Procrastinating to success

Procrastination is a life-changing activity. In a positive manner. You just have to master the art of procrastination, and you can squeeze something revolutionary out of it! Here are a few why’s and how’s

(Just f.y.i – I am writing this now instead of finishing a homework assignment…)

The deep resentment towards the need to fulfill the necessary tasks can impede slowly onto your routine or hit you like a high-speed flying saucer with a malfunctioning GPS. Deadlines are approaching, tasks are not all that impossible and you may even normally enjoy doing what you have to do, yet the moment procrastination saturates you turn into a lost productivity poster child. Worse yet, you may be well aware of it all, and still even the thought of devoting any of your energy to anything on the ‘needs to be done yesterday’ list makes you feel almost physical aversion.

Random outbursts of procrastination are not rare and often stem from banal laziness, lack of motivation, commitment to the tasks and goals, seasonal affected disorder, general fatigue or even unbalanced nutrition. However, prolonged periods of procrastination may be a signal of lasting stress or a serious depression.

Running to the doctor is always the option, but you can first see just how serious the condition is and, all the while, get the most benefits out of it.

In December 2010 I had a long written take-home exam to write and submit just a few days after the New Year’s Eve on my ‘to do over the holidays’ list. You would say ‘who ever does anything over holidays anyway?’ and I would generally agree, but not when the deadline is on January 4th and 40% of the grade depends on that assignment. In such rare cases I do some work over the Christmas holidays, albeit I don’t celebrate it anyway.

Not in 2010. Every single day I found new motivation to start on the assignment, which then quickly morphed into ‘doing nothing productive’ upon its very first encounter with the computer screen. Over nearly 20 days of the free time, I have done exactly zero work on the take-home exam. Those who know me for being a major A-chasing nerd should already be wondering ‘wtf’ – trust me, I was too.

Instead of writing the exam (which I eventually finished during the 24 hour period before the deadline…) I spent hours and hours online and the result of those hours was this blog. It’s not a major success (yet 🙂 ) story, partially because I had very little time to work on creating what I wanted out of this, but it is an essential piece in a big puzzle that changed my life.

My second wave of procrastination hit when I was supposed to do a work assignment during my ‘spring break’ (if you can count February as spring). Even the alluring and much needed cash couldn’t make me get to finishing the task. In the end, the order on this piece was actually cancelled (although I’ve done most of the work by then 😦 ), but during my inner struggle I’ve come up with a brilliant idea.

The brilliant idea can potentially make all of my dreams in life come true at once in a very fun and relatively easy manner. It is a global undertaking that would also be to the service of the society and virtually anyone can partake in the making of it. No office hours, no 9-to-5, no career building from initial two years of coffee-making upwards… For those of you wondering – nothing illicit, illegal, immoral or in any other similar way ‘exciting’ either, sorry :). I may belong to mafia, but only the Zouk one :). What I definitely know is that this amazing idea would probably never have the necessary ingredients mix in my head because all those ingredients I have come across while procrastinating…

I won’t tell you what it is, just yet, because some things need to be done first, but I will tell you how procrastination can be key to success.

1. Follow the procrastination pattern of yours – it will tell you what is lacking in your life. Are you stuck playing games? I don’t mean the occasional time-wasting sprees we all have, when the brain is intentionally ‘switched off’ after a hard day at work and you relax by harvesting your crops or getting the pleasure rush from passing a level in War Craft. I’m talking about scenarios when you spend much time on the playing, feel guilty about it because you realize the time is wasted, but keep on going. It might mean that you may subconsciously feel under-rewarded for your achievements, or that you are under-achieving, unsure of the direction your life is taking or dissatisfied with what you are generally doing. A game provides an environment where you can always, in a predictable and thus psychologically comfortable ‘no-risk’ setting, see results of your actions – results are direct and rewards always come after correct actions. It’s an easy satisfaction trap where lack of achievement in real life is substituted by virtual ‘success’, especially when accompanied by feelings of guilt for the time spent playing. Therefore, you may either be reluctant to venture out and take some healthy risks ‘out there in reality’, unsure about where your actions may lead to, or lack a stimulating challenge in life.

