Procrastination: The Art of Turning Rebellion into Productivity

Originally published by Mercedes-Benz // She’s Mercedes Lounge on 24 May 2018

Tomorrow - a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored. (source: a popular Instagram meme)

Writing something remotely useful about procrastination should come easy to me – I practice it daily. Three hours after I sat down to do so the page is still blank. However, I now have confirmation from several sources that procrastinators are anything but lazy as they are busy doing many things while avoiding others. That means it can be inherited as well as learned and hence can also be unlearned. Severe cases however, can seek help through therapy.

It does not mean ‘doing absolutely nothing’

Ample has been written about how to try and fight procrastination. Based on the principle ‘what resists, persists’ I am a fan of making friends with it instead. Semi-serious procrastinators, who keep their deadlines and don’t lead themselves to serious difficulties and consequences in life, are often accompanied by an equal mix of self-delusion and self-awareness and apparently, the latter can be used to our advantage.

It’s comforting to know that this wisdom originates with a man who is a self-professed procrastinator – and Nobel Price winner. And that it took him years to publish his original work as a book. “Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing”, explains John Perry. “They do marginally useful things, such as gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they find the time. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because accomplishing these tasks is a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him to do it.”

A doer instead of a planner

The idea is to sort one’s to-do list from important and urgent to least important and ‘sometime soon’. The only rule is to always be doing something that features on this list, even if it’s not the most pressing item. Even starting at the bottom and working up – not ideal obviously – will help to get things done while avoiding what really needs attention. A positive side effect: once we start working on something we often find the motivation to do more than initially intended.

The principle, therefore is to become a doer instead of a planner and to turn rebellion into productivity. Going with the over-used, but relevant ‘Just Do It’ motto, the secret to combating procrastination may be to just not do nothing – but to stay productive with whatever happens to come easy and to go with the flow as long as we work on the items on our list.

As self-delusion is never far off, it’s a good idea to regularly ask whether our to-do list isn’t actually more of a wish list than what actually needs to be done. Writing down tasks has an element of instant gratification, but might lead to a somewhat bloated and laborious list – which might induce even more stress via procrastination as one cannot figure out what’s truly relevant.