Bad Procrastination, Good Procrastination

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Wow. You should be working on that book but there are other important things to do. Why there are cat videos to be watched and your junk drawer cries out to be reorganized. That’s procrastination at work. It’s the procrastination we love to hate.

Fun Facts about Procrastination

Darius Foroux surveyed 2219 people and asked them if they procrastinated every day. 88 percent of them said they did.

My own experience and my work with clients tell me that everybody procrastinates. Maybe it’s not every day, but everybody does it. Various experts have blamed procrastination on poor time management skills, problems with self-discipline, mood regulation, and simple laziness.

The Greeks even had a word for procrastination. It’s “akrasia.” Akrasia is the state of doing one thing when you know you should be doing something else.

When you procrastinate, you choose immediate gratification over working on something more important or more long-term. The truth is if you’re human you procrastinate sometimes. It’s only a problem if it regularly keeps you from doing what you plan to do.

Momentum is Critical

Most of the time, if you start writing, your sails catch the wind and it’s easy to keep going. It’s easiest to start if you know what you’re going to write.

That’s the reality behind the advice Ernest Hemingway gave to an aspiring writer. He put it in an article he wrote for Esquire in 1935. The other writer asked Hemingway how much he should write every day. Here’s Papa’s reply.

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel, you will never be stuck.”

The idea of “knowing what’s next” is also a key part of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. When I read his book many years ago, I picked up two work principles I use today. One is that if I get things out of my head and into a reliable reminder system, stress goes down and productivity goes up. The other is it’s important to know what the next step on any project is.

Don’t make that “next step” too big or complicated. Limit it to something you know you can do.

Make Yourself Accountable

There are simple things you can do to make it more likely you’ll achieve your goal of decreasing procrastination. Don’t let yourself off the hook. Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Keep records of how you work. Count the number of times you procrastinate. Track the time. Review your performance every day. Try to procrastinate less today than you did yesterday.

Engage an accountability partner. This can be your spouse or a friend. Or you can commit some money to hire a coach.

Bet on yourself. Sign a Commitment Contract with a site like stickK where you must pay if you don’t achieve your goal.

Good Procrastination

Not all procrastination is bad. Adam Grant points out that, “Procrastination turns out to be a common habit of creative thinkers and great problem solvers.” Here’s how that works.

In 1926, Graham Wallas, propounded a theory of the creative process. Incubation is an important step in the process. That’s where you stop focused work on a project or problem and leave things up to that amazing brain of yours. Your brain winds up throwing up ideas for you to consider. Many writers use “creative procrastination” to improve the quality of their work.

Takeaways

88% of the workforce admits they procrastinate at least one hour a day

Not all procrastination is bad. in fact, some is very good indeed.

Momentum is critical

Follow Ernest Hemingway and GTD

Make yourself accountable

You say “procrastination” like it’s a bad thing

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