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In Defence of Procrastination

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I have been putting off writing this blog for a month now. Not because I’m lazy but because I’m not.   Initially I thought it would be easy because I’m a very experienced procrastinator and would have a great deal to say about it.  But then this academic thing kicked in – maybe I needed to explore some of the research because maybe the thoughts I have on the topic aren’t really valid.10259056_10152551297517230_8395387703258183938_o

Now THERE’s a great procrastinator’s hideout: go check the authorities rather than thinking the thing through with your own brain.  This isn’t an academic treatise: it is an original blog by someone who sometimes has original thoughts.

(Often it comes as a surprise that others have had the same thought, but it is a matter of some pride to me that I regularly arrive at a point of insight, all by myself, without consciously seeking to be influenced by empirical research or other aggregations of experience and thought.  Often those thoughts qualify for quick discardation because they don’t withstand 360° scrutiny, but sometimes they stick.)

Yes, the blog was triggered by something I read.  It was on adrenaline production: adrenaline’s role in creativity.  That without adrenaline we tend to a somewhat bland and unimaginative, cautious life.  With adrenaline we get into fights we should possibly have avoided; we outrun bloodthirsty adversaries; and we create wonderful stuff and have brilliant ideas.

My original idea – original to myself, although there might be a New Zealand best seller on the topic – is that when we procrastinate we are not necessarily avoiding an unpleasant task by doing ‘other stuff’ instead.  Rather, we are putting off working on something because the time isn’t right.  If my subconscious mind hasn’t had sufficient time to work on an idea; if I haven’t worried about not working on the idea while doing something else; I will produce something mediocre.   It must have its time.  And then, it must have its adrenaline:  I must experience some fear and anxiety or my subconscious drifts into a mindless contemplation of why so many people don’t like Celine Dion’s music.

By procrastinating I create that anxiety and tension because the clock is ticking: the deadline is looming (or as we say in our family “the dead lion doesn’t sleep tonight ahh.. whimeweh”).  My subconscious mind says “oh dearie me:  doesn’t look like you’re going to figure out how to reconcile your incomes and expenditures so that you can do your tax return.  You’re out there reading stuff on clarity in leadership; best I then figure out how to put the spreadsheet together so that, when you’re ready, it’ll be all smooth sailing.”

As if like magic it happens.

I come home from an appointment, too tired to read anymore leadership stuff, not quite ready to prepare supper, so I sit down at the computer, pull up the spreadsheet and somehow I am in my flow.  It all comes together beautifully as if I’m not someone who hates numbers: I love the elegance and the rhythm of it and before I know what’s going on it is 11pm, I’ve not had supper but my spreadsheet is ready and all that remains is to complete the forms.  I go to bed happy and I wake up rested.  What I’d been doing these past weeks had not been ‘procrastination’ in the usual negatively connotated form. It had been multi-tasking.  A calculation problem I couldn’t come to grips with a week ago magically resolved itself because I let go of it while spending my time productively on other things that required less thought and less adrenaline. The solution came when I was ready.

As with all powerful tools, procrastination can be used to great effect and it can cause a great deal of damage.  It all depends on when and how it is used. It should carry a warning label:  Use with care.  Overuse will result in a blunting of its edge.

 ©Delphine du Toit 2014






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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Bette May 5, 2014, 6:20 pm

    I liked the part about your mind sometimes needing to let an unresolved problem rattle around for awhile before you can make a decision. How many times do we go to bed with a problem, and wake up with the answer? Or sometimes, after a nice, relaxing bath, or some other activity that lets you focus on something else for awhile.

  • Julia April 3, 2016, 10:02 am

    I liken my procrastination to teetering on the edge of an abyss. If I jump too soon, I may fall because I will miss the necessary updraft to carry me across. However, if I time it right, I will make it across and sometimes I even soar.

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