From the Experts: How to Beat Procrastination

April 16, 2018 Updated: October 8, 2018

Shall we discuss how many tasks I’ve done instead of sitting down to write this article? I’ve cleaned, I’ve organized, I’ve laundered, I’ve reorganized… I think I may have a procrastination problem. If you think you may, too, read on.

This problem is really getting in my way. Like everyone else in 2018, I’ve got a lot of stuff I’m supposed to be doing over here. I can’t just procrastinate all the time. Things pile up, and then deadlines rear they’re heads and it’s stressful. Why would I do that to myself?

And yet…. even as I type this out a part of me is wondering if there’s going to be another season of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. Maybe I should check Netflix…

No. No. I need to, as Cher one said, “snap out of it!”

Procrastination is a common topic for the productivity gurus out there. Let’s see what they recommend.

To paint the picture of the experience of procrastination, look no further than blogger Tim Urban. In 2016 Urban gave a very funny TED Talk describing his all-too-relatable struggles with procrastination. At one point, he described how this “became relevant in his life pretty recently because the people of TED reached out to me about six months ago and invited me to do a TED Talk.” Good stuff.

But, what’s a procrastinator to do?

Mel Robbins, author of “The Five Second Rule—Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage” calls procrastination “a habit” and “a form of stress release.” She says “you’ve got to forgive yourself,” as procrastinators are often quite hard on themselves. Then, Robbins says, you’ve got to break the connection between the trigger (stress) and the response (procrastination). She recommends simply counting down “5-4-3-2-1” and then working for five minutes. Research shows that 80% of people keep going after five minutes. The key is simply starting.

David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done—The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” says the people who procrastinate the most are the most sensitive, intelligent, and creative people.” (I knew it!) He points to perfectionism and a creative person’s ability to imagine numerous negative consequences to a less than perfect final outcome. The solution? Allen says, you simply need to ask yourself, “What’s the very next action on this?”

Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” follows the 1 minute rule. That is, if you can get it done in one minute or less, do it now.  She has also observed about procrastination that  “Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.” Touché. 

Some experts recognize the positive effects of procrastination. 

Adam Grant, author of “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” says, “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.” 

Podcaster James Altucher says “Procrastination is your body telling you you need to back off a bit and think more about what you are doing.”

Nassim Taleb, author of “The Black Swan” lauds the benefits of procrastination. In his book, “Antifragile—Things That Gain from Disorder” he says, “Few understand that procrastination is our natural defense, letting things take care of themselves and exercise their antifragility; it results from some ecological or naturalistic wisdom, and is not always bad—at an existential level, it is my body rebelling against its entrapment. It is my soul fighting the Procrustean bed of modernity.”

Taleb goes on to note, “Psychologists and economists who study ‘irrationality’ do not realize that humans may have an instinct to procrastinate only when no life is in danger. I do not procrastinate when I see a lion in my bedroom or fire in my neighbor’s library. I do not procrastinate after a severe injury. I do so with unnatural duties and procedures.”

Hmmm..  Perhaps procrastination isn’t so bad after all.

Follow Barbara on Twitter: @barbaradanza