We all have a penchant and a fear of procrastinating and wasting time, but why is that? First, definitions and quotations. Then in the main segment, we’ll talk about why it may not be as bad as you think, and what you can do about it, and we’ll finish off with a Disgruntled Nugget – a little piece of wisdom you can take with you, or not, I don’t care. Also thx to Audionautix and Partners In Rhyme for the music and sound effects.Support the show
For those of you who follow this podcast, I have to say, first, what the hell are you doing with your life? But secondly, you'll know that this podcast usually published every two weeks, which should have been last week. But, alas, I contracted covid and had a rough week last week. So I want to thank you for your patience, for sticking with me (if you did) and also to not, you know, get covid if you can help it. It's shitty, and it's no fun, so stay safe instead. Because, hey, I care. Somewhat.
Today we're going to talk about that insidious time waster we call procrastination. Some researchers define procrastination as “a form of self-regulation failure characterized by the needless delay of things one intends to do despite the expectation of negative consequences.” But we'll see as we go along that there are two sides to procrastination, and it may not be the damaging habit it's made out to be: all the time. Let's get some quotations in here for context.
The first quotation is from Susan Orlean, an American journalist, television writer, long-time staff writer for The New Yorker and bestselling author of The Orchid Thief which was subsequently adapted for the film cleverly titled Adaptation for which Meryl Streep was nominated for an academy award. She said, “I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done.” Considering her body of work, I think she still manages to get shit done, and we'll touch on that dichotomy later.
Next, we have Lynn Nottage. This was supposed to be for last week in time for Black History Month, but you know the story there. She's still an amazing American playwright whose work often focuses on people of colour specifically in working-class experiences. She was the first, and so far only, woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama two times, in 2009 for her play Ruined, and in 2017 for her play Sweat. She said “I see procrastination and research as part of my artistic process.” She has this in common with other artists through history including some obscure guy named Leonardo da Vinci, whoever the hell that is.
Our final quote is from Eugene Maurice Orowitz, better known to the world as Michael Landon, an American actor and filmmaker. From Bonanza to Little House on the Prairie and more, Landon was the face of television for almost 40 years before his death from pancreatic cancer at age 54 in 1991. He prophetically said, “Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.” From that dire warning, let's get started.
Why do we procrastinate, and it it always bad? There’s no doubt that we all have lots to do, and we’ve inserted words like productivity and efficiency into our lives all too casually. There are times to to get things done, like if you’re getting married and you’re supposed to hire the band, well you better hire a goddamn band or it’s going to be a long wedding night or a short marriage. But why does getting things done drive our existence and, conversely, why does taking time to do nothing fill us all with such self-loathing? Well, it’s complicated, and I’ve found that procrastination can be both good and bad – just like k-pop music. I’m kidding, that’s always bad, but let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of time wasting.
So let’s start with the bad. According to Dr. Maria Cohut in an article in Medical News Today titled “Is procrastination friend or foe to health and creativity?” she states, “Increasingly, research has shown that procrastination is, in fact, a complex, often maladaptive reaction to various perceived stressors.” It’s an interesting take on the issue because those stressors are, very often, self-imposed deadlines, so we end up, in essence stressing ourselves. That theme is echoed by Dr. Fuschia Sirois, now based at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, who also found that people who procrastinate tend to have higher levels of stress and lower levels of self-compassion. She states that “The findings from the current study demonstrate that chronic procrastination is associated with lower levels of self-compassion in both students and adults from the community.” She further finds that procrastinators are stuck in a vicious cycle, in which the thought of previous uncompleted tasks haunts them, paralyzing them, and stopping them from completing present tasks, as well.
It seems as though our own guilt is the primary problem. In an article for Medium by Allison Hudson titled “The Psychological Importance of Wasting Time”, she observes that, “We frantically pursue productivity, to the point where we can’t really rest. While we take a walk, take a day off, or even while reading or watching a movie, our minds stay busy with the things we should be doing. So we end up overwhelmed by guilt.” This too is echoed in a research paper titled “The relationship of procrastination and self-efficacy with Psychological vulnerability in students” published in “Procedia - Social and Behavioural Sciences”, which states, in part, “The results revealed a significant relationship between self-efficacy and psychological vulnerability. These findings indicated a negative relationship of self-efficacy with trait anxiety, neurosis, anxiety disorders, and depression symptoms.” So we get overwhelmed by our own pressures, we retreat by procrastinating, then we feel negative psychological effects as a result. But, hey, there is a bright side.
