When You Can’t Stop Procrastinating, It’s Time To Double Down
We all do it. But did you know that it can actually be helpful?
This morning, I sat down to make a to-do list. Many years ago, my husband explained how he prioritizes the most important items on his agenda by giving each item a letter grade: A is the highest priority. As I started my list, I realized that I had an undoable number of items on it, all of which were A priority. I sat and stared at this list for a moment. Then I glanced at my phone.
A fan theory about Westworld caught my eye, and soon I found myself reading an article detailing intricate plot predictions and possibilities for the new season. Friends, let me tell you an important detail: I have never watched a single episode of Westworld. Not one! When I looked up (twenty minutes later), I realized that I had just experienced procrastination at its finest — I had avoided the work that I desperately needed to do in order to spend time doing something that I didn’t need to do and did not even care about.
It wasted my time, brought me no joy, and left me feeling worse than I did before.
This is Bad Procrastination.
There are two important things to remember about procrastination:
1. We all do it
2. It’s always about fear
Procrastination is not always bad. The fact is that studies show that willpower is a limited resource, and it gets depleted the more you use it. And when we are facing something that makes us fearful — afraid that we’ll be bored, or that we can’t accomplish what we want to accomplish, or whatever — it takes an enormous amount of willpower to overcome it the resistance to getting started.
The best way to do that is to consciously build up your willpower by consciously doing something you enjoy. But you must do it mindfully, as an incentive.
In the case of the Westworld Fan Theory Debacle, I realized halfway through the article that I was doing procrastination wrong. If I wanted to build up strength to face the day, I had to do something that made me happy.
So I took my dog for a walk around the block in the fresh air, looked at the crocuses and snowdrops that are just beginning to flower, and returned to my desk ready to tackle my tasks. This is Mindful Procrastination, and I highly recommend it. Anything that gives you zero resistance and that you actively enjoy can fall into this category: listening to an awesome song, eating a cookie, reading a few pages of a book. Set a timer for ten minutes and really commit to reveling in your procrastination. This way, you’ll manage to turn “wasting time” into “building strength”.
The second half of this equation is to actually begin. I’ve started working out with a trainer twice a week, and I’ve discovered that the hardest part of the workout is getting out of bed. I have never, ever arrived at the gym and decided not to work out. I never just skip the workout and head straight to the steam room. Once I’m there, it’s easy to get started, and once I’ve started, it’s easy to keep going. And once it’s over? I feel great.
The same goes for writing — the hard part is sitting down at my computer and starting. Once I’ve done that, it’s easy to keep going. And I never regret the time I spend writing. The funny thing about this is that I love writing, but I still resist it. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s consistent. Maybe it’s because I know I should be doing it, and I don’t like having to do anything.
If you’re someone who struggles with starting, it can help to tie your task to something you already do or like to do. For example, it’s much easier for me to convince myself that it’s time to write if I have a cup of coffee when I get started. When I imagine myself drinking coffee and working, and it seems much more appealing.
I also take the stakes way down and remind myself that even a few minutes of writing is better than skipping it. If, however, you’re someone who struggles with a daily practice because you find it challenging to think of what to write, check out this article.
Try to surround the task you are resisting with things you enjoy and watch your resistance shink and — hopefully — vanish.
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Lisa Papademetriou is an author, entrepreneur, and business school dropout. She’s the founder of Bookflow, a tool designed to help writers reach their goals by boosting organization and motivation. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’d love to connect with writers eager to take their work to the next level, to encourage and help guide them using my experience as a writing instructor at the MFA level, editorial experience (at both small and Big Five publishers), and bestselling author.