I never procrastinate. That’s for amateurs. I’m a Pro.
I’m always busying myself away with things I know I should be doing.
I decide what I want to do and then I knuckle down and do it.
And I’m completely deluded.
Like a lot of people I used to think I knew what procrastination was and I was pretty sure it wasn’t something that hadn’t applied to me for a long time. Oh yeah, I had it licked.
At that point, in my mind, procrastination was a cartoonish beast that prayed on amateurs. It was watching TV instead of working. Going to the fridge every two seconds instead of writing. Getting a coffee. Getting “ready”.
It was not doing the work, and instead doing something “fun”.
Under this definition, busy-ness was antithetical to procrastination. It was a dichotomy – you stopped procrastinating the moment you became busy and knuckled down.
It turns out that while this level of procrastination absolutely exists and is a major issue for many, it is a way more nuanced and insidious than that.
You can spend an hour procrastinating over doing your invoicing by doing something else that also genuinely needs to be done. In other words, procrastination doesn’t have to feel like leisure to be procrastination. And I’m not just talking reading articles for research if reading articles is your idea of fun. It goes beyond that.
In my case it almost always meant doing something quite genuinely productive – that also isn’t the task at hand - because it comes with a greater likelihood of success or satisfaction. I would do “Y”, fail to do “X” and then say Well, at least I did “Y”!
In short, I can move mountains provided what I am meant to be doing is diverting rivers.
You can spend 10 minutes procrastinating by writing a necessary email to your client to instead of doing your invoicing.
You can spend an hour procrastinating by doing your invoicing instead of doing your work which is due in a few days time.
You can spend a week procrastinating by doing a job that due in a few days time instead of scouting about for new clients.
You can spend a month procrastinating by scouting about for new clients instead of expanding your skill set..
It’s insideous – because at one level or another – it’s all necessary.
What a slippery fish.
These days my definition of procrastination is more like this: anything that you are choosing to do in place of something else simply and only because the chances of achieving a sense of satisfaction are higher even though the quality of satisfaction is lower.
If you’re doing it because it’s less intimidating, and that’s the deciding factor, you’re probably procrastinating.
I don’t think it’s a perfect perfect definition – and it’s not exactly elegant – but it does serve to remind me to think about what I choosing to do with my time.
But how to choose?
The best analogy I have seen dealing with this problem is in the title of Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. In that book he compares the tasks that we all have to do during the day to Frogs – yes actual frogs – that we must eat – yes, actually eat. This is a brilliant way to think about your doables list because if nothing else it reminds you not to overload it in the first place (who wants more frogs on a plate to eat than is necessary?).
Beyond that and more pertinent to this tpoic, he describes his approach to deciding what to choose to do in the following way:
“…you cannot eat every tadpole and frog in the pond, but you can eat the biggest and ugliest one, and that will be enough, at least for the time being.”
Deciding which is the biggest and ugliest frog is is up to you so you gotta be honest. The point is that it’s a great barometer for knowing whether or not you are procrastinating in the “pro” sense of the word.
In fact, there’s an idea!
What if we reserved the Pro label for the more insidious form of procrastinating?
Doing something fun instead of work that needs doing? That’s just Crastinting
Doing slightly less important work instead of the most important work? Now that’s PRO-crastinating!
At the end of the day prioritising and de-proritising is an art that there are entire books dedicated to (with Brian Tracy’s being one excellent example). But since many productively minded people consider procrastination to be doing something fun instead of work my point here is that just because its technically work doesn’t mean it’s not procrastination. And for most people, that is the true devil.
Be aware of that impulse in your mind to get satisfaction from something other than the most important things in your life and call it by its true name, or get used to cheap satisfaction and long term frustration.