The box sat in the computer room for weeks. Inside was a collection of paper to shred and items that needed a place to be stored. I looked at it every day but always found a reason not to deal with it. I stepped over and around the box. I moved it out of the way several times. When a search for something took me to the box, I finally did what I had long put off and after taking care of it questioned why I hadn't done it weeks earlier.
Being a procrastinator occasionally is nothing new. Ancient Greeks described the behavior as akrasia; the state of acting against your own better judgment. It's when you do one thing when you know you need to be doing something else. Certainly it's not uncommon to put off tasks we may not like, but it seems we are also increasingly putting off the things we enjoy. And it's causing disappointment and frustration for the people in our lives.
More and more of us are saying we will do something, but then failing on the follow through. A worrisome trend is that we are dealing with people the same way we approach that box of stuff. We're treating it as unimportant—something to get to…at some point.
The average American fails to show up to 46% of the events they said they would attend. The excuses used most often include being too tired, a change of heart, or having gotten a better offer. Surely Canadians do better, right? Well, a few instances over the last few weeks makes me wonder.
A young man took to a radio show to talk about a ball game he was trying to put together. He formed a group on social media and 22 people said they would be there. Plans for the game went ahead. So what happened? On the day, only 10 showed up. Then again, two million committed on that same platform to show up at Area 51 last Friday. About 100 did. Of course that event wasn't taken seriously by most, but when it comes to family and friends we seem to be getting just as flippant.
A newlywed was more than a little unhappy when there were 18 no-shows to her wedding; not people who didn't RSVP (although those numbers are rising too), but people who indicated they were coming and simply didn't show up. She received feedback from other newly married couples who said they experienced something very similar.
Then a few days ago I was talking with a lady who echoed something we are hearing more and more; "Why can't people show up and do what they tell me they're going to do?"
For almost two decades we have been cautioned about this increase in flaking—the characterization of people who don't follow through on what they commit to. They're described as fickle, unreliable and ones who can't get things done, or show up when they say they will.
The events people are most likely to flake on include birthday parties, family gatherings, and weddings. They make it known they intend to go, but then fail to show up. Whether they realize it or not, there is a cost. Two-thirds of people say they have stopped inviting certain people to anything because they always bail at the last minute, and 35% acknowledge their flaking habit has caused problems with a friend.
Charles Dickens once said, "My advice is to never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time." I wonder if things other than time are also at risk of getting stolen, simply because we're not doing the follow through the way we need to. Not only are we being robbed of things like contentment, fulfillment and accomplishment, but even more importantly, we are being robbed of friendships, relationships and family bonds, all because it's become too much of a bother to follow through on a commitment.
We need to do better than shrug our shoulders and say it's just a sign of the times. The priceis too high. It's time to start expecting more of each other—and more of ourselves. The box of paper isn't going anywhere. The same can't be said of the people who matter. That's my outlook.