I'll get to this soon.
June 23, 2021 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Why You Procrastinate. It has nothing to do with self-control or time-management.
posted by storybored (73 comments total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
 
(FYI, NYT)
posted by InkaLomax at 8:07 AM on June 23


I shit you not, I started reading this and thought "Eh, I'll finish it later."

It hits the nail on the head, for me.
posted by hwyengr at 8:11 AM on June 23 [26 favorites]


Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.

This tracks. Most people don't want to die and keep putting that off for as long as possible, too.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:13 AM on June 23 [23 favorites]


Non-paywalled version via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.
posted by hanov3r at 8:24 AM on June 23 [29 favorites]


procrastination is deeply existential, as it raises questions about individual agency and how we want to spend our time as opposed to how we actually do.
Oh no. But in the end, that's what it is.
posted by dominik at 8:29 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Thank you, hanov3r!
posted by The otter lady at 8:38 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]


I highly recommend the books "The Antidote" and "4000 Thousand Weeks" by Oliver Burkeman. They are anti-productivity books in a way, and one thing they discuss is how we can't "manage" our way into better productivity because the drivers are emotional. We're not procrastinating or failing to find time to exercise because of a personal organizational failing.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:41 AM on June 23 [19 favorites]


i recently learned the term "bike-shedding" (i know, i'm late to the game on this), which is essentially how teams procrastinate as a unit.
posted by rude.boy at 8:56 AM on June 23 [15 favorites]


I told my folks the other day, "Sometimes, the only way I can get myself to do a task is to identify a task I want to do even less."
posted by dywypi at 8:59 AM on June 23 [42 favorites]


“Our brains are always looking for relative rewards. If we have a habit loop around procrastination but we haven’t found a better reward, our brain is just going to keep doing it over and over until we give it something better to do,” said psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center.

I just started finding out or realizing this within the past few years & it's hard to think about how much more manageable school would have been if I knew this earlier. The old-fashioned mindset that my mom was raised on was that allowing yourself to be sidetracked by emotions was self-indulgent, wildly selfish, embarassing and not worthy of discussion. Which is an approach that turns a solvable problem into a compounding problem that just gets worse & harder to fix over time.

Now that I actually understand the problem (!!!!) I can deal with it by just trying to think about like okay this is hard, what is the minimum I can turn in to get this done, is there some part of this I can do now no matter how small, is there anyone I can talk this out with, and if not then I'm just going to be in a period of mindful waiting until I'm ready. It's doable.
posted by bleep at 8:59 AM on June 23 [41 favorites]


School was actually the most productive time of my life in terms of avoiding procrastination because I reasoned that there were discrete units of work which had to be done within certain time limits, and putting them off impacted my enjoyment of the aspects of university life I enjoyed the most. So I'd get everything I could done as soon as possible - sometimes weeks ahead - so that I could get back to the good stuff without the schoolwork hanging over my head. My friends and housemates (who would sit around tables at bars with me saying things like "I really shouldn't be here...") were often wowed by my "efficiency," but really it was just, as this article points out, a form of pain avoidance.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:07 AM on June 23 [8 favorites]


Like The Card Cheat, I have found school easier to avoid procrastination on. For me it is that the task is laid out, success criteria are explicitly laid out, and I get relevant and timely feedback. At work I have reached a level where I have to figure out what the work is and then figure out how to do it, and I like that but I also sometimes wish I was handed a rubric to work towards.
posted by jeoc at 9:23 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]


Me, 20 minutes ago: I really need to do X, but I keep procrastinating about it because I’m terrified I’m going to mess it up. And that just makes it harder to do it.
Mr Mchelly: Hey, there’s a New York Times article today that says exactly that…
Me: [goes off to read article because that is clearly a better use of my time than getting started on X]

Me, 2 minutes ago: I wonder what’s new on Metafilter…
posted by Mchelly at 9:37 AM on June 23 [30 favorites]


Apparently the NYT Smarter Living section is doing a series this week on Attention Management, which is great since now I have something to read while avoiding working.
The theory that procrastination is a form of self-harm is kind of blowing my mind, tbh and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this.
posted by ApathyGirl at 9:38 AM on June 23 [6 favorites]


I told my folks the other day, "Sometimes, the only way I can get myself to do a task is to identify a task I want to do even less."

