Unlearning The Art Of Procrastination

image: ChrisHamilton

Procrastination is a familiar foe of anyone creative. Which means procrastination is something that negatively affects ALL of us to some degree or other.

(I’m just starting to write this after having avoided it for a few hours for other desperately urgent tasks like folding and putting away washing, checking the latest few hundred posts on my RSS reader and, um, eating chocolate shortcake biscuits.)

In simple terms, procrastination is doing something relatively unimportant as a way of avoiding doing something more important.

It manifests itself in dozens of seemingly innocent ways, a few of those I just mentioned.

Because these days we are more highly socially connected than ever before, the potential for procrastination is greater then ever before. Imagine 10 or 15 years ago, how fewer distractions we had to stop us creating!

Procrastination is a habit, which means it’s something we learn, then do it so automatically we don’t even realise we’re doing it until it’s too late and there’s another half an hour, half a day, half a year, half a decade forever gone…

The good news though, is we can UNlearn procrastination, and develop new habits that mean we will be far more vigilant to the most common procrastination temptations. As a result, we’ll all be far more creative.

So how do we start to unlearn the art of procrastination?

The first step is to admit we procrastinate, and become aware of when we’re doing it. And a great way of doing this is to keep a form of diary. What we’re aiming for here is to record all the different ways we avoid creating, as well as the times, and circumstances when we’re most susceptible.

Just recognising the main temptations is a very good start, and by also noting when and where we procrastinate most, we can build up a complete profile of the habit. Then we can begin to overcome it.

A crucial point to mention here. You’ll most likely be shocked at how much time you procrastinate, as well as all the different ways. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

Treat this exercise as the first step towards a more creative, more aware phase of your life. This is not the time for judgement or recrimination or mourning the time lost in the past. From this point on, you’re going to be more creative.

Besides, once you realise how much creativity you were channeling into finding different, ever more devious ways of procrastinating, you can redirect all THAT creative energy into more important stuff too.

Once you identify the main ways you procrastinate, you’re in a far more powerful position to be more creative.

To make this even more effective, I invite you to share your top 5 procrastination habits with us here.

Then we can all smile in recognition at what we all post, and move on to becoming more aware and more creative together.

Is that a deal? : )

25 thoughts on “Unlearning The Art Of Procrastination”

  1. So, my top 5 procrastination habits,in no particular order…

    1. Checking email / Twitter / Seesmic.

    2. Preparing and eating food I don’t really need.

    3. Reorganising books/ CDs/ t-shirts.

    4. Cleaning stuff.

    5. Browsing hundreds of tumblr picture blogs via RSS reader.

    Recognise any? What are your top 5?


  2. LOL!
    Okay, here’s 5 of many:
    1. Checking email and “quick” peeks at fave blogs

    2. Gathering needed supplies for a project that makes me remember that I need to gather for something else, or “hey! I know what I’ll do with that!”… then, forgetting what I was doing and just going through my stash.

    3. Looking through my books

    4. Rearranging my art space

    5. Going through my iTunes library, trying to decide the perfect music list for my project!


  3. “Quick” peeks at favourite blogs? What the type that take anywhere between 15 mins and 2 hours? Ha ha, yep, been there.

    No. 4 is a classic. In a combination of your no. 3 and no. 4, I once rearranged my books in order of spine colour. Looked beautiful, but I didn’t get anything else done that afternoon.

    No. 5 is a new one on me. Can see how it can suck time though. Makes me think of Brian Eno’s series of Ambient albums like “Music For Airports”. We could come up with “Music For Procrastinating” or more usefully – “Music For Unprocrastinating”… : )

    Thanks for your input Lotus.


  4. Only 5? Ok, the top 5:

    1. Internet: Twitter, Facebook, email, eBay, artist’s web site
    2. Making another To Do list
    3. Do another load of laundry, fold, & put away (that usually isn’t urgent)
    4. Reorganizing area where I’m going to work on my art
    5. Taking (yet) more photos because the cats or dog is doing something ridiculously cute (again).

    Doing these things occasionally is Ok and sometimes necessary, but EVERY day, sometimes several times a day??? Maybe not…


  5. Thanks for your Top 5 Diane. Some very familiar there.

    I think the to do lists work well for some, and not for others. What I tend to do, and what works for me, is write a short list of 4 or 5 things I need to do at the start of a day, then begin with the most important, and tick it off and cross it through when done.

    Seeing something physically crossed through helps me feel I’ve made progress. Even if I only get one done, it’s one more than was done at the beginning of that day.

    The danger I think is having a cumulative to do list that you add and add to, one that expands far quicker than you can tick off. Then you feel completely overwhelmed.

    I read recently someone’s technique for getting stuff done each day in their business. They said imagine you only have two hours to work. What’s the best way you can use those two hours, what are the most important things to be done?

    They said they usually got more done in those two hours than they might do in a whole day of flitting from task to task, procrastinating in between and not really getting anywhere.

    I’ve tried a similar technique for writing, and in that 90min or 2 hour block shut of all distractions, including internet and phone and just written non stop. Works well for me.


  6. 1. Watching tv, keep changing channels
    2. Cleaning my work space, planning and gathering all the items necessary, keep arranging them
    3. walking in my living room, from one end to the other thinking of my plans
    4. checking my mobile for messages
    5. Writing down my to-shopping list, to-do list for the weekend


  7. Hi Jack, I love the not-to-list. Smart idea. : )

    You could expand to all different areas of life, as you’ve hinted at with the last two examples.

    I like this one especially – “Don’t worry about the actions of those people over whom I have no control.”

    Thanks for your comment.


  8. Hi Wafa, thanks for your top 5.

    I used to do 1, my equivalent now is blog hopping rather than channel hopping!

