Procrastination and productivity – two sides of a coin – are topics that perpetually occupy my mind. Just searching for the word procrastinate on my blog throws up enough posts to keep you going for a while. I’m a chronic procrastinator. I doubt I will ever be the kind of person who is can uniformly balance the two states. I have many days when I feel I have stumbled on a trick that will help kickstart some efficiency and productivity, but it’s hard to sustain it and just as I think I have cracked a possible solution to this eternal problem, I suddenly have a day (sometimes many days) of paralysis. Mostly, when the going is good I’m constantly wondering when the next slip will happen (because I am that prone to procrastination), I’m almost anticipating it, waiting for it to happen. And when the going is tough, well, I stress about it and wait for last minute panic to hit me.
About 2 weeks ago, something suddenly shifted within me. I desperately wanted an answer to why this happens to be so often. The procrastination bug has bitten harder this year because I’ve seen the visible consequences it has on the quality of my life – both, when I am efficient and planned and productive, and when I let things slip and procrastinate over them. Weeks and months of pondering over this has in some way made me accept that extreme highs and lows are probably a part of the larger plan and the way things are for my personality. I’ve found myself thinking about ways to mazimise the bursts of efficiency when they do hit, and trying to find ways to tide through the lows without letting them paralyse me complete.
It helps to think of tackling the procrastination habit in smaller chunks, rather than a big mighty overwhelming beast it is. In my search, I came across this ZenHabits post that really hit the spot for me, making me introspect and begin to accept something I never have, to myself.
It is far easier to dismiss procrastination as a product of laziness, of which I have aplenty. It has also been very convenient because my idea of ambition is not typical. Settling for what seems like less, and then being lazy for it is a really good excuse to get out of doing what it takes. But I had never stopped to think that perhaps procrastination is sometimes my defence against discomfort and uncertainty, as this post suggests.
Just saying that to myself felt like a mini breakthrough. It’s been a year a of inculcating many mindful practices with the purpose of getting better at the small things – keeping good habits, doing more what makes me happy, acknowledging the shit that rises to the surface so often, working through it rather than shoving it under the carpet, and just living everyday life being whole and present. So when I talk about productivity, it’s very rarely about clocking more hours so I can earn more, or filling my time with x more activities or coming out at the end of a stipulated time period with a socially acceptable measure of success. All the navel gazing, mindfulness and efforts to imbibe big and little habits to make my life more joyful revolves around understanding why I stumble, as I do so often. Why I take so long to move on the things I tell myself I want so bad. Why I choose the safety from discomfort so often. It’s true, I realise. Sometimes big tasks — finishing that essay I bravely pitched, delivering the article to the new pub I cracked, picking up the phone to make the call to the intimidating person I have to interview, making time to finish x mundane household jobs, acting on step 1 of moving towards my what-next, planning to get organised as a professional — have daunting possibilities. Somewhere deep down, perhaps even subconsciously, I am afraid of the outcome. I’m afraid of what succeeding might mean. I’m afraid of the hardwork that will follow, I’m scared that step 2 will follow soon after and I will have to be on my way.
So I take comfort in whittling away time, pushing the inevitable to the very last hour. Alongside that, I also fret about wasting time, and about how it is stopping me from reaching my goal. It’s really the most confusing vicious cycle, but I realised today that at the root of it lies my diffidence. I procrastinate when I’m diffident about the outcome of the task I need to do. I’m unsure about the results and what it could mean for me. Thinking about it makes me uncomfortable, and the uncertainty is a scary place. Much nicer being enveloped in a bubble of inaction, with no immediate
The article made me realise that it’s time to try and “get good at discomfort and uncertainty”. Starting now.
But we all know that by now, I mean next week.