Tame the beast: try to assess what is it that is bothering you in real life. Are you facing a serious talk with someone close that you just wish you didn’t have to have? Do you feel that you are not receiving the salary/tasks that reflect your level of expertise? Search for the root cause and tackle it. Procrastination in this case is a good friend: it allows you to realize that something somewhere has gone pretty wrong for too long and you have somehow ignored it or tried to. Such skeletons in your mental closet are the assets you definitely need to get rid of as soon as you can, before they grow meat and turn into haunting zombies that only psychiatrists and psychologists can destroy.

If you feel like you aren’t being challenged enough – find a challenge. Switch the time you waste procrastinating to taking up a new skill – be it cooking, mountain climbing, dancing, photography, writing, a new language or whatever else makes your toes curl. Allow yourself to fail but persist until you start seeing the results of your effort. And show off – publish your photos (at least on Facebook), share recipes/invite friends for a meal, travel somewhere where they speak that language you are learning… Invest your time in a challenge that gives you long lasting true benefits – psychologically, physically and as value-added to your skills.

2. If you are an ‘active procrastinator’ like myself, which amounts to DOING just about everything else you can think of doing BUT the task at hand, follow those patterns too. Do you all of a sudden start cleaning? Or do you watch random videos online? What are you drawn to doing? It might be signals coming from your inner universe saying “look, I REALLY much rather would do THIS OTHER THING in life…”, but beware – the signals aren’t always direct. My cleaning sprees usually follow periods of limited physical activity, so I know it’s time to go exercise when I start itching for everything to be nice and shiny. It’s also a call for prioritizing and making order in the affairs, plans, tasks and life in general. And yeah, clean flat just looks nice, too :).

My project (are you intrigued enough yet? 😀 Soon, soon… you will know 🙂 ) grew out of watching inspiring videos of people who overcame obstacles most of us can’t ever even imagine facing (like, for instance, losing the limbs… then becoming a kick-ass athlete… most of which made me cry in shame of my own lame self-pitying habit but ultimately kicked my ass to venture into the unknown waters of something grand and exciting), a strong desire to write (everything BUT the exams, papers and so forth), all of a sudden finally summoned strength to put all my pictures into one folder (fishing all my picture folders from all possible corners of the laptop memory was no joke of a task!) and sort them and similar seemingly unrelated tweaks in the usually perfectly functioning student software. I say that because I love studying, I enjoy the assignments, I actually like writing research papers, too – but all of these things I normally enjoy became appalling to me once procrastination came about.

So take conscious note of how exactly and what you waste your time on doing when you avoid the pressing tasks – you may find out your true drive, desires, a great plan, a secret wish long forgotten or ignored… Once you start following the right lead, you would also find the strength to finish the tasks at hand. This was how I wrote my 67-page thesis paper in virtually 4 days… I hit a major writer’s block on it, even though I loved the topic and read great books on it that personally interested me… But then at that point this project was keeping me awake at nights and not my thesis… So I kept doing everything but, until out of it all I did some preparatory work towards the project’s ends. And then magically I could write yet again and it no longer turned my stomach inside out – my thesis got completed and deemed ‘excellent’ (in the words of my mentor, although by now I kind of hate that paper already 🙂 ). All it took was procrastinating in the right way – in the way that actually fuels procrastination by drawing the attention to an existing un-addressed need, plan, desire of something very deep inside.

Listen to procrastination when it comes. It may be annoying or it may seem futile, but if you know what to look for, you can come out of it with a plan of your lifetime, a hobby or project to keep you happy for years or something equally valuable. Make the beast work FOR you, not against you, by cooperative dialog with it. And break out of the vicious circle by real-life action in the right directions. Look for inspiration, not for simple time-wasting devices. If anything, at least watch great youtube videos :). Then you can find your path to success even there where others see excuses for their inadequacy and inaction.

Successful procrastinating to you!

P.S. A link to some more scientific explanations to the nature of procrastination, as well as to how to tackle it:

http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/10/27/procrastination/

And a bit more about what I wrote about: the ‘good’ procrastination vs. the evil one:

http://www.paulgraham.com/procrastination.html

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About in shade

A cocktail of personality traits hard to digest for some but ultimately soothing for those who can. I observe, enjoy, travel, interact, photograph, dance, contemplate, write and love my way through this life's countless occurrences. This blog is a way to share with the world and its people some of the treasures they give me every day.
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