Calvin and Hobbes on Procrastination by Bill Waterson (1992)
I am a chronic procrastinator. While this problem is as common as a common cold, I treat it more like an allergy. Though it might be caused by external stimuli, it’s not viral as in the external environment trying to compromise my immune system. Rather, it’s the irrationality of my immune system reacting to non-toxic substances such as, say, the blooming fear-of-failing pollen.
In an earlier post, Shereen talked about working your way through a mistake after the milk has been spilled. I, on this post, attempt to encourage you to take that milk jug and start pouring. Don’t think of the spill that may or may not happen.
Just pour it!
As a writer, I get procrastination hives (manifested in six-hour Netflix itch and spastic video game attacks) often enough to develop a longing for a procrastination antihistamine. In Megan McArdle’s article “Why Writers are the Worst Procrastinators,” she indicates that putting off writing is a very common allergic hazard of the craft, but procrastination is not exclusive to writers. It’s so commonplace, you’d be the weird one of you didn’t do it.
Its predominance doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t make it less of a problem. Here are my thoughts on dealing with procrastination. Maybe you can share yours after.
- Acknowledge that you are procrastinating, and that it is a problem
They say the first step is admitting you have a problem, but with popular culture celebrating procrastination, it’s actually quite hard to take seriously.
Retrieved from someecards.com
However, if by the time your work is nearing due you find yourself parched for that milk you were too afraid to spill, and you find yourself wishing you were the type of person,who is never afraid of spilling milk, then procrastination is a problem.
It is a problem if it has turned your hobbies into escapism, when you know, deep down, you have compromised yourself.
It’s a problem, and you know it.
Now is the time to take charge.
- Shitty First Drafts and Short Assignments
I treat Anne Lammott’s Bird by Bird as my procrastination repentance bible. I like reading it when I need to be talked down off the ledge of procrastination. Lammott reminds me of shitty first drafts, and that if I do something now, I will have time to re-do it if necessary. It’s not about not spilling the milk, but having that leeway of pouring yourself another glass if you do spill. And because procrastination is an allergy, not a temporary viral infection, I need constant reminding doses of this fact when my procrastination hives act up. It’s normal. Don’t spend too much energy beating yourself up for procrastinating. Remember, there is no cure, just management.
“Short Assignments” is basically a tip about time management and perspective. It’s about taking it “bird by bird” and not being overwhelmed by the whole bird kingdom. If the blank page is your Mt. Everest, maybe try using subheads to fill the void like land markers. As they always say, it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey. And sometimes knowing there are picnic stops is what keeps you going.
- You are not Proust or Wilde or Orwell
Let’s talk about the Myth of the Genius, about how society has created this idol of success where we mere mortals of mediocre achievements spend our time writhing in envy. Originally, according to Roman religion, the genius is a divine phenomenon. As the all-knowing Wikipedia puts it, the genius is the individual instance of a general divine nature that is present in every individual person, place, or thing. Therefore, when society demands genius, it demands godhood, and well, who doesn’t want to be God, right?
But this desire to be the next Wilde or Proust or Orwell or the next “genius” is unhealthy. The obvious result of this desire is crippling yourself via procrastination, but it’s also notable that this can lead to suffering from the Impostor Syndrome: thinking all your achievements don’t count for anything–that you are merely posing as “the genius”.
Treat this desire for genius and the impostor syndrome like an allergic reaction as well. When these ideas plague you, when you think you can’t be good enough, remember to ask who defines “good enough.” Most of the time, your best will be good enough. You don’t need to be the next Orwell, like he didn’t need to be the next Shakespeare.
I think this is the most underrated tip there is. Who needs to be encouraged to celebrate? Anal-retentive procrastinators, that’s who. So if you are one of us, and you just finished a task where you have powered through procrastination allergic symptoms, good for you.
Let your spirits lift, and maybe tackle another thing on your to-do list. If your eyes feel a bit scratchy for Netflix, remember, procrastination does not have a cure, but it can be managed.
Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images