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The Queen of Procrastination

The topic of Opinionator this week was stopping procrastination. (Or was it last week?  I don’t know, I was procrastinating reading it because who the hell wants to hear how someone else has stopped procrastinating when you know that very little works for you and you’ve tried everything including the no email diet, the devices upstairs diet, and the never-answering-the-phone diet.)

The essay is from a writer who finally learned how to tune out all the distractions and get down to the business of writing by working first thing in the morning.  He had a bunch of theories for why we’re so productive in the morning and why it isn’t a good idea to sit down to write at 3 pm.  He states that not only are we able to access that right brain creativity early in the morning but,

Conversely, the relentlessly negative voice that comes from your critical parent seems to be a left brain resident and doesn’t like to wake up too early. (And by the way, there is no faster way to bring that demonic harpy voice to consciousness than restless Internet activity. Once you start randomly interacting with anything on the Internet, the delightful relaxation of the right brain has better taste than to stick around.

He says “we” but he really means “he.”  People have a tendency to do that; state that people are more productive in the morning without taking into account that while there are people who are more productive in the morning, there are also people who are groggy in the morning and don’t really produce their best work until after the sun goes down.  For instance, my negative voice is loud and clear moments after I open my eyes.  I don’t even need to get out of bed before I begin berating myself.  And I get my best work done some time after 8 pm.

So I think that it’s great that this works for him.  And maybe it will work for you too.

Even though I am a HORRIBLE procrastinator (like an I-can’t-believe-how-much-time-you-waste-getting-started-or-keeping-going procrastinator.  I call it part of my “process”), I’ve never had trouble with the act of writing.  Carving out time: yes, on occasion.  Writer’s block: yes, again, on occasion.  But for the most part, writing for me is like cooking.  There are days I enjoy it more than others and days when I have more time for it than others, but for the most part, in the same way that I can force myself towards the counter and make something resembling a meal, I can force myself into the chair and sit in front of the computer and type.  It’s not all fabulous, but it doesn’t need to always be fabulous.  Sometimes writing just needs to be mind-nourishing.

But the point is that while this sounds lovely for him, I couldn’t possibly write first thing in the morning.  For one, I am a terrible sleeper.  I don’t sleep.  So waking up in the morning feels horrible.  Plus I wake up so many times during the night, I have no clue which one to count as my morning waking.  I mean, is it the one at 5:43 am when I stumble to the bathroom to pee?  Or the 6:26 am one that occurs right as I start to fall asleep again but I startle myself awake accidentally?  Or is it the 7:16 am one where Josh is shaking me gently and I’m calling him unspeakable things for rousing me?

This is how I work: I cannot write a single word until my inbox is clean.  It may pile up later in the day, and that is fine, but the writing process needs to begin with my email inbox neatened up.  Okay, wait, before that I have to do yoga.  And then I have to shower.  And have coffee, not exactly while I’m in the shower, but before I jump in and after I get out.  So yoga, coffee, shower, coffee, inbox.  And then to-do list.  I need a to-do list written out on a post-it note.

And then I can write.

But while I write, I need to harvest the crops on my Hay Day farm.  And I need to read a few posts in Feedly.  And I need to just click on this one interesting-looking link that my friend posted on Facebook.  And I need…

Whether or not I procrastinate, I seem to have the same ultimate productivity.  In other words, if I cut myself off from distractions, I tend to write 5 pages per day.  And if I allow myself to have unlimited distractions, I also tend to write 5 pages per day.  Which begs the question: why even try to remove the act of procrastination?  Especially when it often kicks off moments of creativity such as when I start writing a blog post like this one as I procrastinate from doing other work by finally reading Opinionator.

What is your biggest time waster during the day?  And do you think procrastinating with that time waster is actually detrimental to your work?


1 a { 01.29.14 at 8:10 am }

I don’t think it counts as procrastination if you get to it that day. I am an excellent procrastinator – I could have (but chose not to) done nothing at all at work yesterday, because the maintenance guys were “fixing” the heater right in the area where I needed to be working. (Still not fixed. Very cold in there.) But I opted to stop procrastinating, and start the stuff I pulled out to work on LAST WEDNESDAY.

I guess I consider a day a finite period in which you plan to get things done. It doesn’t count as procrastination until you go beyond that day.

My biggest time waster is the internet. I actually think it allows me to focus more fully on what I’m doing by providing a quick distraction when I get bored. I can look at stuff under my magnifiers for hours and not really see it. But if I look with focus for a little while, stop and waste some time, and then go back, I can maintain the focus longer and more effectively. Just in spurts.

2 Elizabeth { 01.29.14 at 8:45 am }

I need those mental breaks too.
A friend of mine wrote a paper once for a course on Experiential Learning, where she argued that procrastination is a form of prioritizing, and sorting out what’s really important from what’s not. Procrastinate long enough on something and it just might go away… showing that it wasn’t that important after all to begin with! So it could be seen as a strategy for fitting everything into your life that you really want in your life, which could mean that working through your blog reader is a life-nourishing activity that is important to you.

3 Catwoman73 { 01.29.14 at 9:24 am }

I’m not a big procrastinator, by my definition. I don’t consider time spent in front of the television or computer procrastination- I consider it to be some much-needed down time. I think North American culture has it all wrong- we don’t need to be doing something ‘productive’ 24/7. Life is short- we should embrace it, and appreciate the simple pleasures.

