Category Archives: Anti-procrastination

A message to you, the reader

I hadn’t heard back from a client in several weeks, so I sent another message.

When they responded a short while later, they let me know that my messages had been encouraging and helpful in a busy time. And I got to thinking that many of you, the readers of this blog, are in similar circumstances and in need of encouragement. So this message is for you, dear reader. It’s a gentle check-in and a nudge towards the change they (you) want to create –  even in the midst of busy, demanding life. It is an obvious message, perhaps, but the magic is in actually acting on the suggestion.

Here it is. (Only the greeting has been changed.)

Dear reader, hope you’re doing well. I don’t know your exact circumstances and this may or may not be relevant to you, but I just wanted to suggest that even in a busy time it’s helpful to take time out, take stock, and decide what the most important 2 or 3 things are that you need to make progress on in the coming week. Then focus on getting those done before other things. It’s a weight off the mind to get those done, and it’s a great way to find clarity amidst chaos.

Procrastination is about emotions, not time

When we ask ourselves why we procrastinate, a couple of reasons come easily to mind: That we are lazy, and that we suck at time management. The first is actively unhelpful. The time management explanation is also a distraction.

Time management skills are important, don’t get me wrong. Planning, timeboxing, project tracking and to-do lists are all valuable, but you can have all of those things and still be a world-class procrastinator.

woman in corner of dark room

Adapted from Xavier Sotomayor, CC0.

Because to not procrastinate means to do the thing that really matters. And the thing that really matters is usually highly emotionally significant. There is a lot at stake, including our beliefs about ourselves. Ironically, a lot of strategies to beat procrastination involve recrimination and punishment – perhaps something we first experience from our early caregivers, and later inflict on ourselves. For that reason, one of the first things I discuss with clients in tackling procrastination is self compassion, with patience and persistence.

Does this mean letting yourself off the hook? No! Have high expectations of yourself. Aim to be a better person, have a better life and have a greater positive impact on those you come in contact with.

But let go of the self-blame and be strategic instead.

When fear of starting is a paper-thin wall

In the context of discussing procrastination and the pain of starting, a commenter writes:

Fear is a wall 1000 miles wide and a mile high, but only tissue paper thin. A la Harry Potter running through the brick wall to the train station. – (source)

brick wall blocking sight

Adapted from Brick Wall Texture.

This is a helpful frame. Anything that helps me get started for a matter of minutes, even seconds, or that makes starting just a little more pleasant, gives me a chance of continuing and possibly finding flow.

(I’ll be posting more on this topic, including micro-pomodoros, preparing the workspace and first physical actions, and you’ll find these with the getting started tag.)

Procrastination self-prescription (that works for me every time)

I have work to do, but constant low-grade pain from a shoulder strain is killing my concentration and will to work these last 24 hours. I’ve distracted myself with social media and I’m letting people down because of it. If only I knew an anti-procrastination coach.

Oh, wait!

Okay, here’s my self-prescription:

  • 5 minutes of work by the timer (because I can bear almost anything for 5 minutes, even in this state). Of course I can do more, but I permit myself to break anytime after 5 minutes (and definitely before 15 minutes, because of the shoulder).
  • Then 5 minutes of something nice for my shoulder – a spiky ball on the scapula, gentle range-of-motion exercises, some tense-and-release or a pain meditation. (I’ve found all of these things helpful in the past, but neglected them in favour of short-term distraction.)
  • Repeat for one hour, then reassess.

I’ve used this before, and it works for me.

You may notice that there is no time allocated for social media. That is not an oversight.

Time flowing like a hundred yachts

These words always caught my attention:
So Time, the wave, enfolds me in its bed,
Or Time, the bony knife, it runs me through.
flowing like a hundred yachts

Fiumanka Regatta, CC0 Public Domain.

I saw them frequently beginning in my first year at university, 1989, while hurrying between lectures. Two lines of verse spray-painted on the rear of the University of Sydney’s chemistry building.

They stimulated my imagination (though not enough to think about transferring from engineering to literature). Whose words were they? (This was before the world wide web.) And how should I understand their grappling with time and mortality?

Looking back, I can see why those lines grabbed the attention of my younger self. Time passed, and I had no clear sense of it. I knew that time was coming for me like a bony knife (flowing relentlessly, like a hundred yachts), yet it seemed unreal, outside my world, like a monster from a scary story. I’d not yet lost a loved one, and had no intuitive sense of time bringing death and decay.

Many years later, after the words had been removed, recited the words to a friend, who said “That’s Kenneth Slessor.” And so it is, from the poem Out Of Time, which contains the later lines:
Time leaves the lovely moment at his back,
Eager to quench and ripen, kiss or kill
Further on, absorbed in the beauty of a moment, the poet declares:
The moment’s world it was; and I was part,
Fleshless and ageless, changeless and made free.
‘Fool, would you leave this country?’ cried my heart,
But I was taken by the suck of sea.
The gulls go down, the body dies and rots,
And Time flows past them like a hundred yachts.

Most of the work that I do – with myself and with clients – comes down to moments. In particular, being to some degree present and engaged with this moment, rather than swept along by time. And while my approach involves awareness, techniques and exercises (to help clients stop procrastinating and begin acting), Slessor uses the beauty of language to make vivid our relationship with time.

Perhaps over time my coaching work will include more poetry.

Kenneth Slessor (1901 – 1971) was an Australian poet, journalist and official war correspondent in World War II. Wikipedia