I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and ironically once found myself putting off a writing deadline while reading James Surowiecki’s article about…procrastination.
We all do it, some of us more than others, and to varying degrees of effect.
At the most basic level, David McRaney explains that procrastination occurs—is, in fact, inevitable—because now-you seeks immediate gratification and is willing to defer responsibility to future-you. Now-you orders the burger with fries, assuming that future-you will compensate by choosing a salad. The problem, of course, is that future-you becomes now-you, and the cycle continues. “In the struggle between should versus want,” McRaney writes, “[successful] people have figured out something crucial—want never goes away.”
It’s worth repeating: no matter how much willpower we exert, want never goes away. What we can do, however, is outflank it, putting safeguards in place to help circumvent our inevitable moments of weakness. Internet blocking services like Freedom, StayFocusd and Cold Turkey are examples of this, shutting down your online access for designated blocks of time when you need to work distraction-free.
Then there’s the practice of positive procrastination. I may not be writing the report that’s due, but I’m at least helping a friend edit an article, as opposed to, say, blowing a few hours reading Brotips.
Here’s a third perspective:
What if the things you’re putting off should be put off?
What if the urgent on your to-do list is standing in the way of the truly important?
All too often it seems easier/safer/more predictable/less frightening to diligently, methodically grind out work, when instead we should be stepping back and asking bigger, more ambitious questions like: What’s the greatest need in my field today, and what can I be doing to meet it?
Meaningful, lasting, change-inducing work doesn’t get done by slogging a checklist.
Ask the question. Of yourself, of your colleagues, of the people in your field whom you most admire. Listen to what comes back. Then shut down your procrastination and get focused.
(Now, gotta finish the client’s project that I’ve been avoiding while writing this.)
Image above from the amazingly talented and clever Jessica Hagy.