Wellness Pearls

08 August 2017

Is Your Procrastination a Ripening or a Dodge?

We are willing to pursue any vile task as long as it allows us to avoid something worse.

Piers Steel, author The Procrastination Equation


When we put off that which is most important to us, the first remedy is to study our own reluctance.  Yet if we approach all projects without delay, we may not be putting our whole imaginative selves into it.  Strategic procrastination can be a superpower.  Famously, Da Vinci spent 15 years pondering his ideas for The Last Supper.  Abe Lincoln finished the Gettysburg Address the day of the speech, while Martin Luther King was still refining his most well-known speech as he walked up to the podium. ” I have a Dream”  never appeared in his draft at all.  Procrastination, as a human condition, can help us cultivate wisdom or even genius by pushing us into new territory. Is your procrastination disguised as idea incubation or are you needing to get stuff done?  The distinction is important.

Procrastination allows improvising because you don’t commit to any single path. Reluctance to take action can enable you to use the best ideas available, which becomes extremely important when handling the most important work. But if you are only avoiding and you let this pattern take over, it can also hurt the quality of your life.

When the going gets tough, we procrastinate by doing something that requires less effort, often something mindless.   If you are sure your procrastination is not due to a needed ripening of ideas, and you just need to GET IT DONE, here are some self-regulation hacks:

  • Focus on the first baby step.   A client of mine started from the couch with a walk around the lake on his journey to a 10-mile run.  Chunk tasks into do-able pieces.  Starting is undoubtedly the toughest part, but its  the origin of all achievement.
  • 30 day challenge.  You commit to do something (or stop something destructive) each day. Adding structure to our lives is the soil for habits that grow around this structure.
  • When-then” rule. Do the hardest thing first. When that is done,  then you get to the easier stuff.
  • Sympathize with your future self. Imagine yourself in a week, a month or a year. Wouldn’t that future version of yourself appreciate your for getting it done
  • Command your calendar. Treat your blocked time as sacred, and be ruthless in shutting out distractions.
  • Quit in the middle.   When you are stopping for the day, stop mid-task, to make it easier to begin the next day.
  • Have personal policies.  Examples: a weekly 24-hour technology holiday, batch emails, say NO immediately to invites you do not want to accept.
  • Shut down the inner critic.  If you have a mean-spirited inner dialogue, that self-doubt will influence how you feel and act.  It must not be allowed to drive the bus. Shut it down, duct-tape it and stuff it in the trunk.

Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.                    David Allen, author, Getting Things Done


2 Responses

  1. Mary K

    Hi Eileen,

    Another great post! I procrastinated responding…
    But then reread it and wanted to thank you for these helpful tips and new approaches.

    For me, the “Shut down the inner critic” is always the most challenging, given my hyperactive mean-spirited inner dialogue that drives the bus like a scene out of the movie Crash! Maybe I’ll try to shut it down, duct-tape it, stuff it in the trunk, and then lock the trunk, throw away the key, etc?

    Again, I always look forward to and appreciate your Wellness Pearls!

    1. Eileen O'Grady

      Thanks for this. YES the mean spirited inner critic must be shut down, next time I see you we can explore other ways to do just that …if the gangster, NJ metaphor doesn’t suite you. I had procrastinated on writing the blog on procrastination, so I can relate.

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