the optic-fibre Christmas tree away from last December and it's now nearly September. As it got past the halfway mark of this year (June) I decided I might as well leave it because (a) it's nearly Christmas again anyway (b) I quite like the effect of the lights (c) what's wrong with having a Christmas tree throughout the year anyway? (d) I really can't be bothered to fiddle around putting it in and out of the loft every year. Polly Day, Abingdon

Find out more

  • Helping Hamlet: Can Science Cure Procrastination?, presented by Rowan Pelling, is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11:00 BST on Thursday 30 August

A friend of mine, who I'll call "Dave" (because that was his name) said he would do anything to avoid A-level revision. At one point he infamously found himself weighing the cat, convinced that he would only be able to settle down to work if he had that data to hand. As a result, some 25 years later, the act of procrastination is referred to by my family as "weighing the cat". Ian Whitten, Sittingbourne, Kent

I am a teacher, I once left a set of books unmarked for so long I was embarrassed to give them back to the students yet again unmarked. So I hid them, then went into the classroom and told them they had been stolen. Sonia, London

A client sent me a cheque for £6,000. I lost it. I always intended to ask them to issue another but never got round to it. Ian Bain, Edinburgh

Start Quote

Craig Fisher

I bought a book called 52 Steps To Defeating Procrastination. I've still never read it”

End Quote Craig, Bedfordshire

In 1963, my dad asked me to knit him a supporters' scarf for the local team that he supported, saying that he would pay for my work. I was 13 years old at the time and he made the mistake of paying me in advance for my labours. You can guess that he never saw the scarf and he died, in 2010, aged 93, without ever seeing a return for his money. I should feel guilty but Dad was a kind and generous person and I don't think he really minded! Pauline Leech, Stockport, Cheshire

It took me a year to shamefully hand in sponsorship money after a fun run I took part in, for a cancer charity. I just had to find some time when I could donate some goods to one of their shops and take the money in at the same time. I felt so much better when I finally paid up - especially after being so outraged when I had heard on the day of the race that a large proportion of people do not hand over their sponsorship cash. Anne, Chippenham, Wiltshire

In October 1987 a husband assures his pregnant wife that he will put shelves in a tall kitchen cabinet in order to make into a storage cupboard. The shelves are finally put in by our son (the "bump") when he is 16 years old. Over the 16-year period I heard an endless line of excuses. I could have done it myself, but I am dangerous with drills and cables, so tend to leave well alone. After all, he was going to do it and turned down a joiner friend's offer to do it when I first mentioned it. Sarah Clark, near Morpeth, Northumberland

Tips for actually doing things

  • Break it down, says Prof Joe Ferarri, author of Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done
  • "Procrastinators struggle to see the wood for the trees; I say cut down one tree. If that's too much cut down one branch. If that's too much cut me some leaves. Just do it!"
  • Bribe yourself, says Prof Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation
  • Give £50 to a friend and tell them to give it away to a political party or cause you hate if you don't complete the task
  • Momentum: The laws of physics state that it is easier to keep going than get going. So start doing the task before you feel motivated to do it.

When I was asked to write a 2,000-word history essay for my architecture degree, I waited to the last week to act. I decided to set all my other tasks aside so I could wholly focus on the essay. I locked myself in my room, and yet for the first six days I only wrote 100 words each day. My piano and guitar improved loads and I saw a lot of good movies but this was not what I had been planning. It was only when the stress of a deadline and the possible retake of the module reached breaking point on the last day that I managed to complete the last 1,400 words. What this showed me is that it is possible but I wish that I was motivated by something other than stress. Theo Roseland, Bristol

I bought a book called 52 Steps To Defeating Procrastination. I've still never read it - it was over 10 years ago, and I'm not even sure where it is now. Craig, Bedfordshire, UK

When we first got married, my wife brought home a whiteboard on which we could list the jobs that needed to be done. About a year later it disappeared. Just before our silver wedding anniversary, I found the whiteboard in our garage. There were about 20 jobs on it. None of them had been done - and most of them still needed to be done. Steve Swift, Alton, Hampshire

Start Quote

Vivian Thonger

My husband and I still haven't put our house in Holland on the market”

End Quote Vivian Thonger (moved to Cornwall two years ago)

Whilst writing my dissertation at Bournemouth University earlier this year, I entered the race to become president of our Students Union. I had no real intention of ever winning and no interest in the job at all. I went on to campaign for a whole week just before my deadline. Overall I spent approximately four days writing my dissertation. Coincidentally I have to re-submit one of my essays before I can graduate, this is due in tomorrow and I am nowhere near done. Anon, London

My husband and I still haven't put our house in Holland on the market, or told anyone that we want to sell. We lived there for 20 years and moved back to a rental in the UK when our children came to university here. To the neighbours' bafflement, the house has been standing unused, unemptied and untended for over two years and we've hardly been back. But none of us mentions it, except that my son would like his drum kit at uni. Worries about break-ins, burglary or squatting occupy my thoughts, as well as dwindling value as it ages. Why are we so paralyzed? Vivian Thonger, Bude, Cornwall

In 1970 I moved house, dismantling my well-organised workbench. I then spent the next 30 years putting back reassembling it. I was forever hunting for a tool, screw, fuse... looking in a variety of boxes and shelves. I would spend 10 to 20 minutes on each search. Finally, 30 years later, I got to grips and put everything back in its place. I was astonished it only took me 45 minutes. At two 10 minutes searches a month that makes an incredible 120 hours solid work, or three 40-hour weeks. I cannot believe this except that figures don't lie. Leon Laporte, London

I started up the Stirling University Procrastination Society in 1980. It was a resounding success. Not one person bothered to return their registration form on time and we never got round to holding any meetings. Well done us. Yay! JohnB, Berkshire

More on This Story

In today's Magazine

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.