Welcome to the dark playground
January 2, 2014 4:44 AM   Subscribe

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate, How to Beat Procrastination
posted by fearfulsymmetry (131 comments total) 191 users marked this as a favorite

 
I favourited this so I can check it out tomoz.
posted by Mezentian at 4:45 AM on January 2 [63 favorites]


You were right not to waste time telling us where procrastinators procrastinate.
posted by biffa at 4:50 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]


Seven Habits of Highly Effective Oatmeal is the name of this genre.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:56 AM on January 2 [9 favorites]


'The action of ruining your own life for no apparent reason' is a pretty excellent definition of procrastination. Mad props.
posted by Quilford at 5:05 AM on January 2 [21 favorites]


From first link

Let's watch a bunch of YouTube videos on creatures of the deep sea and then go on a YouTube spiral that takes us through Richard Feynman talking about String Theory and ends with us watching interviews with Justin Bieber's mom.

Nailed it.
posted by GrapeApiary at 5:05 AM on January 2 [20 favorites]


Also I liked the playground metaphors and the Panic Monster a lot, yay
posted by Quilford at 5:07 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


Doing unnecessary shit is irrational. They made the bed at the bed factory for fucks sake.
posted by vapidave at 5:07 AM on January 2 [7 favorites]


I had to hand in papers from time to time. I would do those the night before, until I realized I could just do them through the night, and I did that until I realized I could actually start them in the early morning on the day they were due. This behavior reached caricature levels when I was unable to start writing my 90-page senior thesis until 72 hours before it was due, an experience that ended with me in the campus doctor’s office learning that lack of blood sugar was the reason my hands had gone numb and curled up against my will.

This is the person I am. I am terrified that come September when I have to hand in my 20,000 word MA dissertation I will be in the fetal position in the corner of my room sucking my thumb in wide-eyed panic.
posted by billiebee at 5:08 AM on January 2 [10 favorites]


I say we stop trying to fix ourselves and start working on making everything easy and instant.
posted by The Whelk at 5:12 AM on January 2 [47 favorites]


72 hours before it was due

Square.
posted by Summer at 5:15 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


I figured I'd had time to post that I'd read this later but by the time I got here, some ambitious person had done it long before me.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:23 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


I liked the article. Having the self-awareness to realize that those youtube videos you are watching will not contribute to your life in any way, shape or form is the first - albeit easiest - step to breaking free from that damned monkey's clutches.
posted by Kamelot123 at 5:33 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


I beat myself up my first semester of college for not being able to study for exams or write papers until the night before. I agonized over this apparent dysfunction for months. Then I came to the most important realization of my life - that I was a procrastinator. Once I accepted and embraced this fact it gave me liberation that I enjoy until this day. No longer would I get anxious about not doing papers because I knew I really wasn't procrastinating I was just allowing my mind and body to function in its best space by staying up all night and using my uncanny ability to hyper-focus and get shit done when there is absolutely no time left to procrastinate. The guilt was gone and I spent my college years carefree and have a catalog of sunrises in my memory that give me peace of mind whenever anxiety about not getting it done comes over me. Every decision I make in my life is preceded by how I will get it done within my predilection for dawdling. Now those hours in between become filled with productive thoughts on how I will be even more efficient when the time comes to act. So in essence, by telling myself I'm not really doing it, I'm actually doing it.
posted by any major dude at 5:35 AM on January 2 [15 favorites]


Maybe I'm weird, but the anxiety for me comes from both sides. I put things off to avoid the anxiety of working on them. Youtube doesn't come with any fear of failure. But eventually the anxiety of not having done them outweighs the anxiety of doing them, and that's the point where I start. Dealing with my anxiety has helped a lot to kill the procrastination because starting a project no longer fills me with a general sense of dread. Usually.
posted by Sequence at 5:44 AM on January 2 [26 favorites]


This is relevant to my weaknesses. I love the term Dark Playground, the perfect description of the reason I started writing a screenplay about New Wave bands in early 80s New York instead of working on my 20-page final paper due the week before Christmas.
posted by Miko at 5:53 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]


The Dark Playground is such a great metaphor. Anyway, back to work.
posted by Sokka shot first at 5:53 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


I procrastinate so badly I can't get anything done anymore. I was thinking of doing an Ask as its gotten so bad.
posted by marienbad at 5:57 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


Suggestion, most work is boring and unrewarding so we avoid it.
posted by The Whelk at 5:58 AM on January 2 [15 favorites]


I am currently procrastinating and it's out of pure anxiety about work and it is also making me more anxious, which makes me think of Homer Simpson's thoughts on beer, something like, 'the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.'
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:16 AM on January 2


the reason I started writing a screenplay about New Wave bands in early 80s New York

But see, that's also why I kind of enjoy being a procrstinator (apart from the life lived amongst chaos and underachievement). My inner world is so much more interesting I think than if I just, y'know, did stuff. I'd much rather be friends with someone who even considered writing a screenplay about New Wave bands in early 80s New York than someone who just wrote their paper. When the author said I decided that Monday night was an urgent time to open Google Earth, hover a few hundred feet above the southern tip of India, and scroll all the way up India to the top of the country, to “get a better feel for India." I didn't think "idiot". I thought "kudos for even considering wanting to get a better feel for India and that sounds like fun, I might do it too!"

Things I have spent happy time doing, rather than doing the stuff I should have been doing are: writing songs, starting a screenplay, starting many terrible novels, attempting to write bad poetry, inventing multiple labour-saving devices, researching sports I will not take up, reading articles I stumble across which are in no way relevant to the articles I'm actually looking for... Speaking of which, the absolute worst thing that has happened to me in terms of furthering my procrastinating tendencies has been finding this place. Seriously. The WORST.
posted by billiebee at 6:22 AM on January 2 [29 favorites]


A Terrible Llama: "I am currently procrastinating and it's out of pure anxiety about work and it is also making me more anxious, which makes me think of Homer Simpson's thoughts on beer, something like, 'the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.'"

Sometimes I have to procrastinate until the anxiety of NOT doing something overwhelms the anxiety of just getting it done. I have accepted that this is the only way that I will ever, for example, get around to calling my optometrist (eyeballs, ugh). Sometimes I focus on how anxious I am about NOT calling so that the anxiety will ramp up faster to get this all over with.

Oh, psychology.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:24 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


Suggestion, most work is boring and unrewarding so we avoid it.

Maybe. I wonder how many procrastinators are actually dysfunctional over achievers who are afraid of producing a subpar product. They hold themselves to such a high standard that their task seems insurmountable. It's easier to avoid the project than even begin their next opus. Obviously self defeating for a number of reasons as the article notes.
posted by Telf at 6:25 AM on January 2 [21 favorites]


For me, there's a big crossover between procrastination and depression. Being depressed makes it even easier for the monkey (which I'd instead dubbed the Despair Squid) to gain control and spend waste your time on the Refresh Rollercoaster in the dark playground. And being in the dark playground (such as the TV Tropes Trampoline) just makes you more depressed, as you're wasting what little time you have spare and not even enjoying it and the dread of approaching deadlines/appointments/going-to-be-REALLY-late-to-work becomes crippling. And when the despair gets too great, the panic monster sends you into a foetal state instead of urging you to rush finish.

