🎶 It’s So Easy (When You Know What You’re Doing), by Ted Lucas
And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this!Hunter S. Thompson*
Yoda said, “Do or do not,” but do I did not. This week’s Good Work is one week late and about procrastination.
Procrastination starts when a task is added to one of our many plates, and we don’t decide and communicate that it isn’t urgent, that we can’t consume that much right now. Sometimes we record the task in a to-do list. In other moments we tell ourselves a cute story, “I’ll remember it in the morning.” Out of no malice, we neglect the task. We come up with amazing excuses why the thing isn’t worth getting to at all. But sometimes, it needed getting to, and gotten to it did not get, leaving us to feel like someone’s taken a vacuum cleaner to our integrity, and in this moment, we have a choice. Do we face the mistake, or do we defer further?
We defer further because we are embarrassed. We feel guilty for letting someone down—sometimes ourselves. Having not been honest, we may have bruised someone’s trust, and now we don’t know what balm we can provide. And so it compounds, dragging us down into a Great Period of Putting Things Off. We feel like a whale stuck with a thousand harpoons made of tasks, emails, text messages, and asks. We become masterful tragic storytellers. What great promethean burdens we carry, what great-bellied calamities our lives become, and what great comforters of self-pity we wrap around ourselves.
In the short run, it’s easier to delay than it is to pen a postponement atonement and far less challenging than coming clean with yourself that you aren’t very good at staying on top of the ball always and forever. Sometimes we just avoid doing hard things. But more often than not, we procrastinate because something else drew our attention.
What’s necessary is learning to notice what we’re valuing as important. When something doesn’t fit in the important bucket, it helps to learn to say, “No. I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for this right now,” or, “I’m sorry, but I’m overcommitted right now. If I take this on, I won’t get to X.” It’s about honesty, with yourself and those around you. Instead of punting, face the task, the mistake, the conflict, and either decide to do it, schedule it, or make sure you and everyone involved knows it ain’t gonna happen.
As I read through articles on procrastination this weekend, I changed my opinion from “procrastination is a bad thing” to “procrastination has its place and is a useful signal.” This week’s link section is large, but each link meaningfully contributed to my newfound frame for thinking about the subject.
- “Why Procrastinators Procrastinate” by Tim Urban. You can also watch his TED talk on the same subject, “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator.” I’m purposefully not going to tell you what he says because I want you to read/see it for yourself.
- I always appreciate a good, “The neuroscience of **___**,” and “Why we wait: the neuroscience of procrastination” by Anne-Laure Le Cunff is no exception. More than anything, I appreciate her decision to include five tips on “How to be kind to your future self.”
- “Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control)” by Charlotte Lieberman in The New York Times also challenges our view of procrastination. The idea that, “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem,” changed how I think about procrastination.
- So much of the conversation around procrastination centers around why it’s a nasty habit and how to stop. In his TED talk, “The surprising habits of original thinkers”, Adam Grant presents an alternative take: “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas.” (I love his quote from Aaron Sorkin, “You call it procrastinating, I call it thinking.”) I also appreciate Grant’s hat tip to Tim Urban in his video—he uses graphics of his “Instant Gratification Monkey” and “The Panic Monster.”
- “Lazy, a Manifesto” by Tim Ferriss, is a short piece about filmmaker Judd Apatow’s book, We Learn Nothing. You can skip to 04:56 in the audio clip to hear a sample.
- On pages 121–124 of Antifragile, by Nassim Taleb, you’ll find a subsection titled, "In Praise of Procrastination - The Fabian Kind." Thank you to Justin Poirier for calling this one out (and looking up the page number!).
- “Good and Bad Procrastination” and “Which Way Do You Run?” by Paul Graham and Ben Horowitz, respectively, are great pieces that highlight the nuance of procrastination, and the importance of finding work that gives you challenges you’re excited to run toward instead of away from.
That’s Good Work for this week. Looking forward to what’s next.
Andy and the Holloway team