Why Is Procrastination A Four-Letter Word?

Okay, it’s True Confession time: I’m a world-class procrastinator. I mean, the kind worthy of tiaras, statues, and waving from podiums. What’s that saying? Anything worth doing is worth doing well? Well, I seem to have applied that philosophy to procrastinating. Probably not the original intention.

As a child, I recall this being an issue with schoolwork. I always got everything done, mind you, but it was often at the last gasp. It wasn’t even a state I was aware of until my mother brought it to my attention. She might have 1/8 of a gram of procrastination in her. It just isn’t her way. I’m sure it frustrated her to have a child who had mega doses of a trait she couldn’t understand. But worse than not being able to understand it, she couldn’t remediate it. Oh, how she tried.

I was probably at my best during college. I was so concerned that my lack of discipline was going to lead to my intellectual decline, that I over-compensated and studied like a fiend. I kept a notebook where I tallied my study hours each day, totaling them at the end of each week and month. While it may have thrilled my mother, I’d gone overboard and longed for my days of waiting till the last minute. By my junior year of college, I’d abandoned the notebook for something that felt a little more natural for me. Plus, I was sure I wasn’t going to flunk out and shame the family name at that point, so it was okay if I backed off a bit.

As an adult, I can’t say this trait hasn’t driven me crazy many times. It often makes me feel undisciplined, unfocused and lazy, assuming that I could right the ship if I really wanted to complete the task badly enough.

In moments where I’m feeling a little more generous with myself, I wonder if the procrastination serves a purpose that I have yet to identify and appreciate. While it’s true that I may need to do A, but set about doing B through F before circling back, at least I’ve completed B through F. In fact, in some cases, I can absolutely say that in my attempt to procrastinate, I become oddly productive. Maybe not productive at the thing I needed to be doing, but productive nonetheless.

There’s a wealth of information and research about procrastination. It seems to occupy the collective conscience in a way rarely seen with other personality traits. Procrastination is rarely seen as positive. More often it’s considered maladaptive and something to be fixed. When I contemplate the nature of my procrastinating (probably in an attempt to delay working on something else), I make the following observations:

  1. It seems so fundamental to my nature that I’m not convinced eradicating it is a valuable exercise. I think I’d get more mileage and benefits from finding ways to manage and understand it.
  2. When I look at the tasks I tend to delay, they’re things that require high degrees of concentration. I convince myself that it will take a long time to get to that particular state of mind; and once there, it’s likely that someone will call, stop by, or send an email with a pressing and urgent technical matter. I don’t want to start until I have relative certainty that I have a healthy block of time to devote to the task. You can see how that may never happen…
  3. I’ve identified the conditions under which I concentrate best and attempt to replicate them quickly each day, regardless of whether or not I may be faced with those tasks. If the environment is available consistently, then things seem to flow better. It’s kind of the “build it and they will come” strategy.
  4. And, finally, because there’s still a part of me that thinks I just need to get over it already, shape up, and stop obsessing over what needs to get done and just GET IT DONE, I’m still working on curing myself. I don’t want to be so precious about the necessary conditions. With the nature of my work, I’m rarely in environments of my own choosing. I work at client sites and you take the space they give you. I’ve set up my laptop on the corner of a bench with a pile of blankets as a chair. I’ve sat in the middle of a production floor on a metal folding chair, having to break every few hours to go find a power source. I might spend a few days one place and a few days at another, ever-changing conditions that don’t provide for such luxury that my delicate sensibilities may think they need. So I try to train myself to just get stuff done. Make a list. Prioritize it and go. Minimize the time thinking about the list. Thinking – that’s the real issue. That can derail me every time…

Are you a procrastinator? Perhaps a recovering procrastinator with a 12-step program you want to share?? I’m definitely still a work in progress. Hope I always will be!

4 thoughts on “Why Is Procrastination A Four-Letter Word?

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