So yeah. Sucks. Even individual action planning doesn't help much; I can break a tricky task down into a number of really small, defined, individual steps; but it's still far too easy to do one or two, then take a break; and OF COURSE I'll come back and do the next step... sometime in 2057. Maybe.

The meds for depression helped with surviving (and getting to) work, though my boss being a complete dick doesn't help. But achieving anything worthy at home for anything other than absolutely vital tasks tends to just still give me a panic attack. And it's not like the happy playground is much different to the dark playground, for me; I never feel I deserve to be there with a todo list as long as your arm, so even stuff that I used to enjoy is more a way to pass the time than actually feel anything more than marginally better.

But I'm functional, working, and not actually starving or freezing to death (thank His Noodliness for direct debit) so there is still hope I might escape. Some day.
posted by ArkhanJG at 6:36 AM on January 2 [12 favorites]


I wonder how many procrastinators are actually dysfunctional over achievers who are afraid of producing a subpar product. They hold themselves to such a high standard that their task seems insurmountable.

Oh indeed, this. Though over-achiever would be the wrong term, because that actually implies we get stuff well, achieved. Over-achieving planner, maybe.

Whoever said 'shoot for the moon, and if you'll miss you'll land amongst the stars' obviously never met a procrastinator; they'll be in the basement planning the launch control ignition mechanism and guidance system until launch day, at which point they'll launch an underpowered bottle rocket that only makes it a few feet because that's all they could cobble together at 3AM on caffeine pills.
posted by ArkhanJG at 6:41 AM on January 2 [22 favorites]


People are just obsessed with "being productive". I find it pretty sad, actually.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:43 AM on January 2 [10 favorites]


Suggestion, most work is boring and unrewarding so we avoid it.

Agreed! I put off doing some things because of fear of failure, not knowing where to start or being overwhelmed by the task. But plenty more things I put off just because they aren't fun and I would rather do something fun.
posted by aka burlap at 6:54 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Indeed, productivity is for machines.

I do wish I had more external deadlines however. Everything I'd want to finish now is open-ended and self imposed, and you wonder if the effort is really worth the reward, ultimately is all just more work and usually disappointing , and I'd rather have a nap.

Naps never disappoint.
posted by The Whelk at 7:12 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


Then again I once procrastinated so hard a novella came out so whatever.
posted by The Whelk at 7:14 AM on January 2 [7 favorites]


I actually quite often find naps disappointing because I wake up from them groggier than when I went to sleep in the first place.

:(
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:15 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


It helps if someone brings you tea and figs and shortbread after.
posted by The Whelk at 7:17 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]


I'm in a workplace where you have to multitask and there are deadlines for reports. And I have a new employee who transferred from another site and carries the label of being "lazy" and "unmotivated". Her reports are consistently late and often have to be sent back for several revisions. This person has a lot of anxiety and keeps these endless lists of things to be done. When I ask for my late report - I can see the fear well up, to the point of tears and she shows me "see, it's on my list - I've just been very busy". I don't see laziness - but I do see someone that is very unorganized, that has very low self-esteem and who seems unable to do more than one action or thought at a time. For example, I might be sitting her in her office discussing a project and the phone starts ringing - and she does not answer it. I have to stop the conversation and tell her to answer the phone. I know she hears it - but she can't seem to stop one action (our discussion) to follow through with another more important action (answer the phone!). Many times when I am off site - and call in when she is working and there is no answer. I have had many simple conversations with her that "you must answer the phone" and she nods, has a million excuses and yet, the behaviors continue.
She spends an enormous amount of time talking about how things are to be done - yet, doesn't follow her own advice. When I try and give her advice on how to get things done faster and better - she always responds defensively "that is what I do". And it's this endless power struggle between us of me saying "no, you didn't" and her defending herself. It's been very puzzling and exhausting for me.
This article really helped me see another side to this person and what she may be struggling with. Thank you for posting it!
posted by what's her name at 7:19 AM on January 2 [15 favorites]


I actually quite often find naps disappointing because I wake up from them groggier than when I went to sleep in the first place.

In all seriousness, this is because you are not doing it right.
You need to train for naps, and figure out your sleep cycle.
posted by Mezentian at 7:26 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]


You have to find out the optimum nap time: too much, and you will be groggy.
posted by thelonius at 7:29 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


Procrastination was great when I did creative things with my "wasted" time, until I got good enough that the novelty wore off and creative work actually became work, and now I procrastinate on those so much I haven't produced any worthwhile or wholly finished purely creative output in a few years. Art school kinda screwed me on that, the moment I began to associate art with work it lost nearly all appeal, so I switched over to graphic design because at least there the expectations are that it's work first and the artistic enjoyment is kind of a bonus. But it's not just that causing the procrastination, it's also hugely wrapped up in the "afraid to fail" thing along with a heaping helping of "oh god I can't do art when I cohabitate with someone, what if they see something unfinished or (*gasp!*) ask me questions about what I'm working on?"
posted by jason_steakums at 7:33 AM on January 2 [6 favorites]


I'm very fond of productivity and suspicious of procrastination, but that's because for me productivity is defined as "taking action to do specific things" rather than "doing something that I am necessarily supposed to do". For me, procrastination is when I listlessly murder time in the pursuit of doing nothing whatsoever — not watching TV, not reading books, not chatting to friends online, but just kind of lurking there waiting for nothing to happen. It makes me feel like crap and I'm trying to train myself out of doing that so much.

On the other hand, if I spend a day or two lying in bed reading Homestuck for the fifth time through, that's not procrastination. I am a better person for having read it five times over, and I'm sure I will be a better person when I read it for the sixth time sometime next month.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:36 AM on January 2 [9 favorites]


ArkhanJG - Though over-achiever would be the wrong term, because that actually implies we get stuff well, achieved. Over-achieving planner, maybe.

This is the bane of my attempts at creative hobbies. Ideas for amusing little widgets or articles rapidly spiral into projects of insane complexity and scope, at which point the idea of actually working through them to completion becomes laughable.

As an example, I had an idea for a thousand-ish word blog post on a subject I find interesting but don't see much written about. I could bash it out in an evening or two, then come back a few days later for a bit of polish. My sketch of the article rapidly became a longer article, then a series of articles, then a full-length pop science book. Roughly three years later, not only have I not leapt from complete novice to author of an unexpectedly popular pop science book, I also haven't written a thousand-ish word blog post.

I did recently finish a hobby project -- an arduino-based Christmas present for my SO -- but I swear that the only reason it got finished was because I'd chosen a box whose size made adding more hardware features impossible. And even now that it's done, finished, and given away, I still can't stop the voice nagging at me to ask for it back, so I can upload the code tweaks I made while bored on the train yesterday.
posted by metaBugs at 7:40 AM on January 2 [11 favorites]


Time, being the ultimate luxury, demands I waste as much of it as possible.
posted by The Whelk at 7:43 AM on January 2 [7 favorites]


The secret of my incredible energy and efficiency in getting work done is a simple one. I have based it very deliberately on a well-known psychological principle and have refined it so that it is now almost too refined. I shall have to begin coarsening it up again pretty soon.

The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.
Robert Benchley ("How to Get Things Done")
posted by yz at 7:52 AM on January 2 [13 favorites]


seems unable to do more than one action or thought at a time.

