Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Procrastination: Why we do it,* when we do it** - and what can we do about it***

[* like, just because; ** ALL THE TIME. *** Read on...]

Ho hum. You know how I used to say, The Procrastination Bible is for life, not just for Christmas?... Turns out it's true. Know how I used to think I was procrastinating on my PhD because of my PhD, because I thought it was a rubbish thing to do?... We-ell.....

I think I might owe my PhD a small apology.

Being a PhD survivor, a recent therapy convert, and of course, as you know, the happy owner of a Kindle-full of self-help books, I have finally done that thing where you have an epiphany about your life and you make a plan to do something cool with it. That's right. Alongside that 'grotty' job that I still do (which is actually a lovely job, and I've been making my peace with it, because after all it feeds me and pays the bills), and that University teaching gig, which I do for fun, I have also began working on - drum roll - my own creative little business. (You might remember from a very old blog post that I'm kind of into that...)

It's not yet making enough money to live on, and it's not yet well-known or big or award-winning, but it's there, it exists, you know?.... And I've never actually felt more alive, more excited, than I have been feeling for this past year, now that I have taken charge of an area of my life that previously I didn't know what to do with, and now that I have projects of my own that I care about, and that I would do in my spare time anyway - projects which are now miraculously becoming real.

So then, I ask you, why the hell am I procrastinating for most of today on some fairly simple and rewarding and creative tasks?.... Why?...

I have been asked by some nice people to do a couple of commissions. And I've had these sitting on my 'desk' now for.... what feels like weeks. And I haven't done them. One of them, half-started today, is in front of me. The others are still haunting my poor brain. I want to do them, and I want to get them out of the way, and I want to present them to the happy people and have done with it, and yet I just.... don't want to.

How very interesting. Why?... I think I know why. That moment when you sit down at a blank page, which you are miraculously supposed to bring to life with your ideas: that moment. I'm terrified of that moment. Even though I know full well that I have all the skills and capacities to sit down at that page and bring the project to its logical conclusion with all kinds of success. Even though I know very well that if I don't, all that will happen is - I will get to start again. Really, this is the most low-risk enterprise I have ever been involved in. And yet here I am, and I don't want to do it. (it's also that thing where life intrudes, some deadlines overwhelm you, job gets a little bit busy, and all of a sudden you don't feel like doing the creative project quite as much as you might have done; every time you sit down to it, you think aaaagh, that meeting at work that I forgot to email people about...)

So to all those amongst you who hate your PhD, and procrastinate on it whilst imagining the array of better, shinier things that await you on the other side of it: the Procrastination Bible is for life. Turns out we might still need it post-PhD. Turns out it's not the PhD. It's something bigger than that. Do you hate yourself sometimes because you procrastinate?... Don't hate yourself. Don't worry. Everyone does it, it turns out. Even the people with the 'cool' jobs, those ones doing their own thing, and 'living the dream'. Would you believe it - they all still can't do it either.

I don't know about you, but I think I need another one of those cut-out-and-keep lists to stick on my fridge...

Notes to Self: What to do about Procrastination

1) Rule no. 1: if you ever get commissioned to do something, make a start on that thing as soon as you get it. Literally, do it that same evening; cancel whatever else you had planned. Don't let it sit on your desk or in your files gathering dust for days while you 'think about it'. That is the worst thing you can do, because this is when procrastination creeps in. Think to yourself, 'When is literally the earliest moment that I can start working on this?'...

2) Procrastinate sensibly. Have several little projects on the go. If you find yourself procrastinating on the commission, you can get excited about updating your website or writing a blog post (woohoo!). It's still work avoidance, but at least you're working on something else... (I've been doing that today, actually. Desperate to avoid the creative jobby that's been making me uncomfortable, I've found myself spending a little bit of time on some of the other tasks which I've not managed to do earlier, and which now seem curiously appealing.

And 3), Note to self: identify which tasks you procrastinate on. (for me: those ones where I need to be creative and work to a brief, so I can't just produce any old thing and go ta-daaaah, but where I am also left to my own devices, with no immediate need for action, no face-to-face interactions to get things moving, and just an open space in time for me to fret in. I have no trouble, say, selling already existing products, or doing something which involves a direct interaction with a client; but leave me on my own with flexible time frames and a 'what-if-they-don't-like-it' kind of project, and I'll procrastinate my life away.) Solution: in the future, either say NO to such projects altogether, OR ramp up your fees for those kinds of tasks, so that they'll only come along infrequently, and so that I'll also be motivated by the financial rewards (yay!).

There. That's my little conversation with myself. Thank you, everyone, for letting me share.


CN Xxx

[Business woman/ Artiste Extraordinaire]
[New! From Cloud Nine. Now with exciting life goals!]
[Emotional inadequacies sold separately.]


  1. Hi Dr CN
    I have been reading your blog since I began my PhD, and now I've completed my PhD I am glad that you are still writing it, because I relate to everything you have written about post-phd stuff ... I am in post-phd book limbo-land ... and avoiding all thought of applying for jobs despite my dwindling finances ... I have applied for a grant to put on an exhibition but don't feel very motivated because it is to exhibit phd stuff and it seems so old hat now ... also, I think that doing a phd (it took me 7 years + 2 to write the book!) just makes you sooooo tired ... perhaps procrastination is just sheer exhaustion?
    Dr Susan x

    1. Hi Dr Susan!... Yes, perhaps!... I know what you mean. In such times, I find things like affirmations very useful - something to remind myself, first thing in the morning, of who I actually want to be and what I want to get done in life (I literally forget what I'm meant to be doing, and I start thinking 'aaagh I don't have a career' - forgetting the goals I set myself earlier!...) The book 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People'is good for that; also, Google 'Hal Elrod 6 minute miracle morning'. I think a lack of focus is my biggest problem! :)

      But enough 'advice'. Well done for applying for a grant!... Hope you get to do the exhibition (and keep the work needed to do it as minimal as possible, so you don't get fed up!) Congratulations on your book - is it out yet? Might it be time for a book party to celebrate??...

      Lots of love! Dr CN

  2. Hi Dr CN
    I got the grant! Yippee ... So my time has all been spent preparing for the exhibition ... and my book is out on 21st September 2017 ... I just need to figure out where I go from here! I have made some half hearted attempts at finding a job ... but I don't want to do 'other people's research' I want to do more of my own ... perhaps PhD's spoil you?
    Hope all is well with you ...
    Dr Susan

    1. Dear Dr Susan!.... Congratulations!!... It sounds like you are doing the right things and your efforts are getting the recognition they deserve!!.... Definitely focus on doing your own research... (Here's an 'affirmation' for you: 'I am a highly successful and prolific writer and researcher.')

      Favourite quote: 'Do it so often that it becomes real'