Can procrastination be good for you?

Have you ever been prone to procrastination?

I know that I’ve been guilty of it many times.

But I’ve come to realise that procrastination isn’t always bad. In fact, I’ve come to see it as an opportunity, rather than something to beat myself up about.
Let me explain…

Inner Creative Blog - Can Procrastination be good for you?

I have discovered that I suffer from the Resistance of Starting. It’s a close cousin to procrastination. I know that I need to do something on my ‘to do’ list. I don’t mind doing it, but I’m not that excited to start working on it so I find something else to do instead. Because it’s something that I like doing (most likely to be drawing a mandala or writing a blog), the main hurdle is not my attitude towards the task but just physically starting on it.

The common way I overcome this Resistance is to trick myself into starting. (I’ve shared some of my experience and tips in 10 tips to Make your Dream Happen, The Secret to Making a Creative Habit, and Making Time for Creativity). For instance, I promise myself that I only have to do 25 mintues of work (using the Pomodoro Technique) and if necessary, offer myself a small bribe or incentive that I can have as soon as that 25 minutes is over. More often than not, once I’ve started I get into the flow, and any resistance I’ve had melts away. In fact, I get reminded of how much I love doing what I’m doing and am grateful that I got over my initial resistance.

For me, overcoming procrastination is bigger than just getting started on something. Procrastination comes with a major feeling of dread or a sense of fear in relation to the task. I know that I’m suffering from a major bout of procrastination when I’m able to put it off for more than 1 day.

What I’ve recently come to realise is that procrastination is my friend.
‘What? How is that possible?’ you might say.

Procrastination is an opportunity to re-examine what we’re doing to make a positive change.

Let me take you through the steps I use to deal with procrastination.

  1. Recognise that you’re procrastinating on a project or task.

    Notice what you’re doing (or not doing as the case may be 🙂 ) and that you’re suffering from procrastination.

  2. Stop!

    Stop feeling guilty for it. Instead, give yourself a pat on the back for being so observant and recognise that this is a positive opportunity to resolve this issue.

  3. Start reflecting on the ‘why’.

    This is the key to resolving your procrastination. More about this further on…

  4. Make the required change.

    If you don’t do this then you’re unnecessarily perpetuating your suffering.

The key to resolving your procrastination is to understand why you’re procrastinating. On the surface we realise that procrastination is about avoiding something unpleasant, but what is this feeling really telling us?

So here are some questions to ask yourself to tease out the underlying issues to procrastination:

  • Is this the wrong task?
    You said that you’ll make ‘x’, but you really want to make ‘y’ instead.
    For instance, I might decide to write a blog about a particular topic but on reflection, I realise that I’d prefer to write about something else instead. As soon as I give myself permission to change my blog topic the negativity and struggle disappears, and I find myself happily writing away.
  • Have you set up some false expectations about what you should be doing?
    Sometimes we think that we ‘should’ be doing something just because other people we know are doing it. (This one’s a common trap when running your own business; where you blindly copy other marketing or sales strategies because you’re scared that if you don’t run your business like everyone else, you won’t make any money. But it’s also a sure fire way for your business to blend in with the rest of the competition and noise out there.) If this is the case, then either drop the task, or modify it so that you do it in a way that works for you (and your business’ brand). So ask yourself – what would you do if you had it your own way?
    For instance, it’s commonly believed that everyone in business is on Facebook, but you can’t think of doing anything worse. So instead of beating yourself up for not posting twice a day everyday, you can decide to refocus your posting efforts on writing heartfelt blogs that you share with your email mailing list. Or you could set some new rules about using Facebook where you 1) only post things that you feel are fun, 2) set up scheduled posts ahead of time, 3) commit to only sharing something three times a week, or 4) all of the above.
    Or, in your personal life, your best friend is celebrating a milestone birthday with a huge party and you keep procrastinating going shopping to buy that really expensive one-of-a-kind unique awesome present for her. But really if you could do it your own way, you’d hand make her a card and write in a promise to take her out for champers at a café by the sea instead.
  • Have you unnecessarily raised the bar too high or made the process or approach seem too hard?
    It might not be the task or product that’s the problem, but your expectations about how what you’re going to produce or the way you’re going to go about it.
     For instance, when I wrote the “Harness Your Characteristics for Creativity” eBook I initially expected to write up a quiz or a big slab of text about which creativity tips are suitable for certain preferences about the way we might like to work. After a lot of procrastinating and dithering, I realised that I’d much prefer to hand draw all of the different characteristics and their related tips all on the one page. It was lots more fun, easier, quicker, and something that could be easily hung up on a wall for quick referencing.
  • Is doing this task in conflict with your values?
    Sometimes we put off doing a task because the uneasy feeling we have is really our intuition or gut telling us that something is fundamentally wrong with the task (in its current form). In this case, work out what aspect of this task is making you feel uncomfortable. Can you make a tweak to the task to realign it with your values? Or is it about deciding not to do this task altogether? Do whatever gives you piece of mind. (Check out this creative exercise to identify your values).
  • Is procrastination just fear in disguise?
    Sometimes we delay doing something because we’re afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid of success. Either way we somehow underestimate our ability to be able to cope with the consequence of doing the task. This is a toughie. But knowing that fear sits behind our procrastination means that we can reach out for some support to help us through it. (Look here for more suggestions on overcoming your creative fears.)

So the next time you find yourself procrastinating and putting off something that you’ve planned to do – stop to think about what your procrastination is really telling you. Then work out how you can make an adjustment to get you moving forward again.

What have you uncovered lying beneath the surface of your procrastination in the past? And what have you done to move through it?

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