This is called structured procrastination and you can use it to your advantage! I mean I can't, but maybe you can
posted by babelfish at 9:40 AM on June 23 [32 favorites]


I'd get everything I could done as soon as possible ... so that I could get back to the good stuff

Wait, you guys had actual non-study time in college??
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:40 AM on June 23


MetaFilter: I mean I can't, but maybe you can
posted by elkevelvet at 9:44 AM on June 23 [17 favorites]


> Wait, you guys had actual non-study time in college??

Yeah, I left out the part where I was a Film Studies major, which made my chosen lifestyle a lot more attainable. A lot of my friends and housemates were engineering students, whose schedule was more or less:

Monday-Friday afternoon: WORKWORKWORKWORKWORK
Friday afternoon-Sunday morning: DRUNNNNNKKKKKKK
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:48 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]


The first paragraph of this article convinced me that I'm not a procrastinator, but in fact just lazy, which is going to save me a lot of time reading articles, because it turns out no one gives a shit about lazy people
posted by phooky at 9:49 AM on June 23 [30 favorites]


me it is that the task is laid out, success criteria are explicitly laid out, and I get relevant and timely feedback.

Wait what schools did you all go to??? This was never my experience. I would have loved any one of these things at any time.
posted by bleep at 9:57 AM on June 23 [4 favorites]


It has nothing to do with self-control or time-management.

You don't know me.
posted by The Tensor at 10:01 AM on June 23 [11 favorites]


I am so heartened by the ever-increasing body of research that says that one way to get better results is to make things as easy for yourself as possible, and that the way to do better is through kindness, not punishment:
In fact, several studies show that self-compassion supports motivation and personal growth. Not only does it decrease psychological distress, which we now know is a primary culprit for procrastination, it also actively boosts motivation, enhances feelings of self-worth and fosters positive emotions like optimism, wisdom, curiosity and personal initiative.
Interesting stuff. Thanks for posting it!

P.S. So this story is over 2 years old? Geez, storybored, way to procrastinate. [grin]
posted by kristi at 10:02 AM on June 23 [18 favorites]


I'm not sure I love this characterization of procrastination. For one, I don't feel bad about procrastinating because of endogenous feelings. I'm made to feel bad because someone else wants to shame me for prioritizing e.g. a clean house over the TPS reports.

Secondly, procrastinating has genuine advantages. It can serve as "garbage collection" by letting you handle some easy tasks that are rattling around in your head so that when you sit back down to the "main task," you're not as distracted. It can serve as a break when you're beating your head against the wall. Some of the best ideas come when you're doing the laundry or taking a shower!

I'll admit to noping out of the article at a certain point, but it felt like it was written by someone who's studied a lot of management theory and had never heard of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Sometimes you just really need a clean house to feel in the right headspace to do your best work. Expecting people to get things done strictly by the assigned priority is one of those management wants that consistently is proven to be less effective than letting people manage their own time.
posted by explosion at 10:03 AM on June 23 [5 favorites]


Best academic advice I ever got was: look at the syllabus and estimate the number of hours it would take to read all of the material. Then spend that amount of time reading whatever you want to read.

It worked for me. Though I did not end up an English professor at a small university in New England.

That being a feature, not a bug, methinks.
posted by chavenet at 10:04 AM on June 23 [4 favorites]


I think there's probably a market for a book like "Save It For Later -- How to Stop Getting Things Done and Start Procrastinating; Undoing the Ingrained Habits That Make You So Unlike Everybody Else."

I'll get to work on it tomorrow.
posted by chavenet at 10:08 AM on June 23 [12 favorites]


I think you're too late, chavenet.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:25 AM on June 23 [5 favorites]


If anyone is interested in hearing more about the emotional/psychological idea of procrastination, Dr. David Puder's Psychiatry & Psychotherapy Podcast had a whole episode talking about it too.

And in general, I found the psychological/emotional explanation for procrastination much more convincing than the one from the popular viral article written by 'Wait, But Why?' years ago.

