Published: February 14, 2021

The 56th EDITION
The 56th: Procrastination isn't about poor time management

THE MAIN THING …

“We all procrastinate but not all of us are procrastinators,” says Dr. Joseph Ferrari, a research psychologist, university professor, and a world-renowned expert on procrastination.

He says that while we all procrastinate from time to time (80% of us), we’re not all chronic about it (20% of us). And by chronic, he means people who procrastinate in all aspects of their lives. It’s more or less their modus operandi.

There’s a difference between the occasional delaying and postponing of tasks — which can even be useful sometimes (I’ll get back to this) — and the “maladaptive behavior” that chronic procrastinators exhibit.

The good thing is this is a learned behavior, not a trait. Therefore, it can be changed. Whew!

What doesn’t help

Google procrastination and you’ll get loads of time management techniques and strategies. (A few of the most popular ones are in the Interestingly segment below)

Dr. Ferrari says time management DOES NOT fix procrastination. Maybe, for the few whose problem really stems from poor organization, one of these techniques may work.

If you are a habitual procrastinator, you will generate excuses for why those strategies don’t apply to your life.

The problem is, more often than not, our urge to procrastinate comes from something other than our inability to allocate and use time wisely.

Where does it come from

In this very lively episode of Ologies (podcast), Dr. Ferrari says people who procrastinate are often concerned about social acceptance or social esteem. And so, fear of failure is one of the reasons we procrastinate.

Interestingly, fear of success is also a typical cause of procrastination because there is an external social consequence of success.

One thing Dr. Ferrari pointed out was this idea of lack of ability versus lack of effort.

Some of us procrastinate because, if it doesn’t work out, blaming it on lack of effort on one’s part is soooo much more palatable than lack of ability. (Ooof! I really hated that he hit the bullseye for me on that one.)

There are also folks who procrastinate because they are adrenalin-junkies. They believe they’re at their best under pressure. So they put off things until the very last minute to induce the feeling.

Clearly, if we are procrastinating because of one of these reasons, the best time management strategy, app, or journal ain’t going to help!

What helps procrastinators

Some of the techniques Dr. Ferrari discussed in the Ologies episode:

  • Tell your friends or publicly post your plans. Studies long before Zuckerberg came up with Facebook show that things have a higher chance of happening when announced publicly.
  • Surround yourself with doers, not with other procrastinators. (Interestingly, procrastinator bosses don’t give procrastinator team members a break! In fact, they are harder on them.)
  • Don’t let others let you off the hook. Ask to be held accountable.
  • Procrastinators see the forest and never the trees. So, focus on the trees. Break up the mammoth thing into parts-pieces.
  • If procrastination is pervasive across different areas of your life, get professional help in cognitive behavior therapy (not organizational or time management).

When it might actually help

Best-selling author Adam Grant discusses the surprising habits of original thinkers in this TED Talk.

Grant says there is a sweet spot where moderate procrastinators (the 80%) have shown to be more creative than chronic procrastinators (the 20%) or the precrastinators (which is apparently a thing. Precrastination is a tendency to work on tasks at the earliest opportunity—even if it means more work or comes with extra costs.)

Grant says procrastination is a vice in terms of productivity but it may be a virtue for creativity.

Bottom Line

Ok. So what to make of all of these. As always, self-awareness is the first step.

If your procrastination is truly borne out of disorganization or poor time management, then study the different techniques, pick what suits best, and stick with it.

If you’re in the 80% camp and your procrastination may be related to fear or some socially-related anxiety, try some of the techniques Dr. Ferrari suggested.

If procrastination has become chronic across different areas of life, don’t waste your time with time management strategies. Seek help to address the underlying behavior.


A GREAT WAY TO SPEND YOUR TIME

With all the changes happening in the world, it has never been more critical to stay competitive. And a lifelong learning approach is the key to remaining relevant. A membership at Great Courses Plus gives you access to over 6K in-depth videos on hundreds of college-level topics. There are courses on Science, History, Wellness, Professional Photography, Cooking, Technology, and so much more.

You can give it a try for 14 days first to check out all the classes and see if it fits your needs. That’s what I did!

*P.S. This is an affiliate link.