Even computers fake 'multi-tasking', and I'd rather give one thing 100% of my attention than 10 things none of it...
posted by mikelieman at 7:58 AM on January 2 [7 favorites]


Step 4: build mock app and send out for feedback.

Ha ha! You thought you had me with your practical listmaking solution, but you didn't realize the true power of my procrastination: there's always one list item I can turn into infinite sub-lists! "Step 4: build mock app and send out for feedback" may as well read "Step 4: build rocket and go to moon"
posted by jason_steakums at 8:03 AM on January 2 [14 favorites]


I am reading this instead of working on the class I'll be teaching in a few weeks. I think it's fear and panic.

I've never taught this class before, and even though it's in a subject a I worked in professionally for 20 years, and in a field very related to classes I tech now, I feel like I have no idea at all what to do. I have example course work to look at that I haven't opened yet. Instead I'm reading this.

I wish this article had helped more. Maybe that's asking too much.
posted by cccorlew at 8:08 AM on January 2


There is some of the overachiever thing in there to, if you asked me Id say I didn't complete or do a damned thing all year but that's clearly not true as I can now carve up and debone any waterfowl. talk at length about modern interior design, complete the naval fitness test more than half the time, and commicate semi decently in French.

But those don't make me money so they don't count as real things I've done.
posted by The Whelk at 8:11 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


( and of course, the story I heard from a friend about one guy moaning that he never gets anything done and feels like a failure all the time and he's done nothing with his life...after he just like, was intimately involved in one of the top grossing movies of the year. You can't win.)
posted by The Whelk at 8:12 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


(Says the guy who's been published in the New Yorker this year.)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:17 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Doesn't count, they didn't buy one thid yesr yet so I'm a massive failure
posted by The Whelk at 8:20 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Good point drink cold shame slackerface.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:22 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


( wait I learned to imitate Dean Winchester's speaking cadence - that is something I accomplished)
posted by The Whelk at 8:22 AM on January 2


Half of my procrastination is due to ADD and chronic disorganization. The other half is snatching victory at the last possible second from the jaws of defeat.
posted by double block and bleed at 8:25 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


I don't make detailed lists anymore because I discovered that I was spending a lot of time making them and no time at all looking at them, much less following them.
posted by double block and bleed at 8:27 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


and ends with us watching interviews with Justin Bieber's mom.

No, really? Is it good?

wait I learned to imitate Dean Winchester's speaking cadence

Damn, I'm an amateur (although caught up with the series... sigh)

And Nthing favoriting to actually get around to reading one day when the 'tube goes down...
posted by sammyo at 8:29 AM on January 2


Procrastination is maybe a way to acknowledge that what you're supposed to do (the work that's to be done) doesn't really matter more than the stuff you're wasting your time actually doing. That little monkey is a lot wiser than it seems.
posted by nicolin at 8:33 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Time, being the ultimate luxury, demands I waste as much of it as possible.

Time is the one thing you can't get more of. You'd be an idiot - or insane - to spend it being productive, when you're producing for someone else.

Unfortunately we live in an insane society, which expects us to devote the best part of that time to laboring for the gain of someone else.

Most procrastinators I've met are actually doing and thinking about interesting things. It just doesn't make anybody any money.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:43 AM on January 2 [7 favorites]


I don't make detailed lists anymore because I discovered that I was spending a lot of time making them and no time at all looking at them, much less following them.

I make so many lists. Sometimes I put things on the list that I've already done just so I can cross them off. When I was at school near exam time I used to make elaborate colour-coded revision timetables. I never kept to them which meant that at least once a week I had to make a new one so as to revise how to fit in the revision areas I had still to revise due to failing to follow the revision timetable. So it went from something like, week 1: 2 hours per night plus 8 hours total on weekend, to the week before exam: 6 hours per night plus 32 hours at the weekend ohmyfreakingodimgoingtofaileverything *hyperventilate*
posted by billiebee at 8:46 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


People always claim to be procrastinators, but they never get around to finding out what crastination really means.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:47 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


Also this is the reason I'm still using Opera 12. I have like thirty tabs open. I'll get around to them.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:50 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]


The whole "fear of turning in a sub-optimal product" thing just doesn't feel true for me. It's as simple as this: in this EXACT MOMENT IN TIME, will I be happier Doing Thing or Not Doing Thing? The answer is always Not Doing Thing, up until the point where Not Doing Thing will demonstrably and immediately ruin my life.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:00 AM on January 2 [17 favorites]


Alt post title: "Yes you are doing it NOW"
posted by sammyo at 9:07 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


I highly highly recommend The Art of Procrastination by John Perry. Brilliant quick read about how to realistically live as a procrastinator and get things done without futilely trying to change your personality. One of the big insights for me was that often procrastination is a method perfectionists use to allow themselves to do a less-than-perfect job on a task that really only required "okay" effort in the first place. So if you give yourself permission to do an okay-but-not-perfect job from the beginning, you can get over the hump and just knock it out. "This task really only requires a quick skim and response, so I'll do that in the next hour instead of the hour before it is due, which is what I was going to do, anyway." That insight is changing my life. Only some things need your best effort. Figure out what doesn't and give yourself permission to only do good enough work on those.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:07 AM on January 2 [36 favorites]


Procrastination becomes much more elegant, adult like, and functional once you learn how to estimate the scope, time, and effort involved to accomplish significant "productivity goals."

So at least know that the thing you're putting off is going to take a week of solid uninterrupted time except whoops multiply that by four because you always are overconfident and fail to compensate for the pile of crap that will fall on you as you get closer and closer to your deadline. Figure out how to chip away in advance while "stealing" time for yourself first. And realize that telling someone "it will take four weeks" is healthy and not a terrible thing to do. I never mastered this entirely, I've just kind of realized that some things have different weight classes. We're used to problems that can be fixed in a day. But your job depends on you knowing which ones can't. Yayyyyyy job! Yay ADHD and the general malaise, the nausea that accompanies the banality of every day life in a servitude based economy.
posted by lordaych at 9:12 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


The Eisenhower Matrix.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 9:15 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


I have to be very careful about things I really want to do, because if I want to do them too much, the whole structure of motivation can suddenly turn itself inside out and I will become completely unable to do them.
posted by jamjam at 9:21 AM on January 2 [8 favorites]


How to defeat procrastination in 6 easy steps:
Step 1: Delete Metafilter account.
Step 2: WORK WORK WORK
Step 3: Browse Metafilter for "just a few minutes" to reward yourself for working
Step 4: See some inane comment that MUST BE REPLIED TO
Step 5: Pony up $5 to make new account and address that comment
Step 6: Realize you are back at Step 1 again, and despair

Note: I have never had the willpower to perform Step 1
posted by caution live frogs at 9:21 AM on January 2 [6 favorites]


Like your work is so important
posted by The Whelk at 9:22 AM on January 2


The Matrix leaves out: is there anything more fun and rewarding to do? Is anyone breathing down your neck if you blow off a couple stupid tasks for a week and come up with a process improvement because you realize some stupid every day task is simultaneously giving you an excuse to procrastinate and is soul sucking and can probably be simplified, passed on to someone who likes doing it, or eliminating it entirely ("how much time do you spend reading TPS reports?")

Deep down we know that having fun is more important than anything else, but real fun, without guilt or anxiety, takes planning. Once you realize you're fucking up your day Walker hours watching YouTube videos, consider baby steps. Watch YouTube videos that teach you how to play guitar. Or that teach you to appreciate the banality of a comfortable life punctuated by bliss, rather than living immersed in the horrors of poverty, while finding some appreciation knowing that hardworking seemingly miserable people in the worst possible conditions seem to find their punctuated moments of bliss. Take them all away and make dinner a crapshoot? Revolution lurks where punctuated bliss is choked out and tortured. But we all deserve longer periods of sustained bliss. I know we do.
posted by lordaych at 9:23 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


It's funny how we're all talking about What Procrastination Really Is, when it's more like a constellation of different things for different people at different times. In all the definitions above I've found echoes for myself:

Fear of failure: check. Try coming up with 8 new dishes for a weekly specials menu, the day before it has to be done. Oh and they all have to come in thematically related, at reasonable price points, with a few specific constraints of what kinds of dishes you can even make. And then imagine doing it every week for six months. Which, admittedly, often leads to:

Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat: I think those of us who know we procrastinate have--or can--at times used that to our advantage. It's also a disadvantage; if I know I can bang something out in the last ten minutes, sooner or later it's going to be the last nine minutes.

Am I happier doing this or that: Pretty sure everyone who has ever procrastinated can cite this as a dominant reason at least once or twice. I mean sure, I could be doing dishes right now but there's MetaFilter and Diablo 2 and stuff. Humans are going to seek pleasure whenever we can. Obvs this argues for a totally differently structured society where we can maximize pleasure-seeking while minimizing work-that-needs-to-be-done. Frankly, I think if we could get to a point where life is more like "Do what you enjoy for a third of your time every day, spend a couple hours on the necessary but boring stuff, and generally have a self-fulfilling time" for everyone we'd see a significant downturn in usage of intoxicants. Ingesting fun stuff is fun, but in a lot of ways our substance usage as a society is about either reacting to the shitty hours we have to spend every day ("terrible day at work, I need a drink"), or a shortcut to the relaxed and self-soothed state everyone's always seeking. If more of us were able to engage in the pleasurable things which give us purpose in life more often, we'd probably need the shortcuts less.

Depression: this is where it rings really true for me. When you're depressed, why bother? It's why, I think, I even find myself procrastinating on things I actually enjoy doing! I mean yeah, the internet is boring me right now so I'm going to curl up on the sofa with a blanket and watch The Tudors sounds like a great idea. But I'd have to get up, and I'd have to put the disc in, and then I'll probably want a snack so I'll have to go do that too, and meh I'm just going to be bored again in an hour or two anyway and it's not really going to make me feel much better so may as well just sit here. Depression breeds apathy, which may as well just be another word for procrastination.

I guess what I'm saying is that for a lot of people, the pleasure:effort ratio is a fixed value. If something is highly pleasurable, then achieving it doesn't count as effort, and vice versa. Which is why climbing a mountain (high effort) isn't seen as work by almost anyone, whereas going downstairs to do the laundry (low pleasure) is.

Plus I think in some ways--procrastinating things we actually enjoy, like having thirty browser tabs open--procrastination can actually be about delayed gratification. I've been reading the original Rolling Stone article about Charles Manson for about a week now. I'm not parceling it out on purpose, but it's nice to know that every so often I can go read a page and get lost in it. And the longer I delay, the better it's going to feel. I'm not saying this is exactly conscious as a motivation--it only becomes apparent in hindsight I think--but it's one that's there.

Maybe what I'm trying to get at is that procrastination is just the flipside of delayed gratification. Same basic motivations (I don't want to do Thing now), very different endpoints.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:26 AM on January 2 [10 favorites]


The Eisenhower Matrix is not that useful for most people because most people don't have anyone to delegate "urgent but not important" tasks to. I would probably also change the "action" for "not urgent, not important" items to: DON'T DO IT.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:29 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


I have to be very careful about things I really want to do, because if I want to do them too much, the whole structure of motivation can suddenly turn itself inside out and I will become completely unable to do them.

Ugh, yes, this. I have a project that I desperately want to do. But it's a big project with a significant risk of failure and I've pretty neatly procrastinated myself out of doing it for about two years now. At this point, even though I want to, it's turned into almost a job prospect and well look I mean I'll just play Diablo for another hour...

Allie Brosh nailed it, really.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:35 AM on January 2 [7 favorites]


I can see some parallels with what I did in writing my MSc thesis. I got a list of things going, did the abstract, then sat on it. The panic monster did arrive, I did the mental equivalent of curling up and retreating, and finally emerged several months late having worried a great many people and basically graduating thanks to my advisor being understanding and having seen it all before (but not without getting a lecture that I'd rather forget).

The current job is a bit of a dream in comparison. I get pushed into a lab and told to make something go for manufacturing. Timing done as I see fit. No one cares about perfect gels and westerns just the number at the end that says to any layman, "stop, success, pass this off onto manufacturing its their problem now".
posted by Slackermagee at 9:39 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


I think I have structured my life so that everything productive I do is procrastination. I mean, is anyone really Suppposed to be painting monsters or rotoscoping Soul Train dancers? The answer is no, they are supposed to be Cleaning Something. Always. There are so many things I can do that are amazing and fun and Not Cleaning.


And that is the true story of how I made twelve minutes of animation even though my studio looks like it was hit by a tornado and four wolverines.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:42 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


That is a remarkably specific number of wolverines.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:43 AM on January 2 [9 favorites]


This is a well written, compassionately written article. I wish myself luck. It is nice to know I have a large cohort.
posted by Oyéah at 9:48 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


I have contemplated the mess long enough that I was able to calculate it perfectly. It is actually 4.21376 wolverines, but it made more sense to round to the nearest whole number and give the wolverines the benefit of the doubt. Four ambitious and thorough wolverines.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:49 AM on January 2 [9 favorites]


Is there some sort of guidebook for assessing wolverine damage?


fuck laundry
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:51 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


From the article:
For the Have-To-Dos in my life, I’ll end up waiting until the last minute, panicking, and then either doing less than my best work or shutting down and not doing anything at all. For the Want-To-Dos in my life, let’s be honest—I’ll either start one and quit or more likely, I just won’t ever get around to it.

Well. Damn. Shit just got real in here for me. Like, I just started to have cold sweats combined with the hot hot feeling of deep deep shame. If this is not a familiar storyline and/or reaction for you, listen carefully to people who really live this way. I manage to send out a few resumes each day, and shower most days, but there are so many aspects of my life that need attention ranging from a glance to a deep unfucking that I am just barely hanging on. Seeing this article described as "just obsessed with "being productive"" makes me wonder how our culture combines that attitude with the trope of Welfare Queens.

There are probably a million things I could be doing to actually have a real career, and I have so far managed to complete very few of them (I'm trying to give myself credit for my achievements, which is why I'm not saying I've completed NONE of them.) mostly because I don't even know what it is I could be doing. And when I do know/see what to do, I can't figure out how or where to get started.

But I do remember that tipping point feeling, and the accomplishments that follow it. So now I'm going to remind myself that I can do it. By doing it.