For one, I don't feel bad about procrastinating because of endogenous feelings. I'm made to feel bad because someone else wants to shame me for prioritizing e.g. a clean house over the TPS reports.

I think when the article refers to procrastinating they go beyond the dictionary definition of just putting anything off, but putting things off that you know are good for you. So if a TPS report doesn't provide any benefit, then it makes sense for it to be done much later. I think this article is more for the other way around: For people who put off cleaning or some other beneficial task (like exercising, going to bed on time, or even just going to the store to refund something within 90 days—not that I have any personal experience with that) and end up doing all their TPS reports for the next three months.
posted by FJT at 10:35 AM on June 23 [9 favorites]


The article quotes Judson Brewer but it leaves out what I think is his most interesting research result, which is that the reward value of any choice is evaluated by a piece of the brain that unless we specifically pay attention to the detailed experience of the consequences of that choice just assigns the same anticipated reward value as it did last time the same choice came up.

In other words, some of what we do ends up being stuff that felt good at least once but possibly hasn't actually done so for literally decades, and some of it is stuff that never actually did feel good but got chosen because we expected it to; in both cases, the expected reward value has then become habitual.

So one really effective way to break out of making the same dysfunctional choices over and over is to pay very close attention to the actual experience that follows from such a choice. Doing this deliberately and consistently makes the brain update the anticipated reward value associated with that choice over time; choices that lead to poor experiences then just naturally become less likely to get made, with no exercise of willpower or other forms of rational self-control required to prevent them.
posted by flabdablet at 10:37 AM on June 23 [76 favorites]


Greg_Ace: "I think you're too late, chavenet."

I'm not too late; I'm reconfiguring the deadline.
posted by chavenet at 10:47 AM on June 23 [7 favorites]


i cant with another article on this

my brain is fucked

i need to fix it

just suck it out, and squirt a new one in

i want to be able to read books again :(
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:50 AM on June 23 [9 favorites]


Huh. So apparently I'm just lazy/unmotivated and not a procrastonator. Cuz when I'm not doing a task that needs doing I'll usually be reading a book or playing a game not doing some other task.

If there's any validity to the type A personality thing, I'm a type Z personality. I don't like it. There's so much I want to get done. But I don't do it. And I don't know why or how to stop sitting around and actually do something.
posted by sotonohito at 10:56 AM on June 23 [7 favorites]


I'm not too late; I'm reconfiguring the deadline.

Pray I don't reconfigure it any further.
posted by The Tensor at 11:00 AM on June 23 [16 favorites]


OTOH, isn't lack of self-discipline/willpower/&c. just a lack of dopamine?
posted by acb at 11:03 AM on June 23


It's this: but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.

If we remove "laziness" or even boredom from qualifiers, it usually has everything to do with meta concerns for a person's life or work.


..have to say, I laughed at "I'm not late, I'm reconfiguring the deadline." True ownership.

A lot of people are also in pause states because they may not remember or have concerns about creating an "entryway," then maintaining the start.

"She's often late because she's lazy-"
No, she's often late because she knows her time is better suited elsewhere, and she probably doesn't feel ok with her boss or job.
posted by firstdaffodils at 11:16 AM on June 23 [4 favorites]


I've never forgotten Allie Brosh's, “I'm laterally productive. I will do productive things, but never the thing that I'm supposed to be doing.”

Describes me and no doubt many of us to a T.
posted by mono blanco at 11:23 AM on June 23 [27 favorites]


Side note: repeatedly, with bigger projects/purchases, I am REWARDED for my procrastination by things getting easier. This thing gets canceled entirely, or the newer model is released with no fanfare prior, or the other people in the project completely change their mind about what they want, or or or

There's probably a name for this phenomenon.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 11:42 AM on June 23 [13 favorites]


When this explanation bubbled up into my field of view about 2 years ago it was a relief. It really has the ring of truth for me, (an exceptional procrastinator.) The only time I haven't had real problems with procrastination was when I went through the SSRI's back in the mid/late 90s, I could just go from one thing to the next bam bam bam getting things done. The most salient emotional quality from that period I describe as: "basically not giving a fuck," the cheery absence of feeling anything deeply, combined with feeling progressively stupider was why I went off the drugs. I knew I was truly off them when while listening to some symphony or other an overwhelming feeling of sadness overtook me, "ahh back to my old self......great."

