Why Procrastination Is Your Greatest Friend
Photo courtesy of Kai Chan Vong.

Why Procrastination Is Your Greatest Friend

Written by Bev Webb

Topics: Productivity

You know what procrastination feels like. You just don’t feel like doing whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. Instead of cracking on with the task at hand, you search for distraction and find it in even the most mundane of tasks. Your closet needs tidying and there’s no time like the present. Even ironing your clean laundry becomes an irresistible idea.

Procrastination has become the 21st Century buzz word for anything from a little bit of displacement activity to full-on debilitation. It’s totally subjective too, as one person’s much needed downtime is another’s wasted opportunity.

Procrastination is hardwired into our genes and has its home in the amygdala – the most primitive part of our brain. This lizard brain, as it’s sometimes known, works at a subconscious level to meet our most basic needs: fight, flight, fear, food, and fornication.

What Causes Us to Procrastinate?

Fear and the perception of danger. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of failure. Fear in any one of a thousand different guises stimulates a protective response.

Unfortunately fear is a primal instinct that has a hard time distinguishing between real physical danger and minor cases of embarrassment. It simply senses your unease or vulnerability and acts to ensure your survival.

If the thought of filling in your tax return makes you feel queasy, your procrastination kicks in to protect you. If launching your first blog is making you feel vulnerable, then bam! Your fear response is there to save you from it.

Fear has a strong aversion to change and the unknown, as it sees these as things which may hurt you. If it spots even a tiny hint of danger, it has to act. As a species, we wouldn’t have survived so long if it wasn’t so quick to respond.

Should You Push through Procrastination?

In a similar vein to the “no pain, no gain” exercise slogans, we’re encouraged to “push on through” or to “put in the work” to defeat our procrastination nemesis. But should we? Could doing that cause more harm than good?

There are certainly times when it’s worth pushing on through the pain, so you can come out stronger but at other times, it’s genuinely more destructive than helpful to keep on pushing. Sometimes some things simply aren’t supposed to be. But how do you know when that’s the case?

Use Procrastination as A Guide

Let’s take a step back for a moment and think about procrastination as a useful response rather than as a problematic one. It is, after all, just your mind’s way of getting your attention and letting you know that something’s not right or that it needs to change. Bear in mind that it could be worth taking note of what it’s got to say.

Listen to Your Gut Feeling

Perhaps your procrastination is trying to draw attention to legitimate concerns that you’ve tried to suppress or that you haven’t been willing to admit. Maybe you’ve been feeling like you have to do something but, actually, you know deep down that it isn’t right for you. Maybe you’re feeling coerced into making particular choices to please those around you.

To determine whether or not to listen to your fear, ask yourself what kind of danger you’re faced with.

Type 1: Danger, danger!

These fears relate to actions or decisions that could do you actual harm, physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially. For example, maybe you should delay quitting your job because you know deep down that you’ve no real back-up plan. These are the times when procrastination is truly justified and you shouldn’t just push through.

Type 2: Something’s not right

These are the niggling feelings that just won’t go away. These fears aren’t as serious as those in Type 1, but they’re a clear an indication that you know that you need to make changes.

Type 3: False alarm!

These are the choices or tasks which, while unpleasant, embarrassing, or tedious, won’t actually hurt you. An example is the fear of doing a presentation, the vulnerability you feel when you go public with your blog, or the stress of starting your tax return.

These are definitely times when it’s OK to push on through and get things done.

You have choices. Pushing through procrastination isn’t necessarily heroic and quitting isn’t necessarily cowardly. Procrastination doesn’t always have to be the enemy. Perhaps you could even consider making friends with it? Maybe?

Over to you!

What makes you procrastinate? How do you deal with procrastination when it strikes?

bevBev is an artist, creativity coach and founder of Kickass Creatives, a website offering practical support to frustrated creatives. She’s over 20 years of working in the arts: experimenting with everything from performing in a fire circus and managing a hiphop dance company, through to web consultancy and jewellery design. Bev is passionate about using her experience to enable others to fully develop (rather than hide) their multitude of talents too. Connect with her on Twitter @creativekickass.

13 Comments

  1. Nela says:

    I tend to procrastinate if I’ve waited too long to get started and I lose interest, ie. passion.

    Then I simply no longer feel like doing anything. It’s very frustrating because I find these feelings impossible to work with.

