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Delay Tactics

Updated: May 30

Mural by Gary Hirsch, Portland, OR

Why do we procrastinate?

I'm good at getting things done. The trouble is, I'm also good at avoiding the most important tasks on my list. For example, when I need to look at my finances or practice a challenging piece of music, I end up organizing my office or catching up on emails instead. It's rare to meet someone who hasn't struggled with procrastination at some point. For musicians, writers and other artists, where deadlines don't always keep us accountable, procrastination can drag on and become a long-term block, where we avoid our work indefinitely.

The root of procrastination is fear, or some other uncomfortable feeling that we'd rather avoid. Among the causes of procrastination are:

Fear of failure.

The task at hand is difficult in some way, and we don't want to look bad or make bad work.

Fear of falling short of our expectations.

If we have unrealistically high expectations about our progress, abilities or productivity level, it will be tough to face our limitations by facing the task. Perfectionist thinking often leads to procrastination.

Fear of the unknown.

We don't know exactly how to do the task, or we're not sure whether the task will bring us the results we want.

To move out of procrastination, we must take the next small step.

How do we break out of procrastination, especially on creative or long-term projects?

1. Accept that the work is hard, and schedule it wisely.

Our most important work is often difficult, and we only have so much willpower and energy to give to tough tasks. Schedule time to tackle them at a point in the day when you'll have the energy they require. For many people, this is sometime before noon.

2. Remember that progress might be slow or invisible.

It's tempting to do a lot of simple tasks and check them off our to-do lists. We like to reward ourselves with that sense of completion. Harder tasks often don't have the same immediate payoff, and we may need to reward ourselves differently. For example, for every 90 minutes I spend on a challenging project, I give myself 30 minutes of doing whatever I want. I also remember the payoff and satisfaction that await me when I've done the hard work.

3. Stay aware of uncomfortable emotions.

Worries, fears, or outsized expectations are what brought on the procrastination to begin with. Try naming the emotions as they come up and remind yourself that inaction only makes them bigger. Chipping away at the work will not only bring slow and steady progress; it will ground your expectations, temper your worries, and build your confidence.

4. Break the work down into smaller pieces.

Ask yourself: what is the next step, the first step? It will be small, and it will move the ball forward. It may involve enlisting some help if you're truly overwhelmed.

Finally, keep in mind that procrastination is normal. It isn't a sign of laziness. It isn't cause for shame. Moreover, down time is good for us, and sometimes taking down time is the best decision - for us and for what we’re working on. I find that once I've started on a difficult project and gained some momentum, I need to take breaks in order for the work to "compost" in my mind. The key is to return to these projects after the down time, and to avoid distracting myself with other forms of productivity. It's also important to find something worthwhile in the work itself, and remember the benefits that the work will yield over time.

Start Close In

by David Whyte Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.

Start with the ground you know, the pale ground beneath your feet, your own way to begin the conversation.

Start with your own question, give up on other people’s questions, don’t let them smother something simple.

To hear another’s voice, follow your own voice, wait until that voice

becomes an intimate private ear that can really listen to another.

Start right now take a small step you can call your own don’t follow someone else’s heroics, be humble and focused, start close in, don’t mistake that other for your own.

Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.

Your Procrastination Vacation Playlist

Click here to bust through your stalling and get moving!

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