Now that I recognize procrastination as a problem with emotional regulation it doesn't make too much difference in coping but it does make it a lot easier to have self compassion and that helps somewhat. That tidbit about Judson Brewer that flabdablet put up gives me real pause for thought.
posted by Pembquist at 11:44 AM on June 23 [10 favorites]


I have found that I am actually being rewarded by NOT attempting to tackle the hard questions that I don't have answers to or don't understand in the group email box. I haven't been written up in months since I started not tackling them, because I got myself in trouble for trying. Presumably someone else checking the box, who doesn't get themselves into trouble as easily as I do, will eventually tackle those problems. I work on the things I do understand or at least have some idea about, I don't get myself in trouble, some stuff does get done, and I don't get another writeup. I'm not normally a procrastinator, but this actually literally has paid off for me to not try to tackle hard things.

"Sometimes, the only way I can get myself to do a task is to identify a task I want to do even less."

Certainly true, which is why so many people only clean the bathroom when something worse has to be done instead.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:48 AM on June 23 [7 favorites]


In other words, some of what we do ends up being stuff that felt good at least once but possibly hasn't actually done so for literally decades, and some of it is stuff that never actually did feel good but got chosen because we expected it to; in both cases, the expected reward value has then become habitual.

I'm shook. The pandemic year gave me enough distance, or at least a changed environment, to realize this held true for my job I'd been in for a quarter century. I used to find it rewarding but hadn't for years and I was barely hanging on even in WFH. They told us we had to come back to work in person, and I just ended up saying, Nah, and then quitting.

In this job, I procrastinated for a few reasons maybe not mentioned here? One reason was to create guilt and stress to use as a motivator to do the task. I'm not motivated by much else and sometimes I needed to get really close to having a disaster in order to get a good burst of work done.

The other reason was I had to be at my desk for ALL the business hours. It's not like I could do all my stuff and go home early. There was always more stuff and more of the same stuff and it would be there the next day. So I just kinda....smeared it out to last until the next high stress period.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 11:54 AM on June 23 [10 favorites]


repeatedly, with bigger projects/purchases, I am REWARDED for my procrastination by things getting easier. This thing gets canceled entirely, or the newer model is released with no fanfare prior, or the other people in the project completely change their mind about what they want, or or or

There's probably a name for this phenomenon


Wisdom.
posted by flabdablet at 11:58 AM on June 23 [7 favorites]


Like Pembquist, I found this article life-changing when I first came across it. It put so many of my habits in perspective. And it tipped me off to the idea of self-compassion. I have had this MeFi thread on that topic open in a browser tab for going on 2 years now, because I keep needing to remind myself of how important this concept is.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:06 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


There's probably a name for this phenomenon

Wisdom.


Also known as "waiting it out".
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:12 PM on June 23 [5 favorites]


Laziness Does Not Exist.

Slightly tangential but relevant, and I have a policy of linking it anywhere I can find an excuse to.
posted by BlueNorther at 12:27 PM on June 23 [11 favorites]


I disagree. Laziness has been my primary motivator for decades.

Laziness is nothing more nor less than the skill of minimizing wasted effort and I thoroughly endorse and recommend it as part of a mindset and worldview that holds minimizing waste of any kind as its highest virtue.
posted by flabdablet at 12:49 PM on June 23 [7 favorites]


I see a lot of myself in this and the comments. Actual question - how do I / we address this?

"Another tactic is the related practice of self-compassion, which is treating ourselves with kindness and understanding in the face of our mistakes and failures. In a 2012 study examining the relationship between stress, self-compassion and procrastination, Dr. Sirois found that procrastinators tend to have high stress and low self-compassion, suggesting that self-compassion “provide a buffer against negative reactions to self-relevant events."

