The Procrastination Project

Reverse Whack-A-Mole
Credit: Flickr / Chris Clayson

There is something I’m working on that I’m really excited about, that if we have hung out in person I may well have talked about, but it has been going nowhere.

So “I’m working on X” has really only been true if “work” is defined as “not getting around to and feeling really guilty about”.

This was a project that I didn’t have the nerve to apply for, I thought about it, decided my ideas weren’t good enough, but someone reached out to me, and I was like YES! Here are my ideas. And they were positive and so it was all agreed and then I just… made no progress.

(And that, by the way, is an example of why it’s worth asking women to do things and rather than complaining that they didn’t put themselves forward).

I procrastinate productively. So whilst I was not doing this one project, I submitted talks for two conferences. And my blog was scheduled two months out and all I had created for this, my most important side project was… an outline.

To make this seem even more stupid, not only is this something I really want to do (directly related to my secret “What I would do if I wasn’t afraid” plan), I’ve already done at least 50% of it, and this is in many ways just a restructure and repackage of that work, with some extra bits and pieces.

After weeks of this, I finally made some progress. Not on the full day that I set aside for it, which I spent filling up my buffer of blogposts (rationale: “maybe when I have blog content done for all of this month I’ll feel like I can focus”, and then when that was done, “maybe if I just get these finished they’ll be out of my head and I can focus”). But when I set myself a goal of working for an hour on it, with a limit of 90 minutes I could work on it, because I needed to leave (checkout, eat, go to airport). And I went back to the outline, which I had forced myself to write a month earlier, and just started following it.

Turns out it was a pretty good outline. It should be, I guess. I thought about it for a month before I wrote it down.

And voila. Two out of 5 sections were done.

I don’t know that I have anything to add here than hasn’t been covered again and again elsewhere. But whilst my excuses were good and genuinely, I had been moving/without internet/sick/travelling/insanely busy at work it was only on a Sunday morning – having shut myself away since Friday night citing need to make progress on this – that I finally took a hard look at myself and admitted that I was afraid to fail at this. Better to keep it as a possibility rather than try and fail.

Which is obviously stupid, so I sat down and got working.

Some observations:

  • An outline really helps. Creating an outline is such a low bar, if I’ve been thinking about something (which if wracked with guilt over not doing it, I have) it shouldn’t take too long to write one.
  • Once I have a good outline, it’s easy to just follow it and fill in the blanks.
  • I procrastinate more on coding (for personal projects, not at work), it’s like I’m more afraid to be bad at it (who cares if I suck as a writer? I’m an engineer, there’s a pretty low bar for me there) or just feel like I have less to add.
  • Shutting myself away and just working through my excuses until I run out works. It does take a while though.
  • At least I procrastinate productively. I achieved a lot whilst not achieving this.

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