Oh hey, a temp agency called with an assignment. Starts tomorrow. Which means I need to get the glitter polish off my fingernails (business professional...), choose clothes (ditto) and find the bus route, plus figure out a lunch. This means I need to eat something so I can go to the grocery store. The call came in three hours ago. I have done none of these things, because I was reading this article when I got the news. I have alternated between playing a game, job searching, tweaking this comment, looking into a closet, thinking about food, looking up what's on sale at the grocery store, clipping my fingernails, and going back to the article. I am procrastinating reading an article about procrastinating.

Sheesh. The advice is good. I'm going to go eat lunch and then go to the store.
posted by bilabial at 9:57 AM on January 2 [18 favorites]


Ive spent a lot of time in the dark playground with the monkey steering my ship, especially when depressed. I may (or may not) put that up at my desk. If I'm not getting anything done, what am doing sitting there anyway? Surfing the web until that anxiety/panic ratio tips.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 9:58 AM on January 2


but there are so many aspects of my life that need attention ranging from a glance to a deep unfucking that I am just barely hanging on.

Hey, this boat we're both in is just great isn't it? In a nutshell you've described the basic existential crisis at the heart of depression.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:01 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]


Apparently Edison used to have the following quote on a sign in his factory, with the sign regularly moved around: "There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking." (Joshua Reynolds)
posted by biffa at 10:06 AM on January 2


Building off of Pater Aletheius's point, here's one of my favorite bits of wisdom: if it's worth doing, it's worth doing half-assed.

The idea being that most things that are important to have done are far better done half-assed than not done at all. So look at your tasks and think, for which of these would even a mediocre job be better than leaving it alone? You'll probably find this is most of them. So go ahead and phone it in, but get it done, and you'll be better off.

Yes, it'd be best to give the bathroom an all-over deep clean, but let's be honest, you're not going to do that today. So go in there with a spray bottle and some paper towels for three minutes. Your bathroom is now cleaner than it was, and you don't have to spend the rest of the day feeling guilty that you didn't clean anything. Success through half-assedness!

Because really, look at the world around you and see how much of it got done with meticulous attention to detail. Almost none.
posted by echo target at 10:09 AM on January 2 [26 favorites]


This is the kind of shit that made me realize I had an anxiety issue, and how I ended up on prescription meds, much to my benefit.

I like the imagery of "The Dark Playground", because it's truly useless actions that serve no real purpose other than delaying what needs to be done. It's usually not about which one is "more fun", the instant gratification doesn't come SO much from refreshing your inbox over and over again, it comes from being faced with a task and then telling yourself you don't have to do it.

For me, anxiety is also the reason such tasks became so inflated and daunting, ironically, in hopes of maximizing time. Instead of "go to the post office, also go to the gym" it became this internal anguish of "The post office is past the gym, but it closes at 5, and it's now 3, which means I'd have to hurry through my weight regimen, and I still might not make it, but if I'm going out, I should go to the store too, but I don't want to go AFTER the gym, but it's farther away than both, and maybe I should pay some bills before I go, oh look it's 4:30 and traffic's gonna be bad, so I guess I can't do anything now *mope*" Whereas now it's just "Go to the post office. Go to the store. Go to the gym. Home!"

It becomes especially insidious when all this unnecessary list-making and task-optimizing as distraction convinces yourself that you're actually REALLY productive and goal-oriented, when all you do is alternately stress yourself out at all the things you have to do, and then reward yourself by not doing them, telling yourself (and facebook) about how you have SO much to do, and i'm going to reward myself for simply recognizing it by having some wine and watching Dr. Who until bedtime ("It's important to 'decompress!'"

For me, the turning point was understanding and examining those moments of hesitence: What am I *really* feeling when I think of doing homework (or something) and I'm immediately compelled to do something else: is there anything that could possibly be in my email that would prevent me from opening my book? Or is it just fear?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:18 AM on January 2 [15 favorites]


any major dude : "I beat myself up my first semester of college for not being able to study for exams or write papers until the night before. I agonized over this apparent dysfunction for months. Then I came to the most important realization of my life - that I was a procrastinator. Once I accepted and embraced this fact it gave me liberation that I enjoy until this day. No longer would I get anxious about not doing papers because I knew I really wasn't procrastinating I was just allowing my mind and body to function in its best space by staying up all night and using my uncanny ability to hyper-focus and get shit done when there is absolutely no time left to procrastinate."

The problem with that approach, for me, is that I often wind up discovering that whatever the paper is about is actually quite interesting and boy, wouldn't it be nice to have some time to dig a bit deeper into it and read a bit more about it except here comes that deadline screaming down on me oh shit.

I spent the last weekend of college doing this with a paper on ukiyo-e prints, alternating between typing madly on the paper and curling up in a ball on the sofa while sobbing "call my family and tell them not to come to Graduation 'cause I'm not gonna make it" to my then-fiancé. I did finish the paper and I did graduate, but it would've been nice to have even one more day to work on the paper.

(as I type a comment on MeFi instead of doing any of the reading I haven't gotten done over the past week and a half off work…)
posted by Lexica at 10:51 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


The problem with that approach, for me...

I'm the same way and it created a certain lackadaisical overconfidence, but as I go through life and life gets more packed and complex, I not only have Lexica's problem but also the problem that it leaves no margin. A few terrible times over the past year I've let projects get down to the wire, thinking I'd just devote the last minutes to getting them done with hyperfocus, only to find that some life thing derailed those last few moments - car problems, lost keys, computer issue, sudden illness, a crisis at work. If you think you're just always going to be able to pull it out at the last minute using your superhuman panic monster powers, you can really screw yourself over because that means nothing else, not anything at all, can go wrong - or it's your project that loses that battle.
posted by Miko at 10:56 AM on January 2 [15 favorites]


First!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:58 AM on January 2 [14 favorites]


Background: I was the kid that saw multiple end of term conflicts and would resolve schedule collisions by finishing major projects early. My two roommates and girlfriend (now wife) all were procrastinators of the highest order. In my mind, deadlines are holy - in theirs? "Deadlines represent the opening offer in a negotiation" - end quote. My papers were rote construction from outlines and source materials. Theirs were last minute chemically fulled fever dreams.

It's HARD to break up larger tasks into smaller tasks. For any size task, it's HARD to predict how much time that task will take. Both of these skills are not taught, at all, as most educational tasks have the size/scope/number of tasks well-defined by teachers. College is really the first time kids are really asked to manage these sorts of things on their own - is it any wonder so many people aren't good at it, at first?

For whatever reason, I was decent at this stuff before I learned to code, but software projects really brought the lesson home: start from the big picture, then fill in details as necessary. You can spend a near infinite amount of time optimizing/polishing one tiny piece in a larger effort, or you can get it out there, get feedback, and move on.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:20 AM on January 2 [6 favorites]


Suggestion, most work is boring and unrewarding so we avoid it.

Harrumph. I'm capable of putzing around reading / watching barely-interesting things instead of getting started on a new video game I've been looking forward to and will give me much enjoyment.
posted by straight at 11:31 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


I'm about halfway through every video game I've bought in the last few years because once I'm far enough in that I feel like I need to finish it, well, that's just work.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:33 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]


Building off of Pater Aletheius's point, here's one of my favorite bits of wisdom: if it's worth doing, it's worth doing half-assed.

Thanks to this thread, I've put some laundry in the washing machine (I'll worry about remembering to take it out and maybe hang it up later) and washed up some of the dishes (and put dish mountain #2 in to soak). So far so good.