How do we actually cultivate self-compassion? It's not really clear what that actually means in practice?
posted by artificialard at 1:35 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


I coach a lot of clients about procrastination and it is 100% true that the challenge is about managing emotions.

The primary reason most people put off doing things is because there is some feeling they don't want to feel, be it boredom, confusion, obligation, fear. We may have uncertainty about what we're doing, about getting it right, about what others will think, whether the task will move the needle at all. And because we don't want to feel these feelings, we avoid, procrastinate, ignore, bargain, ruminate and a whole host of other unhelpful strategies to manage the emotions we anticipate having.

Most of us aren't aware that procrastination is a strategy, but it is. It is a particularly crappy one. We just don't yet know how to replace this behavior with something better.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:53 PM on June 23 [14 favorites]


This is actually what mindfulness is for but we have turned that into a dirty word by misusing it.
posted by bleep at 1:55 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


Another problem is that procrastination is often rewarding. For instance, I wasn't expecting to find much of interest on MeFi today, but during a quick skim I found this thread, thus rewarding my aimless surfing pattern. Bad behavior has been rewarded. A harmful lifestyle is perpetuated. And so the procrastination loop continues.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:06 PM on June 23 [6 favorites]


How do we actually cultivate self-compassion? It's not really clear what that actually means in practice?

novice level: in a troubling situation, treat yourself as as you would a dear friend or loved one. listen carefully to your inner monologue. is it judging? is it shaming? is it discouraging? other negative talk? would you say that to your child? to a dear friend?

so, consciously say to yourself the words you reserve for precious others.

ime, ymmv
posted by j_curiouser at 2:09 PM on June 23 [6 favorites]


further...
The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life. That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ -- all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself -- that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness -- that I myself am the enemy who must be loved -- what then? As a rule, the Christian's attitude is then reversed; there is no longer any question of love or long-suffering; we say to the brother within us "Raca," and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide it from the world; we refuse to admit ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves.
- C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections
posted by j_curiouser at 2:13 PM on June 23 [7 favorites]


OTOH, isn't lack of self-discipline/willpower/&c. just a lack of dopamine?

I have had low dopamine procrastination which is definitely "oh god my brain is not creating the sauce that makes anything go" which feels like, idk, trying to run a crowbar through a paper shredder. FUBAR and like you will seriously hurt yourself if you try to do anything. And then there's executive dysfunction procrastination, not really covered by this article, which is more about confusion about how to begin/plan the action, which does lead into the emotional dysregulation described here. That kind of procrastination feels more energetic / allows procrastination accomplishments. Catching yourself procrastinating and then tracing your steps back to the thing that tripped you up, making a point of addressing those things, and then executing, is the trick.

I personally deeply hate phone calls and will never do them unless I specifically write down: the phone number, the person I'm calling, the reason I'm calling, and any additional useful details. If I don't have all of that information in front of me, I will executive function emotional whirlpool procrastinate about it until I'm in tatters. And of course, the phone call will never be made.

It's nice to have a thing on-hand that can kick off your rewards center to break the emotional nasties. For me, that's making the bed or scrubbing the toilet. Low-effort, but rewarding enough to clear the way for other actions.
posted by snerson at 6:53 PM on June 23 [15 favorites]


Popping in just to thank storybored for posting this. It was perfect timing since I had been beating myself up today for being slow on a project. Reading some of these resources, and the MeFi comments, helped me be kinder to myself and also jump in to get some work done. And I feel better now, although the deeper reason for the procrastination still exists and will exist for quite some time.
posted by rogerroger at 7:00 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


I love when I procrastinate dealing with something for so long that it resolves on its own. Like, you can't face calling your gym and arguing with it to cancel your membership, put it off for six months, and the gym goes out of business and you never have to call. It's this wildly pure form of relief and release from guilt.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:18 PM on June 23 [23 favorites]


This is really interesting.

I don't think it actually describes my motivation for procrastination. For me, it's mostly self defense against perfectionism. If I start writing a document two weeks ahead of time, I'll spend two weeks on it. If I start it two hours before submitting it, I'll spend two hours on it, and I won't feel bad about leaving it unfinished, 'cause I had "no choice." It's not an ideal strategy. But, I'm not sure these cures address that motivation. "Make your temptations more inconvenient" is definitely advice designed for someone very different from me. "Now you've made procrastination into a game? Are you trying to waste more of my time?"
posted by eotvos at 7:42 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


I don't get why I should have compassion for myself when I fuck up when people in charge don't particularly have compassion for me? I learned to hate and shame myself from other people who made sure to let me know that I am Not Okay as I am. I may think I'm great, but does that matter if the people running my world disagree, and that causes me problems?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:02 PM on June 23


I may think I'm great, but does that matter if the people running my world disagree, and that causes me problems?

yes.

i agree, shame and self-hatred are taught. however, what else are you doing tonight? a) that negative shit isn't going away by itself b) the people running your world might be in the same boat. shitty people come from shitty places. it's ok not to worry about them for now.

a smart shrink i once advised: acceptance works the opposite of what you think. don't wait to believe it before you can say it to yourself. self-talk first, acceptance second.

ime. we're all in different places.

i really wish you the best with what seems to be a terrible despair. <3
posted by j_curiouser at 8:58 PM on June 23 [7 favorites]


"the reward value of any choice is evaluated by a piece of the brain that unless we specifically pay attention to the detailed experience of the consequences of that choice just assigns the same anticipated reward value as it did last time the same choice came up."

Ooh, it's the choice coming, again..

Most valuable comment.
posted by firstdaffodils at 10:45 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


I may think I'm great, but does that matter if the people running my world disagree, and that causes me problems?


I mean this is literally me; I do think I'm reasonably great, and I know better by now than to expect most authority figures to agree. I know exactly what you mean, and yeah, this doesn't solve that problem, but ime it really is easier to cope constructively with people being crappy to you if you've managed to convince yourself that you may not be able to change their minds but you don't have to agree with them.

And honestly, really internalizing that I don't struggle to get stuff done because I'm somehow secretly a lazy irresponsible fuck but because there are real valid reasons why it's hard for me has been useful; sometimes understanding that there are actual concrete obstacles in my way and recognising what they are lets me actually find a way round them, rather than just trying to bully myself through them, which has never ever worked.
posted by BlueNorther at 4:29 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


I don't get why I should have compassion for myself when I fuck up when people in charge don't particularly have compassion for me?

Mainly for reasons quite closely related to another Judson Brewer observation: that anxiety doesn't actually help.

Quite a lot of us spend quite a lot of time defending our own anxiety, convincing ourselves and occasionally trying to convince others that worrying about all kinds of dire eventualities is the only thing that's keeping us safe from them, but this is simply not the case.

Anticipating a dire eventuality and planning effectively to head it off is not at all the same thing as worrying about it; in fact, the more anxious we become, the less effective we get at formulating workable plans based on realistic evaluations of hazard and risk.

Similarly, preventing fuckups is quite hard enough without being made doubly hard by the distraction of relentless self-flagellation. The best reason to have compassion for oneself is that not having it makes life more difficult than it needs to be, and does so for no sound reason whatsoever.
posted by flabdablet at 4:43 AM on June 24 [9 favorites]


executive function emotional whirlpool procrastinate about it until I'm in tatters
that's me!

Anticipating a dire eventuality and planning effectively to head it off is not at all the same thing as worrying about it; in fact, the more anxious we become, the less effective we get at formulating workable plans based on realistic evaluations of hazard and risk.

My lucky friend with the enviably intact executive function maintains a file called "if fired."
posted by Don Pepino at 6:14 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


I needed this post. Thanks.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:39 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


Don Pepino, I'm curious about what's in the file.
posted by evilDoug at 2:59 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I'll ask for details when next we speak.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:02 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I may think I'm great, but does that matter if the people running my world disagree, and that causes me problems?

A much, much wiser man than I once gave me this advice, "Fuck 'em all but the six you want for pallbearers."

Overall, I've regretted every time I've failed to heed this advice.
posted by mikelieman at 4:42 PM on June 24 [7 favorites]


I told my folks the other day, "Sometimes, the only way I can get myself to do a task is to identify a task I want to do even less."

