I have always been a terrible procrastinator.
Or an incredibly adept procrastinator, if I were to look at the lengths I expertly go to in avoiding the action required in a given situation.
For awhile, I’ve been keeping a checklist of things I want to write about. There are 70+ items on there that have been sitting there for at least a year. Writing about why I procrastinate was ironically one of the first things on that list.
When I started writing this very piece, I immediately considered leaving for lunch and had started chatting with a friend on Facebook after getting this far:
So why do people do this? Why do I do this?
After a lifetime of it, I’ve decided it has something to do with the following:
Fear. I believe fear is at the heart of all of my procrastination.
This is often because I have an idea for a project I am very invested in emotionally and I’m afraid that once it is complete, it will not be as good as I imagined it would be. There is evidence of this all around me. For instance, I actually have thousands of unfinished musical projects I started recording over the last decade or two. Many of them are items I go back and listen to regularly and I love them and wished I had finished and released them in some form. I can’t bring myself to finish them, however, because I fear they may not be as amazing as I know they can be.
Another way fear drives my procrastination is incompetence. It’s really another version of the same thing, but if there’s something I need to do and there is even the tiniest aspect of it where I feel a little confused or unsure of how to approach it, it slows me down to a halt. “I don’t know how to do that second last step, so how could I possibly finish?” (Imagine a builder ceasing construction of an entire home for weeks on end because they don’t think they know how to paint very well, and you’ll have a fairly good idea of how silly it gets sometimes.)
Maybe for myself, I can summarize procrastination as a defensive maneuver against a fear of unimpressive results & resulting insecurity. I want people to know that I’m capable of great things and sometimes trick myself into thinking that it’s better to do nothing than show someone something that could give them a reason to think otherwise. It may be true in some situations, but it’s done me more harm than good.
I don’t think of it as my identity, but I’ve always been an idea guy, a thinker. Someone who can look at a situation and come up with a hundred solutions before beginning to work on one. This can be useful, but it’s also a hindrance as I actually want to do things, make things and be involved in a tangible way.
I actually bought a book once called Execute. The book was completed by a couple of guys in just 8 days, from idea to print. The premise seemed to be that motivation itself is a resource that we seldom use to maximum benefit, and that we wait until conditions are perfect and we’re no longer excited about something to start working on it. Hilariously, I don’t know what kind of detailed advice is given because I reread that first introduction a couple of times and never finished reading the book.
I’m a functional person, I’ve learned much and done a lot of things I’m very happy about. It’s clear though that I’ve missed out on many opportunities because of the procrastination/fear thing. I missed out on a chance to be in a movie once, one that turned out to be a favourite of mine. I’ve missed out on several business opportunities because the ideas I had never got off the ground before someone else came along with the same idea and beat me to the punch. A few casual friendships slipped away from me because I could never find the perfect time and place to spend time with them, and a few records didn’t get out because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make the best record ever made or not.
How do I change then?
Little by little.
If there’s something I don’t know how to do, I take a deep breath and learn how to do it. If I’m afraid something isn’t going to be perfect, it probably never needed to be perfect.
Writing things like this is a good exercise. I waited for months because I knew I wouldn’t do the topic or myself justice. And I haven’t. I did finish something though, something that might help someone to think about what’s tripping them up. I can happily say that is more important to me than a perfect piece of writing.
Photo: C is for Clock by Nomadic Lass. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic