A Benefit of Procrastination
I began my writing business because, well, I love to write and I do it well. I figured that I’d be able to continue my career doing something I excel at and help people at the same time. And so far, this has been true.
Something I’ve found, though, is that one reason people hire writers is because they loathe writing. Some of them would rather do their most hated chore before writing anything. While this is good for my business, it slows things down when I need a client to edit or approve something I’ve written. At first, I was content to let those clients sit on their writing with simple reminders that they can do this—that they find this piece of writing to be a priority (otherwise they wouldn’t have hired me)—and that I have done (or will do, depending on where we are in the process) most of the heavy lifting.
However, a New York Times article entitled “Why You Procrastinate (It has Nothing to Do With Self-Control)” caught my eye and has since encouraged me to change my approach a bit. The article is longer than others, but it’s filled with quotes from experts and summaries of studies about procrastination. The article quotes Dr. Fuschia Sirois of the University of Sheffield who says, “People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.”
That’s right—humans procrastinate because of negative emotions surrounding the task they’re avoiding.
While that’s encouraging—we procrastinate because we’re trying to avoid negative feelings—as many college students will tell you, procrastinating can also lead to more negative feelings (stress, anxiety, panic) as a deadline approaches.
So, how do we resolve all this? View procrastination as a clue that you need to deal with something; then, pay attention to the feelings and try to work through them. When I’m prone to procrastinate to avoid a task, I’ll generally choose one or two productive tasks to do (clean one room of the house instead of the whole house; go for a walk). Then, while I’m doing those, I’ll acknowledge my feelings and talk myself through them. I’m generally prone to anxiety so I use a lot of affirmations and encouraging self-talk to help motivate me. Then, I make myself do the dreaded task.
Since reading this article, I’ve changed my approach to my procrastinating clients. Last week, I called them and told them about this particular article. Then, we talked through what is causing their procrastination; what they can do to acknowledge their negative feelings; and how my role as writer can help them through the process.
When it comes to writing, deal with the feelings holding you back, talk yourself through it, then just do it. We can polish it and make it ready for public consumption later.