There is a common pattern to procrastination. It can be seen in the life of a classic procrastinator and I find bits of myself in every line below. Read on if you are brave.
How it begins
At the start of a bigger project, time is abundant. You wallow in its elastic embrace. You make a few passes at getting down to it, but nothing makes you feel whole heartedly engaged. If the job can be put off, you will put it off.
Then the day arrives when you really intend to get to work. But suddenly it’s just something you don’t feel like doing. You can’t get traction. Each time you try to wrap your mind around it something distracts you.
The initial delay
You put forward the start date till you are more ‘free’ – but every tomorrow seems to have the same 24 hours. Disquiet begins to emerge at the start of each of these days.
Eventually, times limited nature begins to reveal itself. Hours once tossed carelessly away, become increasingly limited and precious. That very pressure makes it hard to get started. Instead you get yourself into peripheral chores; clean your study space, sift thru email, check social media, go shopping etc. Part of you knows it’s not doing what you need to be doing but you say to yourself… “at least I’m doing something!”
This is typically when we go a bit philosophical (“it’s not too bad. Lots of others struggle with lateness”) – or spiritual (“I’ll say a prayer, trust God to get me through”).
Eventually it’s too late in the day to really get started so … what the heck. And the avoidance cycle starts again tomorrow.
As the deadline approaches, you make the diversions more intense so they will sufficiently distract you. Banishing anything that reminds you of the dreaded thing, you shun calendars and clocks.
In a wilful distortion of reality you shift your plans from what you once could solidly accomplish, to what is minimully possible. When you should be working harder than ever, you are sleeping in, daydreaming of alternate worlds, looking for some kind of windfall, wishing to be somewhere else.
As anxiety mounts you want immediate relief; escape, rewards – anything that gives you the allusion of a safe harbour. Secretly you are full of self-recrimination and self doubt, envious of those who simply get things done.
Something finally clicks
The crisis builds until finally a threshold is crossed. You start. Something clicks and you start boiling the task down to its essence as there are no more moments to spare. You wade into the work making ruthless decisions and astonishing progress.
In place of menacing cloudiness, glittering clarity comes over you. There is purity in your work, fuelled by the urgency of ‘now or never’.
The final wash up
For a lucky few, this surge of efficiency will enable them to get the project done. For others, this initial rush wanes before the cursed thing is completed. After too many hours of sleep deprived concentration, brain’s shut down. Caffeine and sugar only offer an unsatisfying buzz.
Tick, tick, tick… time has run out. You limp across the finish line with insufficient preparation, giving the world your second best.
(Raw content: Piers Steel 2011)