The art of procrastination


Procrastination is an old friend. I can find numerous ways to procrastinate. When some work on my thesis is due, I can rather write a blog post. When a blog post is due I can find myself suddenly fascinated by my research. I know I’m not the only one.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary the word procrastination originated in the 1540s, from the Latin procrastinationem “a putting off,” noun of action from procrastinare “put off till tomorrow,” from pro- “forward” + crastinus “belonging to tomorrow,” from cras “tomorrow”

Modern technology makes it much easier to procrastinate. Do you recognize any of these in yourself?

  • Sitting down to do what needs doing and then finding yourself hours later clicking through the baby pictures of your best friend from school that you haven’t had a real conversation with in years.
  • Letting yourself play “one” quick game before getting on with what needs to be done. And then compulsively trying to beat your best score – as if humanity’s survival on this planet depends on it.
  • Feeling a sudden and compulsive urge to clear out your inbox and file. Along the way you are waylaid and start reading newsletters you are not really interested in, but suddenly find fascinating.
  • By 2.30 in the afternoon you decide that whatever you were planning to do will be better done tomorrow. Wash, rinse, repeat the next day.

Here are some hints:

  1. Break large and complex tasks into bite size pieces. Like the old joke – How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Do one small thing that makes a difference. It’s easier to find 30 minutes in your day to do that one bite than to find a block of five hours.
  2. Get an early start on the big things. Delay some of your low energy morning tasks like checking emails until you have done at least a part of the big thing.
  3. Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise. Assume that you will not be able to do everything that needs to be done and then do what is most important.
  4. Be realistic about time. I once had a colleague who thought that one hour was three hours long. I found it frustrating to watch him chase his own tail to make deadlines. Don’t make agreements that cant be kept.
  5. Get real! Don’t pretend you will do things that you wont. It wastes space in your mind as well as on your to do list. Diarise it, delegate it, do it or delete and drop it.
  6. Get out of the victim mentality about time. You and I and Bill Gates and Richard Branson have been given the same amount of time to spend every day. Time has not chosen you as a special target. I sometimes ask people to write a letter to time as if time was a person. It’s always interesting to see how we use blaming language when we talk to time.
  7. Luxuriate in it for a while. If it really is a crisis, you wouldn’t be procrastinating. Having the time to put things of can be a great luxury!  Give yourself a set time to continue procrastinating and a deadline for starting. Resisting what is already happening does not make it stop. Accept, adjust, take action.
  8. Sometimes procrastination is soul time. Something is growing and like a seed, it needs a time of dormancy before bursting forth with full on energy. Ideas and inspiration can be like that. They need some time to brew and stew, before being set into action.

Do you have a procrastination habit? I would love to hear about it!

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Posted in Time Management, Uncategorized

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