I’ve had a couple of conversations lately with people concerned about their tendency to procrastinate – avoiding necessary jobs, really struggling to be productive when faced with tasks they don’t enjoy or just don’t want to do.
The young people I’m talking to seem particularly afflicted by it – aware that it’s a problem they need to deal with, but feeling powerless to do so.
There are plenty of articles and online discussions about this idea that Millennials have bigger issues with procrastination than any generation before them; that they are afficted by it uniquely and are less able to overcome it than other generations have been. Some of these articles paint millennials as villains – you know, lazy, unproductive, self-obsessed. Others paint them as the victims – subject to immovable modern forces that they can’t battle or control. I don’t buy either characterisation.
What’s new; what’s not
Let’s be clear – procrastination isn’t new. In 1989 I wrote an article about it for Chaff, the Massey University student newspaper, when I should have been studying. Classic, procrastination 101.
But althought it’s not new, I’m willing to accept that the new forms it’s taking – social media and the internet – are like a vortex. They drag you in, and it’s hard to get out. When you do emerge, you are depleted of energy; taking on that undesirable task is no more possible or desirable than it was before, in fact it has become less so.
Stop trying to stop
One young man I’ve spoken to recently was focused on the idea that he needed to stop procrastinating . This seemed like a nearly impossible task to him – to the point where he was, figuratively, paralysed. He just couldn’t do it.
It made me think that for young people locked in a procrastination death spiral, trying to stop it altogether isn’t helpful.
Perhaps a better approach is to accept that you will procrastinate and find a better way to do it.
And in this instance, better equals old school. The old forms of procrastination were more finite, less vortex-like, less depleting.
So here are my top three old-school procrastinations, which emanate from that almost impossible-to-now-imagine time when there was no internet:
The toast procrastination
My absolute, 10/10, best ever move. Not only are you not getting done what you need to do, but you’re enjoying the food of champions – hot buttered toast – at the same time. You can repeat it as often as you need to, but what’s brilliant about it is that (a) it’s finite – when the toast is gone, you get back to work. And (b) it’s nourishing – it replenishes rather than drains your energy. Meaning when you do resume work, you’re ready to go.
The walk procrastination
If you do the toast procrastination often enough, you’ll need to walk it off. This procrastination is brilliant for your mental and physical well-being, and often while you’re out walking, your brain will resolve the issue that was stopping you from tackling your task. When it’s done, you’ll be back at work, more productive than ever. This one can be as short or as long as you like. If you’re at work and procrastinating, then it could just be a walk to the printer, or around the block, or out to get a coffee. If you have more time, it could be an actual, proper long walk. 9/10: finite and fit-making.
The book procrastination
This one only rates a 6/10, because unlike the two above, it’s not quite so finite. If the book you’re reading is good enough, you can get lost in in and take a long time to get out again, and if you’re like me you can easily go from one book to another without pause. But because you’re reading on a page, not a screen, this procrastination will at least rest your brain and your eyes, and will replenish your mental energy. Either way, time spent reading is never wasted, and when you get back to work, you’ll be more informed than you were before, and perhaps have a new way of looking at the problem you were trying to solve.
Procrastination is as old as the ages, and none of us is ever immune – for the second time in my life I find myself writing an article about it when I should be getting other things done.
The best way to overcome it is to embrace it – with some old school moves – and then … get back to work.