This is called structured procrastination and you can use it to your advantage! I mean I can't, but maybe you can.

I've never forgotten Allie Brosh's, “I'm laterally productive. I will do productive things, but never the thing that I'm supposed to be doing.”


This is also, more succinctly, known as procrastitivity.
posted by eviemath at 5:10 PM on June 24 [10 favorites]


There's another aspect to procrastination that isn't really covered here so far. Procrastination can be a sign that there's something wrong with what you're trying to do.

I've spent the past couple of years working on an intense, bizarre creative project, and every time I've spent days or weeks putting off work on it, it ended up being because I was headed in the wrong direction.

Now, if I'd realized consciously that I was headed in the wrong direction, I'd have had two choices. Keep working, knowing I'd have to go back and re-do everything once I'd figured out what was wrong, or take a break and think this through. Procrastination was my brain going, take a break, but keep obsessing about this thing you're not doing.

Now that I've become aware of this tendency in myself, whenever I find that I'm procrastinating I take a couple of steps back, do some more background research, and do other stuff for a while. I have to have faith that I'll figure out what's wrong and how to fix it eventually, but it's a lot less stressful than beating myself up for not being able to do work.
posted by MrVisible at 5:43 PM on June 24 [7 favorites]


I don't get why I should have compassion for myself when I fuck up when people in charge don't particularly have compassion for me? I learned to hate and shame myself from other people who made sure to let me know that I am Not Okay as I am. I may think I'm great, but does that matter if the people running my world disagree, and that causes me problems?

Well, for one thing, it feels a hell of a lot better not to loathe yourself. It is a huge weight off your shoulders.

It doesn't fix everything -- when there are external pressures making you miserable, they'll still be there. But it's tremendously helpful to realize that the problem really is coming from outside.

Like: Oh, it's not that I'm lazy or incompetent or stupid -- it's that my boss is giving me a ridiculous, unreasonable amount of work. Or, It's not that I'm a really terrible partner -- it's that my partner has been treating me badly because they are in the grip of their own bad feelings.

You've still got to deal with the problem. But at least you know you should not be directing the blame at yourself.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 5:54 PM on June 25 [4 favorites]


There's probably a name for this phenomenon

One of my personal mottos is "Sometimes, procrastination works".

This week, our stolen bin turned up after roaming free for a week. I have no idea how got back to us - it wasn't labelled (we recognised the spiderwebs though). But hey, the bin is back and I did not have to deal with the hideous local government website to order another one.

It's also incredibly important in my work: "Ah, you've had an idea that requires my expertise. I'll put it on my list. At the very bottom, because it sounds like a lot of uninteresting work with little likelihood of longterm impact doesn't benefit me or anyone I like. If you really mean it, show me you care enough to do the follow through required to make it successful".
posted by kjs4 at 1:44 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


Sometimes, procrastination works

I concur, having spent many decades applying myself assiduously to the study of procrastimization.
posted by flabdablet at 5:03 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


I probably need to quit my volunteer job. I don't really want to quit, but scheduling "I'm going to teach a 4 week class six months in advance" and "I want to do plays" are just not going together and if forced to pick, I'm gonna do plays. I have just ignored the emails for over a month now. I feel shitty about ignoring them, and feel shitty about quitting, so I haven't done it. I told this to a friend and she was all, "Sometimes procrastination solves the problem," so we'll see there.

"Ah, you've had an idea that requires my expertise. I'll put it on my list. At the very bottom, because it sounds like a lot of uninteresting work with little likelihood of longterm impact doesn't benefit me or anyone I like. If you really mean it, show me you care enough to do the follow through required to make it successful".

Hahahahah, do you do tech support at my work?
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:51 PM on June 28


I just wanted to report back that I finally did the thing. Here's hoping some good will come of it.
posted by Mchelly at 12:08 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


I've been reading printed books like crazy these past days. I didn't think I still had it in me, but before I knew it, I was reading, taking notes, even doing Anki on the information, etc. I'm reading so much that my stupid eyes are hurtin 😆
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:16 PM on July 12


I still have not quit my volunteer job. I cannot answer them back.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:28 PM on July 13


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