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:

Procrastination

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 LassLicensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

 

Musician, designer, developer, social media nerd, amateur writer + designer of games, tea drinker (recently turned coffee snob), comedy addict, reluctant activist/gov’t policy nut. Sometimes the locals call me “Adam from the internet.”

  • Tara Jeffrey

    This is great. I am such a list-a-holic. But it gets so overwhelming that often times I don’t even know where to start, and just give up. But you’re right… not everything needs to be perfect.

    • a_w_young

      Thanks. And Tell me about it. The half-science/half-art of “listmaking” is something I’m trying to perfect too.

      Sometimes I get too ambitious and end up making lists that are so detailed that they are too daunting to tackle.

      If they’re not detailed enough though, there’s nothing you can check off easily and you feel like you’re never getting anything done.

      It all seems like a game of seeing how well we can con ourselves or something, but I’m learning 🙂