Procrastination is a one of the most odious behaviors simply because we watch ourselves do it. Like a bad dream, we watch ourselves piddle at something that is at best marginally useful even as something we know is useful (Covey’s Type II tasks) languishes. And the oddest thing is that we tend to procrastinate most about the things most important to us.
In fact, think about the activity that you most procrastinate about. Often times, that is the very thing you most want to do, that you know will help you achieve a major life goal.
How crazy is that?
Everybody procrastinates. But the most productive of the creative types learn to manage it. Here’s how.
Understand the psychology of procrastination.
Procrastination is bound up in some of our most negative emotions.
- Perfectionism. Academics want to do well in the eyes of their peers. And making a mistake in a manuscript, or in front of a group of people, especially when it is pointed out by a peer, can be almost physically painful. But if you are productive, no matter how careful you are, mistakes are going to creep into your work. It’s inevitable. Perfectionism is even more pernicious if it creeps into our conceptual work. If we chose projects that are guaranteed with success, we will do very…normal…science.
- Anger. If you have an unresolved issue with a prickly colleague or committee member, it feels natural to put off dealing with it. But would you rather get it over with, or feel that regular pang of guilt/remorse?
- Frustration. Good science is hard work, and, if you’re doing it right, will frequently lead down dark alleys, some of which are dead ends. If you really loathe being frustrated, perhaps research science isn’t your bag. Remember, almost any truly creative endeavor is like washing that roasting pan that gave you that holiday turkey (hhmmmm…..turkey…….). That pan is going to look a lot worse before it looks better.
- Self-loathing. There is a common script among creative people that turns every success into an opportunity to beat yourself up. It’s the “OK, I’ve fooled them this far, but the next project, well, they’ll figure out what a fraud I am.” This must, IMO, be limbically hard-wired so that our ancestors never rested on their laurels, always strived to crank out one….more….offspring. Regardless, it’s out there.
Well, this has gotten a bit morose for the holidays, hasn’t it? Luckily, there is hope for the procrastinator in all of us.