The power of naming procrastination

Have you ever procrastinated for a significant period and then, when you’ve finally done the thing you procrastinated over, wished you’d done so much sooner?

We’ve all been there at some stage, some more than others.

You know that task I mean – that one that had you cleaning your house AND doing your tax paperwork, anything simply to avoid that which you need to do. (On the upside at least your house is sparkling and your tax paperwork sorted.) [Feel free to substitute any tasks you hate into this scenario if you are one of those people who like housework and tax paperwork.]

It might be over little things or it may be that it crops up more for major changes or tasks.

Whether it’s taking the plunge and starting that project, upgrading that PC, laptop or other device, calling in that plumber, culling the gear in that drawer or cupboard where you can longer find anything, contacting that friend with whom you’ve been out of contact for far too long or changing your hairstyle, diet, job or even ending a relationship … knowing we should have done it sooner can be frustrating.

Why do we do it?

Is it that we:

  • Are unsure where to start?
  • Make a start but give up too soon?
  • Don’t break the task into manageable chunks?
  • Go in the wrong direction or pursue dead ends?
  • Overcomplicate what needs to be done?
  • Are scared of finishing?

It could be any of these things or a combination, and it may be different things for different tasks, but sometimes procrastination does serve a purpose.

There are valid reasons we may delay, such as:

  • We may need to be sure
  • We might need to prepare ourselves
  • The timing may need to be right
  • We perceive that staying as is easier (at least for the time being).
  • Or sometimes it is avoidance. We may actively resist the things we most need to do, and at the heart of avoidance, fear often resides, although guilt and/or anger can have a bearing as well.

Sometimes we do need a little time to be sure we are making the right choice or working out the best way to tackle something, but all too often we expend unnecessary energy or waste valuable time. It might be occasional but it can become a habit, and it can have huge impacts.

Jacquie's Crabapple blossom

Crabapple blossom © 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith

How can we gain power over procrastination?

Name it.

  • What do you need to do?
  • Why do you need to do it?
  • What is stopping you? If you are stuck for ideas, hunt for any aspects about which you feel worried or fearful, guilty or even angry.
  • What is the impact of not doing it?
  • What would be most helpful for you to do now? This may be a conscious commitment, taking a first step, developing a plan or even consciously deciding the time is not now.

Although I am most interested in “creative procrastination”, the things I have been known to procrastinate about are wide-ranging and so I have kept this post broader. This is what works for me but I am sure there are many approaches.

What is your experience of why you procrastinate?

What do you find most helpful?

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences – please share them in the comments.

Thanks for reading this post! Some of my other related posts include When push comes to shove – juggling priorities in a time-poor world and Is excitement a new strategy for writers?

Or you may also be interested in What are the synergies between mindfulness and creativity? and Where health and creativity intersect.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

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Disclaimer

© 2015 Jacquie Garton-Smith

14 thoughts on “The power of naming procrastination

  1. Thanks for the article.

    Procrastination is my biggest frustration when it comes to writing. I haven’t posted for about 6 months. I’ve got a few outlines ready to go but am stuck!

    • Thanks so much for commenting Kevin.

      I won’t quiz you about what is stopping you because I think that’s most powerful as an internal reflection but I must say I empathise!

      The biggest change I have made around writing and procrastination is working out what is an achievable schedule (in amongst my work and family commitments and across the different types of writing) and then sticking to it. It’s easier because I don’t feel overwhelmed.

      I must say that I have loved the regular snippets in “Eat Move Chill”. Well done! My exercise routine has slipped recently with a writing deadline so that will be the task about which I can no longer procrastinate this week! Lots of motivation in your advice there.

      Looking forward to reading more of your wisdom soon
      Jacquie

  2. Hi Jacquie
    Great post! Hope you’re keeping well. Just a few thoughts… Sorry to ramble!
    Since retiring I seem to procrastinate more than ever. I have lots of tasks to do… Prepare for an interview, knit friend a jumper, prepare a sermon, housework, complete on line course, wean and care for new puppies plus normal day to day stuff and attend calendar activities. Guess what… In spite of being up since 6am I’m still sitting in pyjamas with no direction. I think I’ve worked out the problem. When I worked my life revolved around the calendar. I ran from one meeting to the next. In retirement I seem better when my day is full of timed events. Perhaps my solution would be to identify time slots in the day to do my various activities within the home, leaving me time to relax without feeling guilty!

    Kind Regards

    Shirley Brooks

    >

    • Hi Shirley and many thanks for sharing your experiences.

      It sounds like you are still doing a great deal even if you wish to be better organised about it, and have identified the problem and potentially a solution in one hit.

      I must confess I have rather enjoyed the odd PJ day when I have got up and straight into the flow of my writing and still been in PJs when bedtime came around again! But I definitely get more done when I am in a routine.

      Good luck with getting back to scheduling what you want to do. Would love to hear how you get on.

      Best wishes and thanks again
      Jacquie

  3. Taxes and business bookkeeping. Oy. I have tried to schedule bookkeeping days at home so hubby and I can power through it, and then we still end up making excuses and pushing it off. But I think next time, I am going to make it into a date. Order take-out. Play some good tunes. Set up for the long haul. And the funny thing is, we don’t even want to do the bookkeeping ourselves, but we need a new bookkeeper and we can’t seem to make up our minds about a chart of accounts and choosing a person and choosing a better system. It’s ridiculous!