When it comes to work, where I am being paid to do a job, I don’t really even think about procrastinating. When there’s something to do, I simply get up and do it. I don’t think about how I’d rather be doing something else, or how much I can’t stand what I’m doing (even though I actually CAN’T stand what I’m doing)- I just get it done. I think that’s mostly because I don’t want to let my coworkers down, or cause them any undue stress. Healthcare is a team effort, and the team is most definitely only as strong as it’s weakest member. I often wonder if I would procrastinate more if I had a job where I was only responsible for myself, and not getting things done only affected ME.

4 Brid { 01.29.14 at 11:08 am }

I think procrastination is based on a ratio of challenge and investment. For example, I have about a ten-page section of a poem that needs excessive work, and I am extremely challenged by it. Another section needs very little work (if any at this point) so I keep going back to that section that is more easily addressed. I am probably getting close to over editing that section because dealing with it so much easier than tackling the challenging one. So, I feel like I’m doing something important, but I’m not really making any progress

5 deathstar { 01.29.14 at 11:39 am }

Not that you waste my time, but I’d rather sit in bed all morning with a coffee and my laptop reading articles. I used to write at night but now I’m too tired at night to do much of anything other than play Lexulous or Candy Crush. So in essence, the internet is a huge time waster that apparently I can’t live without.

6 Heather { 01.29.14 at 12:46 pm }

I procrastinate. I need a deadline or it won’t get done. Give me a tight deadline and I get it done faster with better results. I just get really bored really easily. Sometimes my job forces me out of my comfort zone and I have to learn something new or come up with a new solution. If that’s the case I’ll stay on task.
My biggest time waster is the internet (blogs, news, drooling over vacation ideas). Also, my phone. Candy Crush, Facebook, Word Chums, etc.

7 Heather { 01.29.14 at 12:48 pm }

Oh, I meant to add, like the author of the article you mentioned I work way better in the morning. I will get up and start working at 5am sometimes and get a ton done.
My sister on the other had works better at night. She will stay up until 3am working on crafts and when we were younger working on homework. She always does better at night.

8 Laurel Regan { 01.29.14 at 5:18 pm }

I’m a terrific procrastinator! As an example, I JUST took down the string of Christmas cards today (didn’t put them away, but at least I took them down), and still haven’t completely unpacked the suitcases from our December vacation. It’s actually quite pathetic.

9 Mali { 01.29.14 at 7:51 pm }

I could win an Olympic medal in procrastination, I’m sure! If only I could get round to it. With the amount you achieve, Mel, I am surprised you think you’re a procrastinator. You’re the over-achiever, disciplined person I would love to be!

I agree with you though. I hate it when people find something that works for them, and assume it will work for everyone. (For eg, the “you can achieve anything you put your mind to” people.)

I’m not a morning person. At all. I am much more an afternoon/evening person. I get my best work done in the afternoons or evening, rarely in the morning. I hate having to stop work/writing/whatever I’m doing because a) the husband has come home, or b) it’s time to cook dinner. It comes bang smack in the middle of my most productive time.

I have a friend who is a morning person. But by about 7 pm, she is done for the day, and that often includes socialising. But at 7 am? She’s at her busiest and best. To force her to work my hours would be cruel. And vice versa.

However, I do find I can procrastinate any time of the day. And I think maybe our brains need to take the occasional break to play a game, check on the rest of the world, and think about something else. Just as they need to sleep. So procrastination – or an element of it anyway – must surely be good for us?

10 loribeth { 01.29.14 at 9:56 pm }

Guilty. The Internet is my biggest timewaster, too. But — I also recall procrastinating pre-Internet too. I would skim the newspaper while drinking my first tea of the day & getting ready to settle in to work (now I read the paper on the train). I would (& still do) putter around filing things, updating my calendar and making lists. Which technically is work albeit perhaps not the work I should be focusing on.

My mother thinks I’m a morning person because I’m up at 5 a.m. & in the office before 8 (she gets up before 10 a.m. only under protest). I am NOT at my most productive in the morning. You just do what you have to do. I’m in the office, but I rarely jump right into things, unless there’s something really pressing I have to take care of right away. I have my tea, go through my e-mail, check out Facebook & a few other sites, & ease my way into the day — I don’t like to chit-chat much first thing. I am not really a night person either — I can’t be, when I have to be up so early. I’m usually in bed by 10, sometimes earlier (or I pay for it dearly the next day). I find I usually hit my stride mid to late morning… just in time to go for lunch, lol. 😉

11 Battynurse { 01.29.14 at 11:43 pm }

My computer is my biggest time waster. I’m awesome at procrastinating my statistics homework. Like I’m doing right now! As far as best time of the day for me? Usually afternoons around 4 until about 11pm.

12 MrH { 01.30.14 at 1:07 pm }

The internet is my downfall and my friend at the same time. I want to find something and then start surfing…an hour later, I am still there, my child is unwashed and uncombed and watching videos with Dora on my cell phone, the house is not tidy, and I am busy on the internet. That is procrastination.

13 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.31.14 at 7:41 pm }

Like you, I can achieve Productivity only if my emailbox is fairly clean.

That means I spend a lot of time on unimportant stuff. But as you once pointed out, Gmail’s new sorting does help.

14 Alisa Winslow { 02.01.14 at 3:54 pm }

I am more effective in the morning in general, but not at all creative. I need to experience a day before I am inspired on a topic. Even if I already have a topic in mind I am able to frame it up better when I can weave it into activities that are fresh in my mind. So I am with you, I do better after 8. This also happens to be the exact time my daughter goes to bed.

I rarely procrastinate with writing because it is my hobby. My distraction. But my day job and the laundry? YES.

And the single most distracting thing for me since I started my blog? Looking at the stats!

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