The hidden power of positive procrastination

free advice musings procrastination May 20, 2022
An alarm clock sits on a bright yellow background, with a post-it note attached that has the word

This week I haven’t felt like doing much. The weather has turned to custard – it is cold, wet and windy and I have reminded myself that I always feel a drop in productivity at the change of seasons; my inner cavewoman tells me that it is time to hunker down and conserve energy during the hard winter months. The pantry is stocked (and well-organised of course), the freezer likewise – and so perhaps my brain thinks the work is done and it’s time to just blob. 

Interestingly, my mum asked me a few weeks ago when I will have a blob day of just watching TV and relaxing, and at that time my response was a bemused “Never!”. That didn’t sound appealing at all – usually, my downtime is spent actively, either working on my business or on one of my hobbies (current obsessions being learning to play the ukulele and working in my bullet journal). However this week, all I’ve wanted to do is blob. I’m still not pulled to watch TV during the day; instead, I’ve been spending my downtime scrolling Instagram way too much in my moments between client appointments.

My motivation to do my business admin is very low, and I had an epiphany this morning that it is possibly because nothing feels “broken” or urgent right now. There are no fires to fight. Business is going awesomely – I’m busier than I’ve ever been before. I’m keeping afloat of my client-facing work, so it is just my own admin (content creation, marketing, website maintenance, etc) that is falling by the wayside. And none of that feels urgent, and so therefore I’m allowing myself to be pulled towards a bit of rest, even if that means sitting on the couch and scrolling the ‘gram.

I think of this as positive procrastination. I’m absolutely avoiding doing something, but for good reason – I need rest, and for some reason I find it hard to be at rest during waking hours. I believe my current procrastination is my subconscious’s attempt to slow me right down and recharge the batteries a little bit, to protect me from completely burning out. And while my inner cavewoman doesn’t need to stockpile resources for the long winter months, perhaps she does need to stockpile energy for an incredibly busy season of client work. (By the way thanks, inner cavewoman! I’ve only recently become aware you exist, but I truly do appreciate the hidden work you do to keep me safe and happy!)

Let’s look at our decluttering goals through a positive procrastination lens. On those days when you just don’t want to do the work and find yourself procrastinating, have a think about what YOUR inner cavewoman is trying to protect you from. Perhaps:

  • You are tired, and your priority right now should be rest, not sorting out the garage.
  • You have some grief attached to your loved-ones items that are stored in your spare room, and your inner cavewoman is trying to protect you from the pain of that grief.
  • You have tried to declutter previously without success, and your inner cavewoman is trying to protect your ego from feelings of failure.

 I could go on, but right now I’d like you to take a moment to think about whether you are procrastinating on decluttering (or anything else on your to-do list), and think of the possible reasons your inner cavewoman has taken temporarily taken the reins.

We now understand that sometimes our subconscious uses procrastination as a tool to protect us, and the good news is that we can work WITH procrastination to get ourselves in motion again. Here is a simple two-step method that will take you from procrastination to action, without completely freaking out your inner cavewoman.

Put a time-limit on the procrastination

You are aware that you’re procrastinating, you understand why, and now you want to use that as a spring-board to get moving. So give yourself a time-limit, and make a deal with yourself that once that time is up, you’ll start working on that thing you have been avoiding. The time limit might be short (15 minutes), or it might be longer (a couple of days) if you need rest.

For example: Today I told myself I was going to play my ukulele for 15 minutes, then got on with my to-do list.

Put a time-limit on the action

Time can be a very powerful motivator. If I told you right now that you needed to stop what you were doing and do 10 minutes of jumping jacks for an unknown reward, you probably wouldn’t. But if I told you that you had to do 10 SECONDS of jumping jacks for an unknown reward, you probably would. The lower time commitment is perceived as “worth it” to get the reward. Most humans will choose short-term discomfort when there is a reward up for grabs. To go back to using procrastination as a tool, putting a short time frame on the discomfort (the task you’re avoiding) makes you more likely to commit to it, because you want the reward (which could be as simple as no longer doing the task you are avoiding!)

For example: I’ll make a start decluttering the garage by sorting through one box for a maximum of 10 minutes. At the end of the 10 minutes, I can close the box, leave the garage and get on with my day.

Procrastination only becomes problematic (in my opinion) if there is no end to it. If it prevents you from ever making a start on those projects that are important to you, then it needs a good swift kick up the bum. And sometimes, it can be helpful to enlist the help of someone else to help you get off the starting blocks. If you can’t seem to stop procrastinating when it comes to decluttering and organising your home, please consider asking a trusted friend to hold you accountable to getting started, or getting professional support. There are a number of ways in which I can support you to achieving your decluttering and organising goals, no matter where in the world you are reading this blog post.  

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