“A year from now you may wish you had started today.” ― Karen Lamb
As I was beginning to type this article, a series of thoughts appeared on the movie screen of my mind, “Nah, I don’t feel like doing this. I should be at the gym. Did I remember to call or email whoever I said I would to schedule appointments, meet a deadline, or answer questions? I need to check the dryer to be sure that the latest load of laundry will be dry in case there is anything I want to wear to the office today where I will be in a few hours, sitting with clients whose own mental meanderings resemble mine.”
A dizzying array of thoughts indeed. Each one was cleverly designed to keep me from addressing the issues that I know will arise as I explore the concept of procrastination. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it this way:
Definition of procrastinate
- transitive verb : to put off intentionally and habitually
- intransitive verb : to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done
I can also hear the sound of Carly Simon singing to the tune of her hit song “Anticipation”, except the words are “Pro-cras-tin-ation… it’s making me late. It’s keeping me wa-ay-ay-ting.” Waiting for what? For the inspiration to write something profound and life-changing? For the discipline to keep typing and not stopping to check emails or the latest social media distraction? Yes, both.
In recent conversations with a few creative people in my life, what became abundantly clear is that it is not just limited to children who don’t feel like doing their homework, so they don’t until the deadline looms over them and they either scramble to complete it or shrug their shoulders and figure that they will just deal with the consequences. It is common for adults to fall into that pattern as well. Some have even shared that they perform better at crunch time, either despite or because of the anxiety it might induce.
One musician who has long been plagued with the thought that he can’t write a song because it may not be good enough for himself or for anyone who may potentially, someday, maybe, down the line, in a distant future happen to listen to it. Most lately, he has added to the mix that he doesn’t want to waste possibly good lyrics on a “bad song.” Our minds can be such tricksters. I encouraged him to write a song about the songwriting process, reminding him that even those who are prolific are sometimes at a loss. One difference between those superstars and him is that they don’t let their own fears stop them from sharing with the world what ideas are swirling about in their brains.
Another is a talented writer, speaker and therapist who keeps saying she wants to write another book. She has several to her name. This one will be more revealing and personal that will provoke emotions that, I imagine, she is not sure she is ready to face. When we chatted about it this morning, she started the conversation referencing it this way, “the book I am supposed to be writing.” I reminded her that it isn’t doing anyone any good in her head and that she needed to get it out there so it would be of benefit to the readers and for herself. She has plenty of support and encouragement from everyone in her life.
Can procrastination be a good thing? University of San Diego professor Frank Partnoy thinks it is. He is the author of Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. In an article called “Why Procrastination is Good For You,” he champions the idea that taking our time, thinking things through, delaying response and refraining from making snap judgments may prevent costly errors.
A fun way to view procrastination comes in the form of this quote from John Perry, author of The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing, who said, “If you go back through history of human culture, and take away every invention that was made by someone who was supposed to be doing something else, I’m willing to bet there wouldn’t be a lot left.”
Can we differentiate between procrastination born of sheer laziness and lack of motivation and careful prioritizing, looking for a more enjoyable, less complex way of accomplishing a task? (Think of Mary Poppins singing Spoonful of Sugar: “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap the job’s a game.”) In my own experience, it is never about lack of motivation, since I often run on the adrenalin of overachievement and would consider myself a performance addict. The term was popularized by Dr. Arthur Ciaramicoli, EdD, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of the book Performance Addiction: The Dangerous New Syndrome and How to Stop It From Ruining Your Life. Although it isn’t found as an official diagnosis in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it describes a set of behaviors and lifestyle choices that carry with them hazards and benefits. When someone’s attitudes and behaviors fall into that category, they may bask in the joy of achievement and praise, but also crave it and believe they require it to feel confident and competent.
According to cartoonist Bill Watterson, creator of the beloved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, “You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last-minute panic.” Wonder what the boy and his tiger BFF would have to say about procrastination?