    Fear of failure I can manage.

    “Something isn’t right” I can solve.

    But “waaah, I don’t FEEL LIKE IT” is difficult because there seems to be no other reason but lack of drive.
    I know this is considered resistance, but I’m experiencing it like emptiness, lack.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Nela
      Thanks for putting it into words so well! :)

      Sometimes I think we procrastinate because we’ve lost interest. I guess if we acted on everything we got excited about we really wouldn’t have time to do anything else. I like the idea of filtering – waiting a while to see if it’s a genuinely interesting or just a passing idea.

      I also wonder if ‘I don’t feel like it’ has resistance due to a type of discomfort or fear. It could be as simple as avoiding something tedious or boring – all forms of discomfort however minor! :)

  2. Faith says:

    I think type 3 is my main type of procrastination. I used to be much better at it, but retirement is a double edged sword. Sometimes not having to do something can create “I don’t feel like it right now,” even if I essentially do want to do it. And if I’ve cycled to a different interest phase… aye yi yi! “I don’t want to do it.” I’ll get back to it eventually, which is OK if I don’t need to get it done, but difficult if it’s something I need to finish.

    The other types I experience probably fit into type 2.

    Sometimes I just feel so overwhelmed by all I need to do. These are usually uncreative chores. Not sure what this is a fear of, if anything, but it feels like loss of needed creative, alone time.

    The other thing is not being clear about exactly what or how to do something. I would imagine this is fear of failure, but it’s also easier to handle than other reasons. I know I will figure it out. I always do. It’s only a problem if there’s an external deadline. I usually make the deadline, but I’m never satisfied with the result if I haven’t really figured it out yet.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Faith!
      There’s nothing like a deadline, huh?!!! It’s true what they say about a task expanding to fill the time available, and when you’ve got plenty of time, well….

      I like your suggestion about fearing the loss of creative/alone time. That’s a great theory – might have to explore that one a bit more! )

  3. Neil says:

    Hole in one!

  4. Natalie says:

    I love the probing questions; there are definitelysometimes when my procrastination helps, too, like when I actually do better under pressure and need a looming deadline to churn out good work! Thanks, Bev

  5. Rita says:

    This post really spoke to me and almost made me cry because i feel like i’m going through the first type of procrastination where it’s affecting me in everything physically, mentally and emotionally. I’m in my second year of computer programming program and next term i will get to have a co-op term where i both study and work in my program. I’ve been wanting to change my program since the second semester of year one, but somehow i didn’t do it fearing that i will regret it or maybe procrastination is the problem and not the program itself. Whenever i say “that’s it, i’m changing” i feel so relieved but i never do it. My grades have not been good and the thought of changing is always in my mind but everyone around me is expecting me to go on and get a job in this field but deep down i just want to quit and do something else.

  6. Bev Webb says:

    Hey Rita
    Thank you for a beautiful and insightful comment. It can be so hard to make a decision like this when you’re juggling with your feelings, aspirations, time already spent on a course, not to mention the expectations of family and friends. It’s no wonder we procrastinate in these situations!

    Sometimes it’s not until we write things down (or speak them out loud) that we really realize how we feel. It sounds from your comment though that you do have gut-feeling about what’s right for you. :)

  7. Pamela Williams says:

    Glad to be exploring this. Thank you. Transitions are my bugaboo. When I’m on a project, I have no problem showing up, but when it ends, I’m lost… I have stuff cued up and ready to begin, but I tell myself I need a break…and I usually do… But then it goes on too long and I get caught up in other things, like laundry, household stuff, family, friends…a kind of homesick feeling starts up…getting stronger as time goes on… I want to create. Doubts, voices, come. Then I’m getting desperate, anxious. I venture back in, circling the next project… I’m afraid it won’t pan out. I define the first step and take it. And I’m leaning in… And once I’m in a few steps, im start to get a little thrill and im launched again. I wish I didn’t have to get so anxious. I tear at my cuticles ’till they bleed.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Pamela
      I think sometimes “getting started” is the hardest thing to do. Once in motion, it’s easier to keep the momentum going, but new things and beginnings are prime opportunities for doubts and procrastination to creep in! :)

  8. Pamela says:

    Thank you… So I will say to myself… “It’s ok, I’m facing down the “hardest part”… It wil pass, like a storm. The feed part will come.

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