INTERESTINGLY…
  • Here’s the 5-minute time management technique that Elon Musk apparently uses (and no one can argue that dude is productive). Dr. Ferrari mentioned this method could help with the trees-not-forest suggestion.
  • The Pomodoro Technique, literally named after the tomato-shaped timer the inventor used, is probably the simplest productivity / time management technique out there. All you need is a timer. No special apps, books, or tools required. Here’s the Pomodoro Technique 101.
  • If the Pomodoro Technique is the simplest, I think the Bullet Journal (BuJo for short) sits on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system with a whole cult-like following. The question is can BuJo save you?
  • Timeboxing is the most studied, most verified technique for sustaining good routines, maximizing productivity, and acting on your values in general. Here’s a guide to timeboxing.
  • And no self-respecting list of time management techniques will be complete without GTD (Getting Things Done), created by productivity consultant David Allen. This very famous method is based on a five-step process. My head hurts already.

MULL IT OVER

“Some say you can do it all. I don’t want to do it all. I was trying to do it because I thought I had to. It’s that whole ‘hustle is sexy’ and grinding more is what it takes. I just don’t believe in that any longer because I’m at a point in my life where I think it is more about just being really effective. And that comes from inside.”

Kathy Bourque, author of Conquering Busyness


SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

What time management technique do you follow?

If I get enough responses, I’ll share ’em in next week’s edition 🧡


BOOK NOTES ▿

Still Procrastinating: The No-Regrets Guide to Getting it Done
by Joseph R. Ferrari, Ph.D

Contrary to conventional wisdom, chronic procrastination is NOT about poor time management, but about self-sabotaging tendencies that can prevent you from reaching your full potential.

Check out the book here.


REMEMBER THE TIME…

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

Oooh, we know where that line came from! On Valentine’s day thirty years ago, the film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, Silence of the Lambs was released in the US. The movie starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins became the fifth highest-grossing film in 1991 worldwide. And it won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay.

Incidentally, Hopkins’ brilliant performance won him the Best Actor for 16 minutes of screen time (!) as Hannibal Lecter.


WHAT’S PLAYING

Find the Common Thread and Lean Into it Further

The phrase ‘reimagine yourself’ conjures up images of radical change — some kind of obvious pivot that looks like a sharp right turn made from the left-most lane to a casual observer. Yes, that kind of transformation happens. Often though, it’s the subtle, little changes that occur that add up… and eventually, transform us. (Also, less nerve-wracking!)

Yvonne Marchese is a mom, wife, former actress, and professional photographer. And since 2020, we can add podcaster to that list. As part of the Reimagining Ourselves series on the podcast, I chatted with her recently to talk about this recent change. What quickly became obvious was that this is a leaning in kind of a move. Yvonne figured out the common thread across her professional life and leaned into it further.

As you listen (or read the highlights) of Ep 153, ask yourself what are the common threads in your experiences. How might you lean into that even more?


because it’s valentine’s day

Sooo grateful (to the moon and back) for the cups and mugs of coffee that you have subsidized. 🧡 Masaji, Melba, Yvonne, Mary Beth, IdeaFactory, Alex, Shannon P, Yvonne, Jacquette, Janice, Shannon H, Cherrie, Anjie, Alison, Wendy, Stacey, Nancy 🧡

If you like or find value in this newsletter, please consider buying me a coffee (or two)! I love putting together this newsletter… and your support means the world!

Buy Me a Coffee


LAST WORD

I don’t BuJo. I don’t Pomodoro either.

I generally timebox. And I swear by my weekly Dashboard which I built on Notion and has replaced all the tools I used to have.

Also, I’m doing this auto-focus time management system. This approach has been the closest to helping with my procrastination tendencies. But I’m not great at it yet. I shall continue to practice.

Here’s to a productive, delay-free week ahead. Also, mask up!

Cool beans,
Lou Blaser

P.S. Looks like last week’s topic on time affluence and happiness resonated for many of you, judging from the number of emails I received. If you haven’t caught the whiff, I’m exploring the topic of TIME here for the month of February. 😉


ABOUT LOU BLASER

A former management consultant and IT leader, Lou Blaser is the editor of Briefing Notes and the host of the Second Breaks podcast. She is also the author of Break Free: The Courage to Reinvent Yourself and Your career. Lou’s work is focused on helping experienced professionals navigate an evolving work landscape so they can continue their impact and relevance in a changing world.

The world of work is changing.

Stay smart about it.