Doing the thing (a story about procrastination in three parts)

January 11, 2022 By

On what was only day two of my working year, I found myself significantly leveling up on my ability to procrastinate.

The culprits were two specific things on my to-do list. Ironically they involved writing, which I love, on two separate topics that I both feel quite passionate about. But I was allergic.

And so torn between just ploughing through the work to get it done, knowing that it would probably be grand once I started and satisfying to get it finished, and acknowledging how I was feeling about it and perhaps focus on something else instead for a bit, I was getting nothing done.

I sat down. I got up again to make coffee. I managed to fit another piece of the jigsaw puzzle my kids gave me for Christmas which is a picture of us in our front room and while its colour scheme in real life isn’t all beige that’s the way a lot of it rendered when it got printed so it is a challenging one. I felt very satisfied finding that piece, and so looked for another. And another.

I sat back down in front of the computer. Opened up the documents I was working on. Checked my emails. Refreshed my inbox.

Found an online yoga class and did that.

Checked my emails again. Started writing this piece instead of the one I was supposed to write. Got up to get a glass of water and started looking for something to eat.

And so the day could have gone on. I am not against a bit of procrastination, in fact I feel this is another thing we feel unnecessarily guilty about.  More about that here. But at some point you have to make an actual decision. Either do the thing or don’t do the thing.

So this is my compromise, with myself, for the day that I am having today.

I don’t want to not work on the writing. Because I want to make progress, my schedule is full tomorrow, and the procrastination isn’t caused by something I need to address first, like tiredness or burnout.

I will revisit a productivity hack that has helped me in the past – setting a timer for 50 minutes and work solidly on the bit of work that I am currently procrastinating on for that time. It’s long enough that you can make actual progress, and short enough that thirst, hunger, email inboxes and restlessness are easier to resist.

But I won’t be too hard on myself in terms of what I have to achieve in that time. It’s just about moving something forward and get out of the bit of rut I am in, not about dialling it up to a 100 all of a sudden.

To make up for that, though, I will tick off a couple of other smaller bits on my list, emails mainly, which won’t take long to do but which are important, and which will provide that sense of “job done” satisfaction. And make sure I set aside the time I need to properly prepare for a coaching call later this afternoon.

I will let you know how it goes.

Update: Sometimes it is incredible what a bit of intentional planning to do. Because, miraculously, I managed to stick with all of the above. 

This specific plan of action mightn’t work for me another time. We are not machines. That’s why it’s important to stay in touch with what you need at any given time, what the most important outcome for you is, and have a series of strategies that you can apply. It’s a work in progress at the best of times. And that’s the beauty of it.

I also realised that the most important outcome for me today was a sense of achievement and completion of something. And that the little things I put in place to ensure that, like those emails, or even just working for a set amunt of time, served that purpose. Sometimes that isn’t clear to us until afterwards. But that can be the beauty of it too.