June 10, 2006

Procrastination- Article, Synchronicity and Thoughts…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks, Procrastination at 2:37 pm by a11en

This post has been a long time coming. I did a little here and there time allowing. Hopefully this will help (you and me).

Article: Surfing through LifeHacker today I found -this- article on procrastination from Psychology Today. Below are some bullets itemizing the things that resonated with me regarding their article on procrastination. (Please note a number of the following are shortened paraphrases.):

  • There’s a major difference between people who merely delay tasks and people who are true procrastinators- “procrastinators put off everything, at home, at work and in their social life”
  • Procrastinators put off doing high-priority tasks because they are under a delusion that tomorrow the task will in some way get better. I’ve noticed that this doesn’t necessarily need to be a conscious delusion, but the decision is definitely a conscious one.
  • Procrastinators often have some level of perfectionism which may negatively feed their procrastination.
  • They prefer to have someone say they lack effort rather than lack ability.
  • Often the situation is self-feeding: “the stress and guilt of perpetual postponement are themselves incapacitating”

Synchronicity: As well, there are things that resonate with other areas of reading. Here are items of synchronicity that I’m finding amongst many sources (M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, Article from Psychology Today, etc.):

  • Procrastination is not laziness.
  • Procrastination is not an issue with Time-Management!!
  • Procrastination is an issue with delayed gratification.
  • Procrastinators make a conscious decision to put off short-term pain.
  • The pain envisioned, the real reason for the delay, is given undue weight and possibly is unfounded. Often the procrastinator will also find that once the tasks are started, the pain is quite less intense than at first thought, if there is pain in accomplishing the task at all.
  • Basically, the painful task is pushed off until another time (short-term pain avoidance) and is replaced by tasks which are not viewed as painful (short-term pleasure acceptance). This generally produces longer-term pain due to the task avoidance and sense of guilt/adverse effects in work and relationships.
  • Procrastinators should know that this issue is within their sphere of influence. How they respond to the situations before them will affect their outcome. They need to accept this problem as their own, and work to solve the issue. Realize the reality that life includes semi-painful, semi-disliked tasks. To accomplish a task, it need not be liked.
  • Often an agreed upon time to work on a task only briefly will overcome the mental hurdle. The “dash“, “10-minute rule” or “(10+2)x5” will often alleviate the burden of a long and arduous task. Anyone can do something for only 10-minutes after-all… what a procrastinator often finds, is the mental fear and burden is lifted within 5-10 minutes of starting a task, and that he may end up working much longer on the task at hand, unbeknown-st to him.

Thoughts: Today’s world makes procrastination easy. Most of us are juggling a bazillion tasks, both large and small. It’s likely very easy for all of us to task-prioritize in a very poor way, in essence, supporting our procrastination. The smaller less important tasks often will be done because the larger scarier tasks will be hard to approach. Our mental fears about these larger important tasks are what hold us back. Often we are more than capable of handling the tasks (especially in small pieces), but we, for whatever reason, don’t see the results of our tackling the tasks in a positive light. We only see the negatives and often we make them appear larger than they really are. [Squash those negative thought-patterns! via Steve Pavlina.] As well, the burden of our procrastination follows us around, and kicks us when we’re down… it says: “See, I told you you couldn’t do it!” and on it goes… In fact, direct confrontation by others of my procrastination, for me, often ends up in even more malaise towards the task(s) at hand and is often counter-productive. Knowing that things are waiting on the task to be completed I feel is critical, however, as the procrastinator should know that others are depending on him to complete the tasks at hand in a timely manner. It’s the soft-mallet approach… a bit of a knock on the noggin but pad it with a soft pillow. 😉 Affirming the ability of the procrastinator and showing enthusiasm towards receiving the finished work may also help motivate. Since the procrastinator is already negative, often more negativism merely feeds that delay-spiral. [Wow, this is sounding a bit like a different form of depression, actually- I’ll have to think more about that.]

I also feel that to some large degree, procrastinators aren’t very honest with themselves or are at least are a bit naïve when it comes to the realities of life. For me, the big reality that hits me very hard in the face almost every day: There are not enough hours in the day, and invariably I never get as much done as I really wished I did. Most likely that’s the perfectionist in me talking, bringing me down, but, to some degree it’s really true. If I spend all my time searching for current literature on Morgellon’s disease, or Jungian Psychology, and not on my preliminary exam papers and talk, then when the evening hits, I’m gonna find that I know more about Morgellon’s and Jung, and ultimately less about my prelim talk and paper. 😦 A sad fact of life, really. As well, our perception of time can be described as a time integral normalized by our total lifespan. So, as we get older, it appears as though the hours get shorter and shorter… the days speed by, and the weeks and months are slowly speeding up. If we don’t stay focused on our important (and often large) tasks, we can easily find them slipping through our fingers.

David Allen’s Getting Things Done may help procrastinators in a few ways. For me, I found it did a number of things. First, let’s pause- and be honest here: This is something internal to our psyche and it is a difficulty we have to work through on our own. Second, our environment and how we handle things can help or hurt. GTD has helped me to see all the tasks before me laid out in the areas they can be accomplished and in the projects that need to get done. So, no longer do I have to mentally remember these items. As well, our brains are quick at running through the procrastinator’s devices, so often when we think about a large task, it gets shoved to the back of our mental list. With GTD, at least the lists and tasks are out in the open where we can choose to be honest about them. Any aspect of our organizational world that is slightly frustrating (like say huge piles of things on the desk) are of course difficult to get organized and done. D.Allen’s GTD system helps us to have a methodology (a slight mental crutch) with which to organize and deal with these large piles of “stuff.” Doing so, at least removes 1 task from our list- namely getting rid of our piles of stuff, but also stream-lines the other things we have to do- review our tasks and projects and have our materials at our fingertips when they’re needed. As well, large ToDo tasks which merely hint to us the enormity of actual actions included in the task will merely hinder our ability to move forward. If we see a large task that we know has many levels to it, we are likely to stand back in fear of it and put it off until a future date. So, dissect those ToDo’s and place actual single-step actions in your action lists. For the procrastinator, this is gold. It’s a smaller task that can be accomplished and it’ll help move forward the large project which looms over your head [i.e., The Monster].

And finally, I found a research group in Ottawa who has some excellent info about procrastination: Procrastination Research Group and their Podcasts. As well, there is actually a dissertation podcast that I haven’t yet listened to.



  1. Jimmy said,

    Well, I cant agree more.

  2. a11en said,

    Hey Jimmy,

    Thanks for your comment! I went back and re-read this post again. I have to admit I have let my procrastination slip by again… the one that really is interesting to me from the above is: “They perfer to have someone say they lack effort than lack ability.” How interesting!! It’s certainly true of me.

    Fiore’s book is fantastic- definitely consider buying it or renting it from your local library.

    Let me know how you go with your struggle against procrastination, Jimmy!

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