Pattern of Procrastination and Avoidance Hurting Practice 7-02

A client has just filed a complaint about me with the BBO. I can’t blame her, because I allowed aspects of her case slide until it was too late to get her a fair result. To be honest, I’m beginning to recognize a life-long pattern of procrastination and avoidance that has all too often jeopardized my career and created personal problems (i.e., missing IRS deadlines, alienating friends, etc.). I don’t really understand why I behave this way, and my fervent intention to change has proved futile.

Our experience at LCL indicates that this is a very common problem among lawyers, especially those in solo practice who answer only to themselves. It also seems to come up more in certain kinds of cases, e.g., litigation or probate, less so in criminal work which imposes its own deadlines.

Procrastination and avoidance produce a strong and immediate, albeit, short term reinforcement: reduction in pressure and anxiety. But this inclination is usually outweighed by factors such as enthusiasm and the anticipated gratification of accomplishment, making an impact, or just getting the job done. A healthy fear of foreseeable consequences is also a motivator. How many people would finish preparing their income tax returns if they had no fear of the consequences?

Your avoidance could stem from a number of causes. (The crucial factors probably vary from one person to another.) Here is an incomplete list of possibilities:

· Attention Deficit Disorder: There may be difficulties with sequencing, focusing, and prioritizing that are inherent in how your brain is “wired.”

· Depression: The low energy, motivation, concentration, pleasure, etc. of depression can set the stage for neglecting important tasks and, when severe, even basic hygiene.

· Personality features: Low self-confidence, exaggerated anxieties about failure, or fear of making a mistake can all trigger avoidance. Another example is the person with “passive-aggressive” features, who (without realizing it) uses lateness or inaction as an indirect means of expressing anger.

In his book, Do It Now, Dr. William Knaus identifies a variety of “procrastination styles,” such as fantasizing rather than acting, or “drifting” with only vague goals and plans. (This and other relevant books are available in LCL’s library.) Aside from treating underlying conditions such as those listed above, a procrastinator breaks out of such patterns, typically, by scheduling and essentially forcing new behaviors. Changing such behavior is not easy and often benefits from collaboration with someone else, for example, a therapist/counselor, personal coach, or when appropriate an attorney-monitor. LCL can help you better evaluate your problem and can provide you with resources to deal with it.

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