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Doing Nothing & Procrastinating Aren’t the Same Thing

Doing Nothing & Procrastinating Aren’t the Same Thing

    You sit down to write a paper. You’ve done all the research you could possibly need to do, but for some reason, you just can’t get started.

    Does this mean you’re procrastinating? Ask most anyone and they’ll tell you that you are, but it’s not necessarily true. The things we write aren’t simply a culmination of the research we’ve done into a topic. The mind needs to process new information before it can work with it, and even then, there’s still the matter of what you are going to write about it.

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    You might think you just need to do some research and get writing, and this is why you sit at the screen unsure of where to start. You haven’t let the project germinate, and it’s like trying to harvest the fruit from a tree while it’s still a seed in the ground. Your brain needs to process that research before it can work with it.

    Now, I’ll add a disclaimer here because statements like these often become excuses for those who are truly procrastinators. Just because you sit down and can’t get started writing doesn’t necessarily mean you need more germination time. It may just mean you’re plain lazy. If you’ve been sitting on that 500 word article for a month and haven’t started writing yet, I’d put a bet on the fact that you’ve had enough time to incubate your ideas. But this is all relative to the size of the task and, continuing with writing as our analogy since that’s what I do all day every day, a month’s germination time won’t be anywhere near enough time to mentally flesh out a twelve-book fantasy saga.

    I’ve spoken to computer programmers in the past who have found the same thing; if they run head first into coding, they hit walls, even if they’ve sketched out some diagrams that look workable. On the other hand, if they spend the afternoon washing dishes while the programming is relegated to the back of their mind, or they sleep on it, the subconscious gets the time to process all the information and goals and feed the mind with ideas.

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    Allowing a germination period works so well that programmers, writers and other creators alike can often end up spending just hours or days tackling a project that would’ve taken weeks or months had they rushed in.

    Not Just for Creatives and Problem-Solvers

    This principle doesn’t just apply to those who produce the written word or computer software or works of art for a living. It applies to everyone who has to do something that doesn’t come with an instruction book.

    For instance, if you know you’re moving house in a month but you’ll only have a weekend between the time you get your new keys and the time you give the old ones back, the best thing you can do is let that problem sit in the back of your mind unattended for a few days, maybe a week. The first instinct most of us might have is to panic. This interferes with problem-solving, whether it’s conscious problem-solving or background problem-solving.

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    Once you return the problem to conscious thought, you may find you’ve got a good idea of how to prepare things in advance so that your move only takes a weekend (even though it’ll probably involve hiring a removalist and a cleaner!).

    No Manual Required, But it’s Not Easy

    This is such a simple concept. How is it that we miss the signs that we’re simply not ready to get started on the production phase of a project?

    I recently read somewhere that many Westerners confuse thirst for hunger because we’ve been trained to eat to solve all of our problems. I’m not vouching for the truth of that statement, but it’s a similar thing we’re talking about here. Western culture wants us busy all the time, producing, producing, producing. Unproductive workers are bad for the bottom line.

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    So, spending some time thinking is discouraged. We have to produce results NOW. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), the mind doesn’t work that way. It needs to spend the time taking information in, and then it needs to be left alone to do the “pre-production” as we say in the music production world.

    Thus, it’s not easy to set a project aside and wait until it is ready to be tackled (whether that’s an hour away, a day, or more). That doesn’t make it difficult, but it’s not easy, either. Even as a guy who works from home and doesn’t have to keep up appearances looking like a busy bee in the office, I feel guilty when I put the production work off and let some information settle into the empty vortex at the back of my skull (back where my brain used to be).

    I can’t offer a quick way to help you feel less guilty about doing this, unfortunately, because this is a part of the way you see the world and that makes it a mental adjustment that takes time. It’s hard to get out of the negative feedback loop that the guilt of taking time to think causes while others think you’re just procrastinating. Persevere, stick with it, and when you’re estimating the time it’ll take to complete something, factor it in.

    I’m still getting to that guilt-free stage myself.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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