Other researchers believe that procrastination is not entirely detrimental. Angela Hsin Chun Chu and Jin Nam Choi, in a study whose findings appeared in The Journal of Social Psychology, argued that not all delays lead to negative outcomes. They say “delays resulting from time that was spent planning and gathering vital preparatory information can be beneficial.” This is where we bring Leonardo da Vinci back into this. In an article published in Brain Communications out of Oxford titled “Grey Matter Leonardo da Vinci: a genius driven to distraction”, researchers Catani and Mazzarello posit that da Vinci “was a paradox—a great mind that has compassed the wonders of anatomy, natural philosophy and art, but also failed to complete so many projects.” Was he ADHD? Maybe. Did he procrastinate? Absolutely. Yet, despite being likely to fail at a modern university, he managed to move the science and creativity ahead by centuries by dabbling in anything and everything, mostly to distract him for the stress of his tasks. So if procrastination, like taking 16 years to finish the tiny Mona Lisa is good enough for Leonardo, I think it may be good enough for all of us too. But let’s talk about how to stay on the good procrastination side of things.
So what can you do to keep your procrastination in check, or more controlled. Well, you need to ask yourself, as you’re in procrastination mode, what it is about this particular task that is making you find distraction in order to not finish? Are there smaller aspects of the task that are unpleasant that you can get out of the way in order to work on the other stuff that you enjoy more? Can you use another task that you like better that you also have to complete and use that as the object of your procrastination? I know these are more questions than answers, but you have to ask yourself these to get to the root of your issue and find a path forward, and it will be different for all of us, and for every task that we actively avoid. Ask the questions, answer them, and figure out the problems first. Baby steps.
Next, think in terms of “active procrastination”. According to experts, that is deliberately delaying getting started on something so you can focus on other urgent tasks. This can make you feel more challenged and motivated to get things done. This strategy can work particularly well if you are someone who thrives under pressure. It also helps if you you use that time to break large tasks into small, achievable and meaningful actionable pieces. Also, while doing that, keep a list and prioritize the items, and cross them off as you do them. This will help you see real progress towards the end goal without too much choking.
Also, get rid of the habit we all have of catastrophizing. You might think that the result of not completing a project is the end of the world, but most often that is not true. And, worse, we tend to make it worse when the project is particularly difficult, painful, or boring. For this, instead of thinking “I have to get this done” think in terms if an “If/Then” scenario. That is, tell yourself IF you do thing A, THEN positive thing B will follow. It’s much easier to motivate yourself to have a good outcome than to think in terms of negative results. I know, this sounds like shitty life coaching stuff, because it is, and it works. Mostly. Usually. Just try it for cryin’ out loud. Geez, pain in the ass...
An, finally, if all else is not working, offer yourself a reward, and stick the to the promise. Tell yourself you can have that slice of chocolate pecan pie that sitting in the fridge, but not until you get to a certain level of completion in a task. It sounds like your training a monkey, I know. But that’s because you are. Deal with that reality bonzo!
Okay, so that’s it for this episode. As always, I’ll leave you with a Disgruntled nugget in a second, but first I want to thank you for listening. Remember to subscribe to this podcast, I’m on all the major platforms, and please visit www.disgruntledlifecoach.ca for all my podcasts – yes, still with the ridiculous w-w-w – sorry kids. Please also follow me on twitter @lifedisgruntled, there’s a link on my website – DM me if you want some stickers, really, free stickers. Free. Also, if you like what you’ve heard today, tell your friends. If you think this is ridiculous, still, tell your friends, I mean how hard is that?
Abraham Lincoln once famously said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” This follows the sage ancient wisdom of Cicero who said, “Anything worth putting off is worth abandoning altogether.” Then Hunter S. Thompson brought a fatalistic modern view to the argument when he said, “A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” So don't put off until tomorrow things you might abandon because circumstance will choose your escape from responsibility, or something, I don't know, whatever...
Again, thanks for listening, and thanks also to Audionautix and Partners in Rhyme for music and sound FX, thanks again to Neatnik for visuals, and thanks for your patience - see you in two weeks, or not, whatever...