The Value in Values


Dear Dr. Darcy:

I have a big problem and it’s called procrastination.  It’s getting in the way at work and recently my boyfriend told me that if I don’t ‘get it together’ he can’t date me anymore. I’m always late, always forgetting things and my To-do List never turns into a Done-List.  I’ve been like this my whole life but when I was a kid my mother used to keep me on track and organized so it never showed.  Am I just lazy?


When we add items to our ever-growing to-do lists, we have very good reasons for putting them there – at least in the moment.  The problem is that we forget why we put the tasks there soon after.  Don’t get me wrong:  We remember that the reason why we need to balance our checking account is so we don’t bounce checks.  What we forget, for example, is that the last time we bounced a check, we promised our partner that we’d never bounce a check again.  So the reason why balance your checkbook is on your To-Do List isn’t just because it’s time to balance it, but because you gave your partner your word.  It’s really about personal integrity and what that means to you.  When you boil things down to the compelling reasons why should do them, you create the fuel you need to burn through your To-Do list.

When new clients come to me, one of the first things we do together is identify a therapy goal.  After we identify the goal, I give them their first homework assignment:  Come up with a list of 20 compelling reasons why you MUST reach your therapy goal. This list then becomes the fuel that they will draw from when therapy becomes mundane, less exciting, a pain in the ass, etc.  Without that list, the homework assignments that I give them become more annoying items on their never-ending To-Do List.

What you have is a fuel shortage.  So how do you get fuel?

You need to spend some time contemplating your personal values and principals.  Come up with a list of 10, and call them your 10 Personal Commandments.  Anything you expect of yourself should stem from one of these Commandments. A friend of mine named Gretchen Rubin blogs about this concept and you can read more about Personal Commandments here.

This list becomes your list of guiding principals through life; a compass of sorts. When you think about it, every organized system has a similar list:  Countries, Religions, Organizations and Companies.

I don’t think you are lazy.  I think you have a list of tasks without good reasons to complete them and without those reasons, you essentially have a list of bullshit tasks that no one would want to do.