I’ve had more than one client recently worry about their inability to get down to their writing. This is not a minor problem. It can lead you to question your ability to do the work you are doing and to question your own identity. If you aren’t an academic and a writer, who are you?
Procrastination is neither a congenital defect nor a moral failing. You are not lazy. You do not lack a work ethic. Procrastination is a clue.
This post is part of a series. In Part 1 I write about procrastination as a clue that there is something important that isn’t getting enough attention. In this post and Part 2b I talk about procrastination as a clue that you are worried you will fail and look like a fool. In Part 3 I explore the possibility that procrastination is a clue you don’t want to do this at all.
Do you take the bus?
Have you ever been on the way to the bus stop and seen the bus coming?
You make this quick judgement about whether to run for it. Am I going to make it? Will I arrive at the bus stop breathless and sweaty and miss it anyway? Is it worth it to even try?
There was an occasion when I ran for the bus, tripped, wiped out in the grass, and ended up waiting for the next one with a scraped knee, mud on my skirt, and generally feeling pretty embarrassed.
Some projects are like that bus
Procrastination can be a clue that you are making that judgement about whether you will actually catch the bus.
There are two issues here
- can you make it?
- will you look like a fool if you don’t?
The difference is that whether you run or not, there will be another bus. You will be a bit later but you will get home.
Projects aren’t like that. There probably isn’t a way to get this project done without taking a risk.
Can you do it?
This is a serious question. Look at the project you are procrastinating about. Really look at it.
Are you worried that you can’t actually do this? Do you have a gremlin that is worried you can’t do this?
Don’t just brush that gremlin off. Gremlins are worse than cats for trying to get your attention.
Sit down and talk to the gremlin (calmly) about its concerns. What evidence does it have that you can’t do it?
There are 2 main types of evidence your gremlin will bring
- you messed up some previous project so you are bound to mess up this one
- there are parts of this project you have never done before
Remember that your gremlin’s definition of “messed up” might be exaggerated, we’ll come back to that in the next post.
List all the aspects of your project. Identify all the parts you know you can do (with evidence from previous projects where possible), and isolate the problematic parts.
Really question whether this project is like that last project. How is it different? (make another list) Did you learn things the last time that you can apply this time? (another list)
Hopefully your gremlin has now calmed down and accepted that you can do this project. At the very least, you should be able to start the parts you definitely know how to do.
There may be pieces that really are worrying you. Challenge is a good thing but it means that you need to try things you haven’t done (successfully) before.
What do you need?
- Maybe you need to learn more about how to do this specific thing.
- Maybe you need permission to screw it up as a means of learning how to do it better.
- Maybe you need …
Whatever comes up for you write it down. Then figure out how to get what you need.
You can start on the parts you know you can do.
You can experiment with ways of tackling the other parts.
You can even alternate between the stuff that you are already good at and the stuff that you find more challenging.
Remember that the stuff you are good at now was once challenging.
You can do it.
Edited Sept 22, 2015