Procrastination - Part 1 - Problem or practical tool?
Are you a procrastinator? Do you admit this sheepishly, knowing you won’t be changing it, while also believing it’s a character flaw? Chances are you have people in your life who have re-enforced this belief, pointing out how much less stress/how much more success you would enjoy if you would only embrace getting things done in a timely manner. That makes a lot of sense, right?
I’m not so sure. Your critics land in one of three camps. There is the “pot calling the kettle black” crowd, others like yourself who can see the sound logic in getting things completed in a timely manner all the while failing to do this in their own lives. Then there are the “just do what I do” folks who genuinely experience pleasure and satisfaction from completing tasks and take on responsibilities the minute they appear. Finally, there are the “headed for a breakdown” people who are constantly at war with themselves, powering through their work, judging their performance as if they were their own jailer, not allowing a crack in willpower and enjoying nothing. Life’s too short for that.
So really there are only two kinds of people. Those who derive motivation in a way other than through procrastination and those of us who derive motivation from the panic of a deadline. You must admit, as long as you can master the timing of the panic such that you panic before it’s too late to recover, the realization of having left a responsibility too long is an excellent tool for creating focus. And motivation. And problem solving. It gets the adrenaline pumping.
And what do the things we procrastinate about have in common? One way or another, they are things we don’t want to do. We may think we should do them, wish we could do them, believe our lives would we better if we did do them but, the truth is, we don’t want to do them. Obviously. Nobody procrastinates about the things they want to do, like sleep or play video games, stereotypical procrastinator hobbies.
Seriously, take a look at all the things you do enthusiastically. Do you like to cook? Camp? Entertain? Read? This past winter, even as a Canadian, I became obsessed with CNN and MSNBC, wondering how sane folks were going to navigate having a chronic deflector as the American president. I spent hours watching the coverage, when I should have been doing more productive things.
Wait, should I though? Studying humans is my life-long passion and these are historic times. I’ve learned a whole bunch about American history and politics, the ways of the news media and how I prefer to get my information, really good information for a future I hope includes delivering information to others. Nothing failed in my life because of my mild obsession, I’ve moved on now, and I can truly see how allowing myself the freedom to explore a natural interest without limitations or judgement has enriched my feeling of satisfaction and moved my life forward.
If procrastination is an indication that, for some reason, there’s a thing we have to or should do, but don’t want to do, and then there is everything else that we want to do, aren’t we better served by embracing what we want to do unless and until the pressure of a deadline kicks in? Have you ever tried just releasing that inner voice of judgement and giving yourself full permission to do as you please? Or do you keep a quiet internal tape running, looping through a list of things you should be doing, ensuring you don’t forget and get lost in the joy of a passion.
I have a deep belief that procrastination is nature’s way of guiding us towards what we love in life and away from what we don’t. Further, I believe we can trust our nature to wake us up when it’s time to get to work. If we spend the rest of our time doing what brings us satisfaction, joy, fulfillment, we will be well rested and capable of pouring on the focus when the time to procrastinate comes to an end. This may feel risky, but what have you got to lose? You’re already not doing the thing you should be doing!
In part 2 we will look at how this is a great theory, unless you actually do want to do what you are procrastinating about and are in the clutches of resistance. What then?