Who is afraid of procrastination?
Procrastination has replaced sloth among the list of capital sins. While Amazon is selling 6,000 books about procrastination, Google provides 6, 260, 000 responses to the existential question ‘how to stop procrastinating?’. All around me, I see people confess shamefully to be ‘professional’ or ‘pathological’ procrastinators as the discussion becomes more trustful.
I can’t help wondering why procrastination is considered to be such a problem. A ‘pathology’, even. Seriously?
A brief enquiry led me to doubt the relevance of this new moral standard.
After having procrastinated for a week at the sight of a mountain of work in which she felt she was going to drown, this brilliant consultant was too short of time to go the old way. She had to create a shortcut to complete her project, which, in hindsight, led her to a better result.
Wow, I thought. That’s amazing how time pressure can make you creative.
A friend of mine procrastinated sending me something through her phone because she had forgotten how to do it. When I showed her, she admitted shamefully that her son had already shown her twice, with sarcastic comments about her computer illiteracy.
Oh, I thought. Anticipated shame must be a good reason to procrastinate.
Another complained that his daughter procrastinated doing her homework until he would stick his nose into her folders.
– How do you see her behave in other circumstances?” I asked.
– To be honest, I don’t see much of her in other circumstances, he replied. I travel a lot for work, you see?
Clever girl, I thought. She has found a great way to get her Dad’s attention!
I remember coaching a student some years ago, who couldn’t start revising for his exams.
– How do you see your life when you’ve passed your final exam? I asked.
– Well, 45 years working with the same stupid daddy’s boys I’m studying with. That’s what graduates from my University do.
– And how does that feel?
Oh dear, I thought. Spending an entire career with stupid people is a frightening prospect. I’d rather fail before success takes me on the wrong track forever!
Tell me if I’m wrong, but isn’t procrastination a solution, rather than a problem?
In all of the cases above, procrastination is used to avoid facing a greater problem. I’m not saying the solution is always a good one, but in all four cases, the greater problem – fastidious work, shame, parental abandon, a boring career- is avoided or about to be.
Avoiding is not solving, except in the first case where I gather the consultant is more than happy to reuse her new method.
How about solving the bigger problem, instead of trying to stop procrastinating?
Whenever I am OK with the consequences, procrastinating is a valuable option.
Talking from personal experience, procrastination might be the signal that I need to take a rest, instead of exhausting myself doing things that can be done tomorrow without major harm. « I’m tired, can I afford to slow down?”. When I can, I do. What if it just transfers the workload to the next day? Well, it does! But I’m in better shape to face the load.
I belong to those who work better under time pressure. So what, as long as I’m not putting myself or others in jeopardy? Taking care of the laundry, my tax return and other chores at the last minute makes me do them fast. So much precious time saved for all the more interesting things I want to do. Letting a report “macerate” in some remote corner of my mind helps me process, filter, settle my ideas… and the final text comes out all at once, just before the deadline. It might cost me a couple of sleepless nights, but I’m fine with the final cost / benefit ratio.
I’m not saying assumed procrastination is the universal panacea. I’m saying it works for me in certain circumstances.
What makes you procrastinate?
When could procrastination be a good option for you?
Do you allow yourself to procrastinate when you could?
When procrastinating is not an option, I have found a personal way to kick myself in the back.
Some obligations never go away, no matter how fastidious, tiring or frightful. One of my friends told me that she could rely on her love for closure: handing in a great report, smelling the perfume of clean laundry… I love these moments too, but I need something stronger to get tedious or challenging things done on time.
My thing is having to do it for someone. Knowing that my client is expecting a deliverable or my cleaning lady needs some clean clothes to iron is just what I need to get things done.
In other words, my fear of disappointing others is greater than my tendency to procrastinate. Am I proud of it? That’s not the point, it works for me, as long as I don’t overuse it.
Have you discovered something in you that is stronger than your urge to procrastinate?
My grateful thanks to : Sandrine Donzel, Natalia Kavourinou, Penina Wieder.
To read further : Sandrine Donzel, De l’utilité de la procrastination … Blog S comm C (in french)