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Procrastination – NOT a Problem!

Procrastination – NOT a Problem!

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    “I’m feeling guilty because I procrastinate too much”

    A quick search on Twitter confirmed my hunch.  There are a lot of  people talking about procrastination, and the tweets I surveyed  are filled with feelings of guilt, regret and remorse.

    The word “procrastinate” is a heavy one, and I believe that people are  trying to solve the problem the wrong way, leaving them with baggage that just won’t seem to go away no matter what they do.

    Procrastination: Not a Problem!

    Perhaps procrastination simply isn’t the problem we think it is.

    Webster’s Dictionary defines the word as follows:

    procrastinate: To put off from day to day; to delay; to defer to a future time

    Anyone who is skillful at managing their time will tell you that the  act of “putting off from day to day,” “delaying” and “deferring to  a future time” are required skills in today’s information age.

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    With technology has come an increased number of demands on our time,  and a variety of ways in which we allow ourselves to be  interrupted, reminded or prompted to make new commitments.  The only smart tactic to take is to put things off until later.

    Take the simple example of checking your email Inbox.

    In fifteen minutes it’s possible to scan 100 new items, while making  30 instant decisions to take further action.  It’s impossible to act on  all 30 items immediately.  Instead, it’s a much better idea to focus on a  single item at a time, rather than trying to split one’s attention between multiple tasks.

    In other words, it’s better to “put it off from today,” “delay”  or “defer to a future time” than to try to do multiple actions  at the same time, in the very next moment.

    Why is procrastination deemed to be such a problem if, by its definition, the action is such a benign and even useful one?  I suspect that  when we call a problem by its incorrect name, we prevent ourselves from seeing clear, common-sense solutions.  The word “procrastination” is being used to label the wrong problem.

    The Real Problem

    To understand the real problem, let’s look at some cases in which  actual failures occurred, and why they had nothing to do with  procrastination.

    Failure #1 – A Missed Due Date: Sam’s homework was due on Monday morning, and she waited until  late on Sunday evening to get started.  After she started she found  out that the assignment required  at least 20 hours of work, which she could not complete in time.   The assignment was handed in late, and her tardiness cost her a  full letter grade according to the rules stated in the syllabus.

    Analysis: Most might call Sam a procrastinator, but I only see that she has a weakness in scheduling her time.  The failure started by  not properly estimating the size of the task, and continued when  she didn’t use her calendar to determine the best time to start the assignment.

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    In this case what we call procrastination is actually a problem  with the discipline that time management experts would call “personal scheduling.”

    Failure #2 – Several Delays: Mike has made an internal decision to cut the lawn on Saturday,  an activity that he despises.  On the appointed day, other events intervene, and he decides to cut the lawn on Sunday instead.

    Sunday rolls around and once again he decides to postpone his date  with the lawnmower until Wednesday.

    On Wednesday he decides that next Friday would be better, and  he once again foregoes the much needed chore.

    On Friday he finally cuts the entire lawn in one effort.

    Analysis: Was Mike procrastinating?  Many would say yes, and  they might strongly imply that he was just being lazy.

    If I add in the fact that it rained on Friday, Monday and Tuesday  nights rendering the ground soft and unsafe for a cut, would it be  said that he was still being lazy, and procrastinating?

    If I add in the fact that his neighbour cut his lawn under similar  conditions would you change your mind?  And if I add in the fact  that the neighbour is known to be a drunkard who sometimes does  crazy things help you to change your  mind again?

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    The problem with the way we use procrastination is that it has come to mean much more than the dictionary definition, and now brings with it  an accusing tone filled with blame.

    If we were to use the dictionary definition of the word we’d conclude that he was simply re-scheduling.  The fact is that he deferred  the activity, and according to the dictionary, he was procrastinating.  According to our common-day usage of the word, it all depends on  whether or not he was to blame for the delay.

    The charge of being a “procrastinator” that we lay against  ourselves and others has a become a way to cast blame.

    Solutions

    The negative judgements and feelings related to procrastinating  don’t come from the delays, the  putting off or the postponements.  Instead they come from our  judgemental minds which  have decided that something or someone is to blame.  A close look at the examples above reveal that  it’s actually the negative thoughts that are producing the guilty  feelings and the blame, and NOT the actual rescheduling.

    What can we do about these negative thoughts?  What can we do if we  continue to blame ourselves and others for procrastinating?

    There are a variety of approaches that we can use, but  this is  my personal favorite.  Byron Katie’s methods of dealing with  stressful thoughts is the method that I have used for the past 4 years. (Her entire approach can be found at her website.)

    Her thesis is simple, and is a good match for the problem of blame.

    Stress is never caused by life circumstances, but instead it  originates in the thoughts that we have, and whether or not we  believe them.

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    In the example above, Sam’s assignment was late (a fact,) but her thought that “I’m a procrastinator” would only cause stress if she believed it.

    On Katie’s site, there is a powerful and simple process. It involves dealing with stressful thoughts by  first writing them down and then  applying 4 questions and what  she calls a turnaround statement (an opposing thought.)

    The result of using her process on stressful, judgmental thoughts about procrastination is a sense of relief in which statements  like “I should stop procrastinating” might still recur, but  without the stress that usually comes.

    While this kind of habit might not seem to be related to time  management, there are so many who struggle with thoughts of  procrastination that if they could get past their own thinking, it  would help bring peace of mind — which is the goal of every time management system.

    So, if you think you have an issue with procrastination, start by  separating your actions from your thoughts. Deal with your skill at scheduling if you need to. According to the dictionary, you are  probably doing the right thing by procrastinating.

    If you find that you have blaming thoughts that keep returning, and that  they are causing stress, use Katie’s method to free yourself to be as productive as you can be without this  harmful habit.

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    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

    How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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