“Not right now.”
“I can’t think about it, I can’t look at it. Bring me Netflix.”
These thoughts bang against the inside of my skull often. I don’t believe I’m alone in this. Procrastination is a secretly celebrated coping skill for those who create. The reason it's a secret is because we have bought into the notion that procrastination is poor decision-making, so we can’t let on that we aren't productive 100% of the time.
But the type of procrastination makes a difference, as does the person engaging in it.
I remember feeling that if I have a project to do then every bit of free time should be flooded with charts, research, writing, planning, and editing. If it’s not then I’m falling behind and not doing what I should be doing, right?
Well, at least not always.
Now, before I start, let me direct you back to the first two sentences of this post, I am a procrastinator and thusly I’m biased.
But, I am also someone who loves to create, write, and fulfill goals. I love to execute and confront. So my bias is founded in engaging in procrastination, not reveling in it.
How often do we stare at a screens, paper, or a blank canvas and then walk away saying “Whew, I need a break.” You know there’s something keeping from continuing so you try and force yourself to do something without starting your engine of creativity, problem-solving, or planning.
Evaluate your situation. Are you tired? Hungry? Sick? These biological situations can cause lethargy and lack of focus. They should be rectified before you address the actual work and problem of procrastination.
Personally I have encountered two types of procrastination, destructive and productive.
Destructive procrastination: Anything that moves you away from your goal in a long-term or permanent manner. If you’re working towards a goal then destructive procrastination is not having your focus and desire behind it. The best way to describe it is, if you start creating and investing in ways and reasons not to do your thing, it’s destructive procrastination. Take this is as a sign that you should reevaluate the project or work you are currently doing. I have also found that destructive procrastination tends to take more energy. You realize you’re merely avoiding the work and so you are still engaged in it mentally. Trying to shift the superficial focus of your mind to other things ends up making you frustrated and tired of both the work and distraction.
Productive procrastination: This is like taking a scenic route towards your goals. Mostly, it’s rest and revitalization. But, it can also be things that benefit you in overall sense, reading, spending some time outside, and enjoying moments with those you love, even playing video games. Make no mistake, if you should be doing something else, this is still procrastination. But realizing that and treating this time is as the break it is can help keep you from burning out. Taking a step back can sometimes be the thing that brings you closer towards accomplishing the thing you want. One thing I have noticed with productive procrastination is that once I have had some time to breathe and recharge I’m excited and can’t wait to get back to the projects I was working on. And usually, I bulldoze right through them.
So what are the reasons destructive procrastination has crept into your routine? If it’s not one of the biological factors, and you have utilized some productive procrastination then you should write out a few questions that can help identify the root cause of your destructive procrastination. Because, if you can recognize it then it becomes possible to eliminate.
Why am I doing this? The mission of the ultimate goal you are trying to achieve, and does the task at hand lead to that goal. This piece of guidance is usually always present in anything I approach, I can’t overstated how important it is to know your final desired outcome. You need a North Star to follow.
Do I have a plan in place? This one is obvious but because it’s so common to speak of planning, sometimes we forget to actually plan. Make sure you haven’t set yourself up for failure that your deadlines aren’t arbitrary or unrealistic, and that you aren’t way out of your scope (not comfort zone, but knowledge base). Don’t treat yourself as an expert if you have no knowledge or experience about the project you’re tackling. Also, check your milestones and end goal, do you have a path that leads to them?
Can I approach this differently? If you’re distracted it may mean that you have hit a roadblock and productive procrastination has taken a turn towards destructive. Try to re-evaluate the work you need to do and see if there is better way, sometimes we just need a different approach.
Is it necessary? There are many times I create a task or problem to solve that can be completely removed with zero impact on the overall goal. Make sure what you are doing is actually necessary, and by necessary I mean adds value or efficiency to the end result. Not just necessary because you happen to be working on it.
“Men seek rest in a struggle against difficulties; and when they have conquered these, rest becomes insufferable.” –Blaise Pascal
Identifying and eliminating destructive procrastination is different for everyone, it may show multiple times on the same goal you are working towards, or once in two years.
On the flipside, if you don’t how to start, where to stop or even where you are, then remember to take some productive procrastination time. If you can treat it as the break and breather it is then you will return clearer and more productive, and that’s worth every minute spent procrastinating.
“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.” –Lao Tzu