    • Hi Laura

      Sounds like the procrastination topic struck a chord and the significance of avoidance by tax paperwork is amplified to the main player here! Great idea to make a special day of it!

      Okay I confess mine is only half done too (clearly I need a task I am avoiding even more …) and yes I then send it off to my accountant who I pay for all the complex stuff.

      I still hate doing mine (except for the delicious feeling of relief when it is done!) but advice I have found invaluable came from an accountant I saw when I first ventured out into private medical practice. She insisted that I use a particular method of filing all my receipts, invoices, etc from the minute they come in, so they are all organised and just need checking & final collation. The final stage is definitely less torturous. And I still use the same accountant over 20 years later.

      Hmmmm must finish off this year’s … Not due for many months but such a good feeling to have it done. I might just try your idea too (although I suspect my chance of my husband helping is nil since it’s mostly my business paperwork, I could maybe teach him to use the coffee-maker so he can keep my caffeine levels up?)

      Hope you get yours done soon and do enjoy the achievement – tis huge.

      Thanks for contributing!
      Jacquie

  4. Yet another thought-provoking g post, Jacquie. Read it days ago but typically procrastinated about responding with something intelligent and kept putting it off. As you well know, I am the queen of procrastination when it comes to writing. I do have a name for it: Fear. Ironically fear of success rather than fear of failure.

    According to David Cain (thoughtcatalogue.com) procrastinators are people who have developed a strong association between their performance and value as a person, making failure or criticism disproportionately painful. This, in turn, leads to doubt and hesitancy when doing anything that would affect their ability. When considering taking anything on, the promise of praise or benefit from doing something right are overshadowed by the (disproportionately greater) threat of getting something wrong. Crazy as it seems, it is the fear of subjecting oneself, not just one’s work, to scrutiny.

    No time to waste on psychoanalysis now that I have a name for it – I should simply place more trust in in my two wonderfully supportive writer friends and get on with it.

    Looking forward to your next post.

    • In turn, what a thought provoking response Helena! I suspect I was prone to procrastination from my early childhood well before I think I made any association with performance, but I now see that as something on which I must reflect. Quite seriously.

      Fear of success and what it may bring is both valid and I must say very possible in your case. I can’t wait to read more of your efforts and know I have been extremely privileged to have read what you have shared.

      I will endeavour not to procrastinate too long before my next post, although I seem to have found a routine that allows me to post something that I hope is meaningful even if not as frequent as many bloggers.

      One thing I am confident will involve no procrastination at all is catching up for the next coffee when we are all in the same continent again xxx

  5. I’m actually commenting on this interesting post because I’m procrastinating right now! I procrastinate for lots of reasons—if I don’t like the job I’m meant to be doing, or when it’s hard, like writing new scenes in my novel, or when I’m stuck and don’t know what to do, or if I’ve still got plenty of time left before a deadline (then, of course, I have a mad panic at the end to finish!). If I start procrastinating, I find it best to take a break—get food, drink, take a walk—and start again when I’m feeling fresher, and just Do It!

    • LOL that all sounds very familiar Louise. Uncannily familiar … You are right – there are many potential triggers.

      A break sounds like a great strategy – I think it can be a way of resetting as long as the breaks don’t feed the procrastination disruption (as mine have been known to at times … sometimes more break time than productive time or indeed sometimes NO productive time).

      I hope your break today to comment was followed by wonderfully productive writing time thereafter.

      Not least because I am aching to read the next instalment!
      Jx

  6. Interesting post, Jacquie, and equally interesting comments! I can relate to the fear aspect of procrastination, but also the right/wrong time factor.
    I’ve found that taking time to just ‘be’ and noticing what my intuition tells me to do next is one way of overcoming the fear factor. If I let myself be driven by an inner impulse, rather than what something external is telling me I ‘should’ do, I’m far more motivated and inclined to get what is required done.
    Picking up on what you said about the good feeling you get when you’ve finished a tedious chore – I’ve read somewhere that focusing on that feeling can help with motivation. And that can be applied to any situation; if you keep your attention on your desired outcome your subconscious prompts you to take the steps that will bring it about.
    Procrastination is a fascinating subject; thanks for your tips on how to gain power over it. I look forward to putting them into practice!

    • Thanks for commenting Louise. It has been fabulous to have so much discussion on the topic.

      It sounds like you take a very mindful approach to procrastination. Taking time to tune in to the dynamics influencing our behaviour isn’t always easy and your suggestion sounds like a great way to approach it.

      Absolutely agree that focusing on the feel-good factor from completing a task (even a broken-down step in a bigger project) can be a wonderful motivator too.

      Great to hear from you and best wishes for your endeavours.
      Jacquie

  7. I know when I’m searching for something to do other than what I need to do is not only frustrating for me but others to. Doesn’t stop me from procrastinating though x

  8. Rae, so true! Great point about how our procrastination can affect others and good to be conscious of – though my family have been pleasantly surprised if it drives me to bake a cake … something I rarely do otherwise since I am not a sweet tooth myself! I think I feel better about procrastinating if it makes others happy 🙂

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