Monday, August 20, 2012

procrastination (and overcoming it)

Sometimes we have something to do. It could be exciting and creative (working out an idea for a new sweater), or it could be mundane and monotonous (cleaning out the garage). Whatever the task, we can imagine—almost taste—the satisfaction of a job well done . . . but we can’t get started.

Procrastination is a most prevalent and human problem. It can come from many forces (from fear of failure to too many distractions to sheer laziness), but it always has the same result: we keep putting off the task. Whether exciting or mundane, we don’t start.

Our excuses are many.
  • I need to do more research (before I start that sweater).
  • I need to clean the bathroom (before I clean the garage).
  • The job’s too big (otherwise I’d have done it already).
  • I’m too tired for it right now (because just the idea of it wears me out).
  • I have something I’d rather do (because it were fun I’d already have done it).
  • Etc, etc, etc.
So here is my very most favourite quote of all time—one that I have used with my students, with my children, and with myself: ACTION PRECEDES MOTIVATION!

Just tell yourself that you’re going to give the next 20 minutes to the task. Just 20 minutes! Anyone can do something for twenty minutes!!!! (Actually, everyone can’t. I had a student who had to face a subject 5 minutes at a time. And he got through the course material, 5 minutes at a time!) But, truly, most of us can do anything for 20 minutes.

Our reward, after that 20 minutes, is that we get to do what we really want to do. Fine. And sometimes that’s what happens: *we work for 20 minutes, do something else, go back to the task and repeat from * until it gets done.

But more often, the first 20 minutes turns into 40 . . . then into 60 . . . then into 90 . . . and before we know it, the job is done. Because action precedes motivation! Rather than sitting around and waiting for motivation to strike (and it never will, not until the in-laws are parking in the garage or the sweater needs to be shown at VOGUE LIVE!), if we simply do something, the all-important, forward-propelling motivation will kick in.

As you can probably imagine, I have something I am avoiding. This was my little pep talk to myself: I’ll show the results as soon as action leads to motivation . . . which ends with a job well done!


  1. I often find that if there is a knitting project that has been sitting for a while and I can't "get to it" it means there is some problem. If I just pick it up with the idea of figuring out what the problem is, I usually get going again.

    1. Absolutely! Isn't it great how that works?

      But sometimes NOTHING WORKS. I just cannot get motivated to finish the piece. So then my excuse for ripping it out is "I've learned all I was meant to learn from this piece."

      Works wonderfully!

    2. So true! Sometimes things don't have to be finished for us to be finished with them.:)

  2. Very true! I have a sweater sitting that just needs the sleeves knit because I have a feeling that I am going to run out of yarn.

  3. This is exactly the same issue that mine has! I think I'm going to write about this in the next post--how to figure out if it's true.

  4. I do agree that "most of us can do anything for 20 minutes". I will apply "ACTION PRECEDES MOTIVATION!" very soon myself. (Thanks Sally, I needed that!)

    But, mostly, I am looking forward to see the results of your "action leads to motivation"... and "a job well done!"