    And checking my phone for messages when it has a perfectly clear message alert tone is another one that chips away at time…


  9. Having a Not-To-Do list is a very good idea. Also the shortened To Do list is helpful. Since I’m a bit forgetful, I tend to write everything on that to do list, which becomes a mile long. By the end of the day, I’m fretting over the uncrossed off tasks rather than enjoying the ones being crossed off! Will keep these suggestions in mind. Will also try that 2 hour work day mindset. Could help with focus and streamlining activities. Many good suggestions. Thanks!


  10. Exactly Diane, if you have ALL those possible tasks in front of you at once you get completely overwhelmed.

    I read a book a couple of years ago called The Paradox Of Choice. It’s about how the greater choices we have these days actually cause us more stress and complicate our lives, rather than the “freedom of choice” idea we’re sold by the advertising industry.

    Say you went to a fruit stall and they had apples and oranges. You want an apple, so you buy an apple and enjoy it. Simple.

    But what if that stall had had 7 different kinds of apples? It might have taken you ages to decide which to buy.

    And then, whatever you DID chose, as you were eating it, however delicious it was, you’d be wondering about the 6 other varieties of apple you could’ve chosen, and whether they may have been tastier…

    Very interesting book.

    Thanks for your comments.


  11. In starting my list, I discovered something. I procrastinate about everything, not just making art, because I don’t want to feel alive. I have let pain accumulate to the point that if I get active about taking care of myself (making art, cleaning house, paying bills, etc.) I will start to feel it. Instead, I spend lots of time on the computer avoiding feeling. I went from thinking of a simple list to learning something profound in two minutes flat. I guess it’s to call a friend and rent some sad movies.


  12. 1. Email/Websurfing
    2. Television
    3. A “quick” bit of computer gaming
    4. Eating something I don’t really want/need
    5. Kid myself into thinking I’m getting things done by working a few minutes on several tasks at once but really getting nothing done and fooling no one.


  13. Randy, thanks for your top 5. All very familiar!

    No 5 is especially intriguing because it shows you’re aware you’re procrastinating, which is the first step to overcoming it.

    That kind of “multi-tasking” is something so many of us get sucked into, when in fact focusing on one thing and one thing only, and eliminating distractions for a chunk of time is the most effective way to not only make progress, also to actually get fully immersed in and enjoy creative projects.


  14. Checking e-mail too frequently is way up there in the time waster list
    Allowing myself to get side tracked is a major issue for me. I go to get or do something and find myself with another thing to do and it just snowballs. Sometimes that results in a whole lot of things actually getting done, but not the thing I intended.
    Cleaning… here again, this sometimes actually helps in the long run, but often just gets in the way. I have often used cleaning to clear my thoughts and reorganize myself when I am working and in those times it is a good tactic.
    Stepping outside to ‘get some fresh air’ and not quite getting back inside until it is time to make supper.
    Snacking… because you can’t do art (or much of anything else) when your hands are full


  15. Hi Nancy, thanks for commenting.

    “Sometimes that results in a whole lot of things actually getting done, but not the thing I intended.” – this is one of procrastination’s most devious tricks! I wrote about it recently:

    Oh Procrastination You Devious Little Minx –

    Cleaning, or any simple physical activity, I find gives my mind space to work through stuff, or just daydream a bit, which is sometimes just what you need. But as you say, recognising when you’re doing this for useful benefit, and when it’s just procrastinating, is important.


  16. lol love the picture.

    My 5 worst procrastinators:

    1. email/websurfing
    2. fb/twitter
    3. AIM
    4. cooking
    5. daydreaming

    Somehow it’s easier to daydream and play on social media than do real creative work…


  17. Thanks for sharing your top 5 Lynn. Must say they’re all ones I get caught up in too.

    Funny how if I’m out for the day, I just enjoy whatever I’m doing and don’t think about Twitter, email etc, just check it when I get home and catch up in one go. But if I’m home, it somehow seems to need checking every 5 minutes!

    Everett Bogue at Far Beyond The Stars wrote a great article about this recently:

    How to Reduce Your Email Checking to Once A Day


  18. Hi Dan,
    My top 5 are:

    Cleaning and rearranging – trying to get the space perfect before I can begin to create.

    Looking at other people’s stuff on Flickr.

    Going over old inspiration/pics and ideas but not doing anything with them.

    Drooling over lovely materials but then putting them back because I’m too afrad to start making anything with them.

    My boyfriend is really great at not procrastinating and he gets on and paints stuff every day. When I’m near him and he’s doing his thing it really makes me want to do the same so it’s great having someone else to egg me on and start creating.

    Just loving everything you say on your blog BTW.

    Nicky x


    1. Thanks for your comments and encouragement Nicky. 🙂

      I’d admit to all of those too! The lovely materials one I think is common, and in a way like a writer with a beautiful brand new journal. You could do so much with it that would be incredible, that it almost becomes too much of a risk to do anything in case it doesn’t live up to that promise.

      This is a big part of accepting our creativity, that we must just create, sometimes it’ll be amazing, other times it’ll be less so. And sometimes it’s the ideas with great promise that amount to little and disappoint us, and other times we start with not much of an idea and it evolves into something very rewarding because we stick with and let it grow. We must keep creating, keep trusting that the art and the evolution will come…

      So important to have that encouragement of other creative people to help us flourish. We see that time and time again in our creative community, CoachCreativeSpace.

      Thanks again.


  19. I realised I just poste 4 not 5 so my 5th one is doing “trivial” creative stuff which I know is just playing in the shallows and avoiding getting my teeth into deep projects because of the work and higher stakes of failure involved.


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