Procrastination

I’m a world-class procrastinator. In Jungian terms, I’m a “perceiving type.” When you put a good spin on that term, it means I’m flexible and spontaneous. But if you’re talking about time management, it means that schedules and To Do lists are my kryptonite.

I hate structure, I’m easily distracted, and I don’t have that built-in sense of urgency that productive people (like my husband) seem to have been born with. Writer’s block (the inability to tackle a writing task) is a persistent problem.

When I was teaching, and there was something I absolutely had to cover that day, I used to write my lesson plan on the chalkboard so that students could help me stay on task. It’s so easy for me to wander off! Geez, I could write a book on procrastination. (Actually I have!)

Yesterday was one of Those Days. I put some last-minute touches on a writing project and sent it off. Charlie and I did laundry and took a walk. I had a dance lesson. And that was it for the day. Procrastination was paying me an unwelcome visit.

While I was thinking about it today, it occurred to me that maybe the name we’re assigning to that can’t-get-the-old-engine-started feeling is part of the difficulty.

The first step in curing a disease is to diagnose it. If a physician mistakenly thinks she’s treating a sprain, that broken ankle is never going to get better. Perhaps procrastination works the same way: The only way to move ahead is to figure out what’s going on underneath all that inertia.

Procrastination, I’ve decided, could be many things:

  • “I’m depleted.” (I think this is what was going on with me yesterday. I’d worked hard on a big writing project the day before, plus I stayed up to watch a movie on TV.) The best remedy is to take some time off to recharge and renew our energy. (I like that remedy!)
  • “I’m overwhelmed.” Ninety percent of my procrastination problems seem to start right here – and I’m willing to bet that many other people have the same problem.
    My favorite solutions are a) to commit to doing a tiny part of the task or b) set out to do the task badly, with the idea that I can clean it up later. Both of these strategies usually work for me (except for days like yesterday).
  • “I’m bored.” This is a tricky one, because the word “bored” – like “procrastination” – needs to be unpacked so that we can see what’s really going on. Perhaps you’re trying to tackle a big task all at once instead of breaking it into smaller, more manageable pieces.
    Or maybe you need to incorporate more variety into your daily routine. Maybe a different setting would help (I wrote much of my doctoral dissertation in a coffee shop). Music works great for me and many other people. Pandora’s streaming music service has to be one of the best boons ever to writers.

And maybe the real problem isn’t procrastination – it’s the way we talk about it. Head-beating and chest-thumping about our character defects never accomplishes anything.

Here’s a crazy thought that might be worth pondering: What if there’s no such thing as procrastination? What if it’s only a warning sign that something else in my life needs attention?

Suggestion: The next time you find yourself procrastinating, try to find a different name for what you’re feeling and take it from there.

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