The Complicated Process of Procrastination

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The nature of procrastination is so insidious that most of us don’t even notice it creeping into our lives everyday: it’s that five minutes on social media like Facebook that turned into an hour, an extended lunch break that eats up the better part of our best hours, a delayed dream, a “not yet, but maybe later.”

Procrastination looks like a day spent checking post-game coverage, and it feels like fear and anxiety. More damaging than that, procrastination is an excuse not to pursue higher goals. However, the way it works is complicated, and its results are varied, sometimes productive, many times a cop-out of real life.

Set an alarm for your creative breaks

For so many of us in creative or entrepreneurial industries which require a lot of idea generating, we are technically working all the time. Our processes for problem solving and solution-finding are very nuanced, complicated, and require hours of careful mapping. We are working all the time — only, very often, working kind of looks a lot like mainlining episode after episode of The Mindy Project, or meticulously re-organizing and wiping our workspaces, or refreshing our Facebook newsfeeds fifteen, or twenty times in an hour.

For Beethoven, it looked like hand-counting 60 coffee beans for his morning cup, walking, and bathing (there was no Netflix in the 18th century). For Einstein, it looked a lot like napping. But of course, for them, and for us, these activities aren’t simple procrastination – they’re often a torrent of thoughts coming to us while we remove ourselves from the mundanity of work to rejoin the mundanity of life.

These thoughts can be a brewing storm about to release into genius, or they may be the next billion dollar idea not yet committed to paper. But, maybe, more often, these sessions are simply a wasted day. These creative breaks are necessary if they’re part of your process, but it’s equally important to limit the time you spend deviating from your current responsibilities. Use a time-tracking program, or even just set an alarm to remind you when it’s time for you to float back to earth.

If you love your job, do your job

Procrastination is a state of delaying the inevitable while we search, in futility, for a better solution. The inevitable is work. And it’s usually any kind of work – no matter how much one claims that they “love their job,” a real procrastinator will still put off their responsibilities in favor of short-term impulses.

Writers are the most illustrative of this phenomena: writers will make huge financial and life sacrifices to put a novel out, they’ll spend their whole lives waxing poetic about following their passion for writing, but when it comes time to sit down and crank out a few thousand words, they’re the ones scrolling through Gawker desperately for any distraction from the existential burden of doing the work

There is even a saying that goes something like this: the problem with writers is they don’t write. Well, if they are not writing, what are they doing? Whether we’re in art, design, or business, we all get this wall that begins bringing on the building fear and anxiety in anticipation of diving into the work (even the work we love to do!) until it turns into problem of procrastination.

We forget how much we love our jobs when it’s time to do the work because we’ve qualified all manner of responsibility as WORK, and work is never supposed to be fun. The solution? Remind yourself that you love your work, and more importantly, you care about it as a passionate individual. Remember that you worked hard for the privilege of doing what you love, and the least that you could do is actually do it.

Figure out your peak hours, but don’t let procrastination run your sleep schedule

We all know someone whose schedule absolutely confounds us: freelancers who work until 3 or 4 a.m., wake up at noon, and spend their daylight hours running errands. Finance professionals who wake up before dawn, hit the gym by 6 a.m. and are in the office before most of us have hit the snooze button on our first alarm.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to find a schedule that works for you, one which maximizes your peak hours (when you’re most motivated and efficient at work), allows you to have enough sleep to function, and enough time in a day to get errands done – then stick to it. It takes 21 days to form a habit. Otherwise, our schedules can be utterly derailed by procrastination: if we catch the tail ends of our peak hours, that gives us only a few hours to do solid work, and the rest will be compromised by bouts of distraction.

If we are not quite adapted to work late in the evening, but are forced to, we’re in for a very long night of tenuous work and plenty of self-pity. How we shape our sleep schedules deeply impacts our quality of focus the next day. This takes some experimenting, but those who are prone to procrastination really have to try to nail down a strict routine that brings the best out of a day.

Don’t let procrastination ruin your long-term goals

At worst, procrastination is the barrier that prevents your ideas from becoming realized. It’s the “someday” that is tacked on hastily after “I really want to do this.” Procrastination makes you say things like, “I’m really busy these days,” or “I can’t afford to make that step yet.” Procrastination, in short, is just that potent mix of fear and security that keeps people bound to their desk chairs in a drab office floating day in and day out on mindless distractions. Short-term procrastination will ruin your workday and kill the time that you could have used to pursue a happy hobby or an exciting new venture.

Long-term procrastination is fear and indecision. Neither of them will make you a happier person. However, there’s a way to procrastinate in a smart way: just set up small, fun tasks related to your larger goal, and keep them handy for when you need a break from your regular work day (that you would have otherwise wasted on Facebook or Youtube). By making small steps towards actually working on your long-term plans, you can better envision the future as present, and that will self-motivate you to do more.

Of course, there is a psychological component to procrastination that can be overcome and there is a lot of fine information dedicated to helping your overcome this nasty habit. One suggestion is that if you are a person that must clean up their desk to begin work, don’t sit there playing Tetris and being mad at yourself that you feel you have to clean your desk up. Just hurry and clean your desk up and then get on with your work.

If you are the type of person that has to throw in a batch of laundry before you feel comfortable sitting down to write, you don’t have to think of the laundry as procrastination — hurry and toss that batch in the wash — you don’t have to stop that impulse, then sit down and write.

Whatever type of procrastination is hanging you up and holding you back from accomplishing your goals, you can take the responsibility, leave the procrastination behind and guide yourself to better choices.