When I’m struggling with motivation, my instinct is sometimes to fall back on the urgency technique A.K.A. procrastination. This, I’m sure, is a destructive tendency that I trained myself into by successfully navigating years of deadlines by doing 90% of my work in that sweet spot that falls between “This is now urgent and I’m feeling the fear” and “This is due so soon that I’m paralysed with panic.” On the early side of that sweet spot, I found it hard to focus and get in the flow. On the late side of that sweet spot, desperation and adrenaline paralysed me and prevented me from creating meaningful work. So I learned to effectively time my work so that the vast majority of it fell right into that sweet spot. I soared through school and my undergrad degree on the wings of urgency. Procrastinators around the world have used this technique for years.
It was effective at the time, but it’s a technique I’ve had to leave in the dust (and still sometimes default to if I’m not careful). So now when I see some of the students I teach learning to procrastinate instead of learning the harder but far more useful lesson of how to manage themselves and their time in a way that will propel them towards growth, sustainability and making a meaningful contribution, I want to share with them these lessons that I learned the hard way.
- Procrastination will always hold you back from your best.
I used to tell myself that I produced my best work in the sweet spot. My writing flowed, I felt inspired, and my work felt far more effortless than it did when I started work on a project way in advance. The truth, though, is that I didn’t produce my best work because I never gave myself time to revise and no one does their best writing first time. No one. I know now that if I had given myself time to put those essays in a drawer and then re-read them a couple of weeks later, I could have improved them and, more importantly, improved my own skills and knowledge.
- Procrastination controls you; you don’t control it.
You can’t control the drive that procrastination lends you. Sometimes, that ‘fear’ feeling doesn’t kick in. Sometimes, when you’re tired, or burned, or discouraged you look at a project, and you see the deadline, and you think “I just don’t care” – and at that point you need something other than “the fear” to motivate you do to do what you’re committed to.
- Procrastination uses fear as a tool.
Procrastination actually invites more fear into your life because without fear, you don’t get any work done. Fear is not a tool – it is a destructive force that holds us back from its far more powerful opposite: love. I, for one, am done with inviting fear to set up camp in my life.
- Procrastination is stressful and leads to burnout.
Do you know what kickstarts that effortless feeling procrastinators get when they’re working in the sweet spot? Well, no, I don’t either actually, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is adrenalin. It certainly feels like adrenaline. The problem is, running your life on full-time adrenaline leads to burnout. Running your life by the urgent leads to burnout. Living a last minute life is no way to honour your youth, your experience or your capacity.
And yes, it IS possible to focus and enter flow without being driven by urgency. It takes practice and it takes self-control, but learning to do that will serve you well for the rest of your life.
- Procrastination holds you back from growth and contribution.
There is no better way than a PhD to teach a student that the ‘sweet spot’ technique doesn’t work for big projects. Procrastination doesn’t work for things that require more of you than the work you can produce in that ‘effortless’ zone. Some things simply require a great deal of sustained effort and there ain’t no shortcut for that. Procrastination doesn’t work for long-term goals and long-term commitments. If you rely on this technique as a productivity hack, then you settle for doing the kind of work you can more-or-less already do. You don’t grow and contribute in the ways that you could if could find another way to push yourself forward.
Procrastination steals your potential. If you have a tendency towards it, start as early as you can in re-training yourself with the harder but ultimately far more powerful tool of self-control, because trust me, procrastination may be working now but it won’t serve you well for long. It’s never too late to change your habits!
Due credit to The Minimalists – it was one of their blog posts that first hit me round the head with the truth that no one does their best writing work first time.
Featured Image by Unsplash via Pixabay