Procrastination is a Useful Signal

“And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this!”
— Hunter S. Thompson, Letters of Note
This essay was originally published as the introduction to Good Work—Edition Nº 35 on Holloway.com.
Soundtrack:
It’s So Easy (When You Know What You’re Doing), by Ted Lucas

Yoda said, “Do or do not,” but do I did not. This week’s Good Work is one week late and about procrastination.

Procrastination starts when a task is added to one of our many plates, and we don’t decide and communicate that it isn’t urgent, that we can’t consume that much right now. Sometimes we record the task in a to-do list. In other moments we tell ourselves a cute story, “I’ll remember it in the morning.” Out of no malice, we neglect the task. We come up with amazing excuses why the thing isn’t worth getting to at all. But sometimes, it needed getting to, and gotten to it did not get, leaving us to feel like someone’s taken a vacuum cleaner to our integrity, and in this moment, we have a choice. Do we face the mistake, or do we defer further?

We defer further because we are embarrassed. We feel guilty for letting someone down—sometimes ourselves. Having not been honest, we may have bruised someone’s trust, and now we don’t know what balm we can provide. And so it compounds, dragging us down into a Great Period of Putting Things Off. We feel like a whale stuck with a thousand harpoons made of tasks, emails, text messages, and asks. We become masterful tragic storytellers. What great promethean burdens we carry, what great-bellied calamities our lives become, and what great comforters of self-pity we wrap around ourselves.

In the short run, it’s easier to delay than it is to pen a postponement atonement and far less challenging than coming clean with yourself that you aren’t very good at staying on top of the ball always and forever. Sometimes we just avoid doing hard things. But more often than not, we procrastinate because something else drew our attention.

What’s necessary is learning to notice what we’re valuing as important. When something doesn’t fit in the important bucket, it helps to learn to say, “No. I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for this right now,” or, “I’m sorry, but I’m overcommitted right now. If I take this on, I won’t get to X.” It’s about honesty, with yourself and those around you. Instead of punting, face the task, the mistake, the conflict, and either decide to do it, schedule it, or make sure you and everyone involved knows it ain’t gonna happen.

Join my mailing list

I send maybe one email a month. Get updates on new projects, the lastest pieces from Ask Jerry, personal life updates, and interesting finds.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Yikes. Something went wrong while submitting the form.