Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Feel the procrastination and do it anyway

Getting past procrastination is a key factor for good time management. I have written about procrastination before (here, here, here and here), but the thief of time - procrastination - is always worth another look.

It is human nature to procrastinate. It has been defined as "an irrational tendency to delay tasks that should be completed" (Flett, Blankstein, Hewitt, & Koledin, 1992, p. 85). Just consider all those citizens of Pompei who saw the volcano getting more active, felt the ground rumbles, and decided that there would be plenty of time to move. A great example of irrationality.

Procrastination is not a thing on its own. It is the result of a number of drivers, such as fear of failure, task 'aversiveness', disorganisation, and high social standards/expectations. Fear of failure links to perfectionism. High social standards/expectations can lead to rebelliousness (Flett, Blankstein, Hewitt, & Koledin, 1992; Lay, 1987). There are optimistic and pessimistic procrastinators: the "she'll be right" and the "can't be bothered" (Lay, 1987).

Fascinating. Of course, there are many self-help books which are designed to overcome procrastination. When we consider that the self-help industry was worth $11b for the 2008 year (Lindner, 15 January 2009), I bet it is a whole heap bigger now! Plenty of books to choose from, and still no end in sight to procrastination.

What those books tend to tell us is that we just have to get into the right mood to take action. But, as Burkeman (2012) says, "feeling like acting and actually acting are two different things". We use inaccurate language: we aren't unable to write, we are unable to feel like writing. We shouldn't wait to feel like doing anything: instead we should just "note the procrastinatory feelings, and act anyway."

Have a think about this from Burkeman (2012):
[...] the daily rituals and working routines of prolific authors and artists [...] tend to emphasise the mechanics of the working process, focusing not on generating the right mood, but on accomplishing certain physical actions, regardless of mood. Anthony Trollope wrote for three hours each morning, before leaving to go to his job as an executive at the post office; if he finished a novel within a three-hour period, he simply moved on to the next. (He wrote forty-seven novels over the course of his life.) The routines of almost all famous writers, from Charles Darwin to John Grisham, similarly emphasise specific starting times, or number of hours worked, or words written. Such rituals provide a structure to work in, whether or not the feeling of motivation or inspiration happens to be present. They let people work alongside negative or positive motions, instead of getting distracted by the effort of cultivating only positive ones. ‘Inspiration is for amateurs,’ the artist Chuck Close once memorably observed. ‘The rest of us just show up and get to work.’
I like this approach. Add structure. Note our tendency to procrastination, and get on with the task anyway.



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