Although in the process, it did mean discovering the catpiss puddle under the washing machine, which will now need cleaning, and I haven't swept the floor since Christmas, and oh God...
posted by talitha_kumi at 11:59 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


fuck laundry

QF to the muthafuckin T.

I mostly, any more, wear t-shirts and jeans. I'm an excellent thrift-shopper, and I've seen a lot of bands whose taste in graphic design I appreciate, and I rarely get rid of clothes, so I have a shitload of cool t-shirts. It's been a while since I counted, but I probably have (well, had) about 80 of them. What that is, is I have about 50 that I like to wear, and the other 30 are now too large for me so they're in a box in the closet.

We have a washer and dryer in the basement.

Do you want to guess how much I procrastinate doing the laundry? Well, I wore all the ones I like to wear. Then I got out the box, again, and wore all of those. At that point, I definitely should have done some washing. Did I? Did I fuck!

I went thrift-shopping, and spent $30 on another 15 t-shirts, so woohoo! 2 more weeks!

I wish I could say that this was the first time this has happened.

Probably it's needless to say, but I have several things I should be doing today, but instead of that, thanks to metafilter, I am procrastinating doing them by theoretically reading these articles, which in fact I am further procrastinating by reading, and adding to, the comments here. See ya tomorrow, responsibilities!
posted by hap_hazard at 12:12 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


I never procrastinate. I'm just very fluid in deciding what I should be doing at any given moment.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:16 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


Fuck laundry

Yes this is why we just send our laundry out, yes it's probably more expensive, no I do not care. It's worth it for never having to think about it ever.
posted by The Whelk at 12:18 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


"Deadlines represent the opening offer in a negotiation"

As someone with a few toes in the world of print media, allow me to express the desire to beat these people to death with an oar. I guess it's different in a school setting but I barely went to one some whatever. I've never missed a deadline. Not once. Because things like printer dates exist. Shit need to appear at the right time so we can work with it with marketing and tie ins. That's how You Get Shit Done, the specter of severe professional pain if you don't looming over you.

I don't don't know how people motivate themselves without external demands. Cause like, if I'm not to actually loose money by not doing something then who the fuck cares?
posted by The Whelk at 12:23 PM on January 2


The thing about writers in there is so, so true. I know so many people that talk endlessly about their novels and like to piss and moan about how hard being a writer is and they join those Facebook groups about being writers and repost pithy quotes from famous writers, but they never actually produce anything. The working writers I know are the ones that don’t have time to do all that because they’re sitting down every day and actually writing things.

One thing I’ve become accepting about is my work style is very much like a cheetah in that I will laze around in the sun all day for that insane burst of productivity that takes down the metaphorical gazelle and keeps me fed for a week. I don't do well at those jobs where you have to steady state LOOK BUSY all the time.

The best jobs I’ve had have accepted that I’m like a closer in baseball: a bit of a head case weirdo that will probably self-destruct if you make him go too long but when you absolutely, positively need those three outs or all is lost and everyone else would go bonkers from the pressure, just send me out and everything is fine. The absolute best one I’ve ever had was at a magazine where my job was basically farting around until one of the freelancers flaked, inevitably at the worst possible time like “We need to get this to press by 6pm and it is now 5:30, can you write 1000 words on a topic you know nothing about in the next 30 minutes and have it need a minimum of editing and artwork?” Sure, no problem, that’s why I’m here and you put up with me farting around the rest of the week.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:26 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]


Although if I'm being hinest I'm terrified of saying I've actually accomplished anything cause THAT'S THE FIRST STEP TO BEING CONTENT IN YOUR LOT WHICH IS THE FIRST STEP TO DYING ALONE IN THE GUTTER.
posted by The Whelk at 12:27 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


I used to struggle with procrastination but seem to have beat it. Some of the changes I made were deliberate and others were just luck/situational. In no particular order, things that helped were:

1) Working for the Man. I used to be a career musician and had a terrible time staying organized and working at a sustainable pace. Ironically having to get up at 7 or 8 each day and do work that a boss is actively measuring has helped me tremendously. Sad but true; I guess I didn't have the personality to plan my own work.

2) Beating depression. I struggled with this off and on from my teens into my 30s. After various pills and such, what seemed to help the most was a combination of exercise, better personal relationship choices, and a more predictable and stable lifestyle (see #1).

3) Having money. Obviously this could go south at any time, but working on bills/house/etc. was one of my main areas of procrastination and it turns out to be a lot easier to pay bills, schedule repairs, replace worn-out household items etc. when you have the money to do it.

4) Cultivating my guilt. I always felt guilty when I wasn't doing what I was supposed to do, but I somehow ignored it. Instead I started embracing it and using it to motivate myself. Plus I took note of the way I felt when I relaxed *after* doing stuff.

5) Knowing when to quit. I didn't want to go into some crazy over-achiever mode by getting more organized and get to the point where I could never relax. So basically I have an internal narrative that says if I go to work every day and help my spouse clean up (see #6), I've met my quota. At that point if I want to play Candy Crush and screw around until the next day, I let myself do that.

6) Cleaning as I go. We have a house rule for the kids called "clean as you go". Getting everyone to do this (including myself) has made a giant difference. I make the bed before work, never leave dishes in the sink, put clothes away, etc. I used to be the *opposite* of that person but let me tell you ... I don't really notice it taking much effort (small things throughout the week) and the effect is so worth it. Everything is always clean and yet I never seem to have to take a whole Saturday to clean ... it's just ... already clean. Sitting down guilt-free in a clean room to screw around on the iPad or read is the greatest feeling ever.


Good article. However, it's time for stick figure cartoons to die. Like bacon and zombies, they were played about 3 years ago.
posted by freecellwizard at 12:29 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]


Stink finger cartoons, however, are the next big thing.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:31 PM on January 2


But see, that's also why I kind of enjoy being a procrstinator (apart from the life lived amongst chaos and underachievement). My inner world is so much more interesting I think than if I just, y'know, did stuff.
posted by billiebee


You know that thing where you thought you brain was broken in a unique special snowflake way (which helpfully absolves you of responsibility) then you find out it's actually a common problem? Yeah.

Although I would definitely exchange my hundreds of half baked ideas for some actual solid achievement in my life.

Actually that is sort of a lie; I have achieved things which sound impressive on paper. But I have no idea how I actually ended up doing them and they don't feel that impressive to me. It sometimes feels like my mind is a runaway train with my frontal lobe madly trying to slam on the brakes.

One other thought to throw in which has sort of been helpful: procrastination is kind of a belief in magic. I normally use this argument the other way around, in that I'm an athiest/"skeptic" who gets annoyed with internet libertarians claiming they are perfectly rational beings. But anyway. Imagine there is a pile of washing up in your apartment. I sometimes find myself picturing the washing up done and imagining it will eventually be done, but not actually *doing it.* This means I believe something will happen without a concrete physical cause causing it to occur. Which fundamentally amounts to a belief in magic.

Also I should totally steal the monkey/dark playground ideas for the nanowrimo novel I told myself I would go back to sometime.
posted by Erberus at 12:39 PM on January 2 [6 favorites]


But I have no idea how I actually ended up doing them and they don't feel that impressive to me.

