Procrastination, Like Death And Taxes

Do you know people who don't procrastinate?

I know a few, and they are very annoying. They are the kind of people who did their homework the minute they walked in the door, or get their taxes filed ahead of time. I suppose one of the reasons I took relatively well to journalism was that it's the kind of job that prevented procrastination. At least at the day or hour of deadline.

But I've always known deep down that people who don't procrastinate suffer from less stress. So I've been searching ages for a way to stop the madness, and make life a little easier. I'm probably shouldn't admit it, but I've read whole books on the subject.

And I know I'm not alone -- in procrastinating, that is (not reading books about it). It's inevitable, like death and taxes. Everyone's got the thing they procrastinate about. And people always tell me that there are things they badly want or need to do -- so why can't they just get on with it?

I wanted to share something groundbreaking I just stumbled upon. I was reading a book by Oliver Burkeman, called The Antidote (which, ironically, I will review some other time). There's a section where he reveals an awkard truth about procrastination. He says:

The problem is that feeling like acting and actually acting are two different things. A person mired deep in procrastination might claim he is unable to work, but what really means is that he is unable to make himself feel like working.

And so the problem really lies in the misconception that in order to do something you actually have to feel like doing it. And that is a real problem. How often do we feel like doing admin tasks or going to the gym? Or even going to work?

Which leads me to the conclusion that in order to get anything really productive done I either need to be required to do it (going to work) or have a deadline (taxes). But I think there are a few other options:

Habits. If you want to do something on a regular basis or for the long term, like work out, write or learn how to sail, you have to build a structure around it. I've experienced this with the habit I've formed of going to yoga on a Sunday. Sometimes I wake up on a Sunday and think, I don't really feel like going to yoga today. But then, I realize that it's Sunday, and going to yoga is just what I do.

And I'm sure if you have any interest in writing you've been told about how all those famous writers wrote a certain number of words or worked for a certain number of hours in a day. Beause that's how work gets done.

The other option is non-attachment. And that's when you tell yourself something like this: So you don't feel like it? Too bad. And then you do it anyway, and once you start, usually everything is fine. That's when I find it's good to focus on the physical. For example, if I need to write something I'll focus first on opening up Word. That's all I'm doing, opening up Word!

I hope you'll find this little bit of insight on procrastination as valuable as I have. It hasn't helped me get my U.S. taxes done yet, but here's hoping.

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  1. It's been forever, but I am so glad I stopped by again. :-)

    Something that really helped me with procrastination issues is I was assigned to put together the company newsletter for several years - collect and collate articles, add graphics, write filler, etc. It HAD to be ready to mail on XX date, which meant it had to be ready for the printers by XX date, which meant... and so on, "backing into" the dates by which I HAD to have particular tasks done. You can putz with a piece of writing or graphics FOREVER, but if you have to let it go by XX point, you learn how to let go and move on to the next thing.

    I still procrastinate on personal writing things for which I have no set deadline, but I now do a pretty good job of getting the other deadline-y kinds of things done. And I also apply the logic my sisters taught me at the kitchen table, as I was gagging over some food I was being forced to eat: Try the thing you hate most, first, then the second most thing, until what you end up with last is the thing you like best, and THAT's the taste that lingers in your mouth.

    1. Hey! Thanks for stopping by, it's great to hear from you! That backwards-planning thing is a great method - I actually use that for work a lot, when I have multiple articles in the pipeline that need to go out. And I love the food one -- clearly one not only for food -- but could still come in handy at some dinner parties :)

      I have been very disconnected from the blogging world recently but I do check in with my google reader from time-to-time and always enjoy seeing what you're up to. I particularly enjoyed a post a while ago you wrote about your attractive feet!


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