As far as I can tell this never goes away no matter what you do.
posted by The Whelk at 12:42 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


( I like doing laundry. Once it's done and put away, it's done and put away. )
posted by mikelieman at 12:49 PM on January 2


i am procrastinating this stupid diary pages mission in AC3 because i am a crap pickpocket
posted by elizardbits at 12:50 PM on January 2


This was floating around the internet a few months ago. Nothing new, but pretty accurate.
posted by Telf at 12:50 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


That was really a fun read and ludicrously accurate. I definitely see myself in that, even now on this keyboard typing away and not doing much beyond surfing my most-used bookmark, Metafilter.

I'm working on a theory about procrastination that goes something like the circuits in your head are constantly firing looking for a win, a success. The amount of stuff we put in our pipeline as demands or to-do's can be practically infinite, plus there's the tendency to state an outcome as something you want now that can only be achieved in weeks, months, or years with a ton of fear/pain/worry attached for failing to get there.

Procrastinators are people who haven't developed good strategies for giving themselves wins, immediate ones for the behavior they need to be doing. By genetics, or through practice, they are getting wins for the easy stuff, like surfing a novel web site. See the pretty picture, read the stimulating text (Win!@#!!), small endorphin hit, next site.

So my sought-after productivity tweak is how to set up the stuff I need to do so it gets constant wins all along the way instead of fails that push me into the Dark Playground (easy wins based on novelty seeking).

Maybe if I just surf Metafilter a bit more today, push my bookmarks around a bit, twiddle with Evernote, and Think Real Hard, it will all happen. Oy vey!
posted by diode at 12:53 PM on January 2 [4 favorites]


( I like doing laundry. Once it's done and put away, it's done and put away. )

No way , dude. The laundry, much like the mail, never stops.

It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 1:05 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]


I turn 40 this year. One of the sincere promises I've made to myself is that this year I will take active steps to reverse the depression and regret that have come with living 40 years without realizing my most important goals. Goals that were subverted, mostly, by procrastination.

To that end, this article was way more useful than I thought it would be. While it's probably making the same points that most GTD-type stuff does, for whatever reason it broke things down in a way that made a lot of sense to me. Maybe it indulged my secret fantasy of having a pet monkey, I dunno.

Anyhow-- reading the article coincides with a co-worker's group email this week recommending IDoneThis, which I signed up for just yesterday. It's simple: IDoneThis emails you every day asking you what you've done that day. You reply with what you've done toward your goals-- report your bricks, in the lingo of the article in the OP-- and IDT tracks your progress on a calendar. You don't want to break Jerry Seinfeld's chain!

I am certain that there are numerous simple tools like IDT (I think I could even make one myself using just my Google Calendar), and God knows I feel like a fucking toddler for needing a system to act like a normal person, but it came along at the right time, so there it is. I wish me luck.
posted by Rykey at 1:07 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


The table's not set. There's no bed but what we make for ourselves.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:07 PM on January 2


This is why the nice people at the laundry take it off your hands for a certain set price per pound. Plus if you're not hard on your clothes and wear underthings you don't have to do it so much, just soak the undergarments in the sink and hang them to dry on your shower rail.
posted by The Whelk at 1:07 PM on January 2


There's no bed but what we make for ourselves

But I didn't order a bed. I ordered a hammock.
posted by The Whelk at 1:09 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


If success were measured in the number of project folders with a giant "notes.txt" file and nothing else in them, I'd be super successful.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:26 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


there's the tendency to state an outcome as something you want now that can only be achieved in weeks, months, or years with a ton of fear/pain/worry attached for failing to get there.

This. I tend to break up tasks and goals into much, much smaller pieces than I used to, and that helps. The "single step" concept I guess. Rather than "I have to clean out the garage" which might take days, it's "organize this shelf in the garage then go have a beer, you deserve it". Repeatedly doing small bits of stuff and then allowing myself to feel good about it and/or take a break results, counter-intuitively, in a large amount of stuff getting done.

Instead of "deal with the bills", just "open all the mail". Bills another time.
Instead of "clean up the kitchen", "unload the dishwasher".

Of course I end up stringing multiple small tasks end to end, but it feels different than just conceptualizing everything as one giant task.

Oh - the exercising part (just walking and swimming, nothing insane) is important too because that's when I think whether there's anything I need to do when I get home. I try to do whatever it is right when I get back before my energy wears off.
posted by freecellwizard at 1:32 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


Naming things might be the single biggest procrastination point for me. Characters, businesses, websites, whatever, any time I have to come up with a name for something important that's where I stall out.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:49 PM on January 2


I find it's easier if you're really, really pretentious about it. Everyone is an allusion! Everyone. All the time! Forevermore
posted by The Whelk at 1:54 PM on January 2


I hate allusions in names.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:56 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


More seriously, though: In recent years, I have taken to never naming things until I am far enough along the process to determine whether it is worth my while to do so. And if it is, a name will often suggest itself more easily by that point.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:01 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


I quite enjoyed the article, but I'm not entirely convinced it's an accurate model for my own passion for procrastination. I suspect there are quite a few distinct varieties of procrastination out there.

My instant gratification monkey doesn't run away from the panic monster. He follows it into the woods, lays out bait for it, then crouches behind a hunting blind, patiently waiting for the chance to leap out and wrestle with the monster. (Adrenaline junkie monkey may be a better name.)

This blog post by the Academic Jungle author that perfectly describes my own experience.

I don't put off tasks until the last minute because I'm wasting time on things that are more fun. At least not most of the time. (Though that's an accurate description of what I'm doing at this moment.) As often as not I waste time by doing useful work on less urgent but equally important things. I've recently realized that I actually enjoy tasks more when they're done at the last minute. Deadlines are exhilarating. Adding a desperate rush makes any task more exciting, and the more desperate the rush, the greater the effort involved to meet it, the bigger the emotional payoff.

As an adrenaline junkie in a world where the only scary things left are professional deadlines, it's easy to fall into a habit of putting everything off until the last possible moment. In my case years of positive reinforcement have only made things worse. Every last minute success, academically and professionally, adds to my intuitive certainty that everything will get done in time no matter what. It tempts me to push things a few minutes closer to the deadline next time.

I also see my own experience in the comments above about procrastination as a work-around for perfectionism. My world is full of tasks that will expand to fill however much time is given to them, and I'm pretty bad at enforcing arbitrary deadlines or "good enough" metrics. Waiting until just long enough before a real deadline to start a task means that I won't become trapped working to complete the task in a perfectly satisfying way.

The question - and one I'm still working to answer - is whether or not it's something I ought to try to change. Defending procrastination sounds strange, but it seems a pretty reasonable response to a world with intrinsically boring but necessary tasks and too many responsibilities to execute perfectly. Putting things off to the last minute means the tasks are more fun and that I accomplish more things by artificially limiting the amount of time dedicated to each one. Except for occasionally annoying collaborators (and romantic partners) who don't plan on pulling all nighters before every important deadline, I haven't seen any negative consequences yet. I'd like to stop procrastinating, but only if it doesn't also mean doing less and enjoying it less.
posted by eotvos at 3:29 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


I procrastinated finishing the first article until I had checked the sock prices on amazon, which reading the article reminded me I had been putting off. Oh dear.
posted by janey47 at 3:58 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


One of the big insights for me was that often procrastination is a method perfectionists use to allow themselves to do a less-than-perfect job on a task that really only required "okay" effort in the first place. So if you give yourself permission to do an okay-but-not-perfect job from the beginning, you can get over the hump and just knock it out.

Hmm, there really may be something to this. And for me, combined with 'don't overthink it'. i.e. do LESS planning, not more.

Here's my last 20 minutes:

Hmm, stubble is getting really itchy. Guess it's time for my weekly shave (why yes, I do procrastinate shaving). But that means digging out my wet razer, lathering up, cleaning up... I'll do it tomorrow. No wait! Let's half arse it! I'll use the electric razer. Will only take a couple of minutes.

Man, the sink is dirty again (cats drinking from tap + feet from outside = wet sink + dirty pawprints, gah). I should really clean that. It can wait! I'm half arsing shaving. Hmm. Razer is clogged. Oh yes, I was going to clean that out and oil the rotary blades and stuff, which is why I stopped using it. Gah. Sod it, I'll just quickly rinse it out. Hmm, it's not rinsing well, let's just use a knife to get the gunk out. Huh, that's pretty clean. Ok, shaving. Eh, still a bit of a mess. Quick strop with the wet razer, done. Close enough.

Man, I made a mess. Quick rinse of the sink, and I'm done. Half arse it for the win! Hmm. Kinda stubborn. Flash is right there, let's clean it with that. Doesn't have to be perfect. OK, now I made the loo look bad cos there's still paw prints on it. I've already got the flash and tissues right here... Quick wipe down. Pretty good, if not perfect. Man, I keep forgetting how wobbly the loo seat is, I could just get my spanner...

At which point I got interrupted by my wife wondering what the fuck I was doing for so long in the bathroom.

So now I have a clean electric razer, sink and loo. And I'm shaved, even if it's not perfect. If I'd actually sat down and thought about cleaning the bathroom, as is my usual approach, it would have been a military precision cleaning operation including mopping the floor, descaling the shower head and a full personal grooming effort. About 3 hours worth. And I would then have blanched at the thought, decided it was far too late to start that, and spent the 20 minutes waiting for stuff to finish on Hay Day. Which I'm about to go do, admittedly. But I feel good about it. And I have a cleaner bathroom than I would have done.

So genuinely thanks, Pater Aletheias. Allowing myself to half arse it and NOT overthinking it first might actually work. I will tackle the spanner-on-the loo tomorrow. Less than perfectly. Now, I'm just going to go to bed, instead of trying to polish this post while trying to put off thinking about tomorrow. But I may go briefly admire the somewhat cleaner bathroom first. Hmm. This is what satisfaction feels like. I'd kinda forgotten.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:41 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]


A little structured procrastionation doesn't hurt.

I agree about making drastic cuts in the grandiose list of things to do. Urgent/Important, whatever narrow down the tasks down to three things and you might do some of them.
posted by saber_taylor at 4:54 PM on January 2


I'm hanging out here to avoid driving home after work to do nothing. That's right: I am literally procrastinating at procrastinating. Top that!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:59 PM on January 2


procrastination is kind of a belief in magic

This rings true for me. I enjoy the fantasy so much of what the finished product will be that the reality is just too godawful to contemplate.

And then there's the shame! Combine the anticipated disappointment for the reality of the task (in the last week, such tasks for me have including things like writing a paper, making a phone call, planning a vacation) with the guilt of not doing it, or the anticipated shame of not doing it well, and the result is paralyzing self-loathing that can only be coped with via distraction. It's a clever little mindfuck, and the insidious thing is that I can just keep evolving to find new ways to not get things done.

Then there's the shame of hiding from people how you are spending your time. My self-reports go something like "Oh, I spent the long weekend puttering around the house and doing some cleaning and generally relaxing" instead of the more truthful "Oh, I spent the last 5 days not writing the paper I want to write since I have extra time right now and it would make perfectly rational sense to get it done a few weeks in advance of the due date, in favor of watching viral videos and downloading smutty ebooks to read and living in a constant state of anxiety over the things I should be doing but am avoiding."

Someone upthread said we are too obsessed with productivity. I think that's true to some extent -- I have a friend who will spend an entire weekend re-watching movies she's seen 100 times and she says it's restorative and is perfectly fine with using her time that way. I have another friend who is always in the middle of some sewing or craft project and is just not tied at all into whether the project gets finished or if anyone likes it, she just has fun playing.

I think I'm just used to feeling guilty when I'm having fun, because there's always something else I should be doing, and that's the real carnage procrastination has wrought for me.

Holy shit this FP struck home. Gah.
posted by megancita at 6:09 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]


This is a stupid article. Because it is full of ideology. And pseudoscience.
posted by polymodus at 6:51 PM on January 2


I'm procrastinating about going to bed.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:44 PM on January 2


I'm procrastinating about getting up.
posted by billiebee at 1:36 AM on January 3



It's amazing how absolutely important watching the entire 8 seasons of Supernatural for a second time became when I had a course to finish.

I did see the irony that it was a course in project management.....


I did finally discover that this is the perfect type of work for the procrastinater in me that loves to plan. I am in love with coordinating a major project at work. I get to plan and help other people plan who are doing the meat of the project. It's weird as I sometimes feel like I'm not actually doing much. Procrastination has made me an excellent planner.
posted by Jalliah at 1:37 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


That is a remarkably specific number of wolverines.

Three labourers and a foreman.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 5:24 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


The fact that you read the 120+ comments above this one means I have already won.
posted by procrastination at 6:22 AM on January 3 [16 favorites]


polymodus: "This is a stupid article. Because it is full of ideology. And pseudoscience."

You're a stupid article.

Seriously, though, his description resonates closely with me and others, and gives me new ways to think about this problem which affects every aspect of my life in one way another, as well as ideas for how to approach overcoming it, and on top of that it's funny and reassuring. Sometimes explanations and suggestions from fellow-sufferers can help, in the absence of a complete solution from hard science.
posted by Drexen at 11:31 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


I am the dark playground watching some walls I decided to paint. I did decide to keep the walls, but only if I changed them. For the last two days I have stalked the dark playground, successfully, with laughter. Many humans made a safe place from an unsafe childhood in the dark playground. It is like staying extra still, in plain sight while playing hide and seek.
posted by Oyéah at 6:18 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


I was showing bf this post (and the hilarious comments) and he says "I love that you're reading a post about procrastination, in a window, over the top of all your work."
posted by iamkimiam at 1:59 AM on January 4


Weren't we all?
posted by Miko at 5:23 AM on January 4


True. But isn't there something so obvious, so on-the-nose, about that? Yet still so surprising to us that it's actually funny? (Maybe it's just me.)
posted by iamkimiam at 5:28 AM on January 4


Every last minute success, academically and professionally, adds to my intuitive certainty that everything will get done in time no matter what. It tempts me to push things a few minutes closer to the deadline next time.
This, this, a thousand times this.
posted by variella at 8:37 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]



The fact that you read the 120+ comments above this one means I have already won.


Victory as a metric is so pre-A-bomb 20th Century
posted by philip-random at 10:39 PM on January 5


I opened the links when this was first posted and I finally finished reading them today. Great articles.
posted by Bokmakierie at 1:59 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]


« Older New Year's resolutions for an anteater....  |  A fluffy ball of hair turns ou... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments