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Tumbled Procrastination

Page history last edited by Catherine Woodgold 7 years, 5 months ago

Tumbled Procrastination


Do you tend to procrastinate?  Here's a method to, paradoxically,

use your tendency towards procrastination to actually get things done.


This method is similar to Structured Procrastination as described by John Perry: http://www.structuredprocrastination.com/

but without invoking self-deception.  I decided to use the word "tumbled" to suggest the idea

of a number of goals being overcome one after another like a row of dominoes falling.


I first started thinking about this when I read this:

"Another woman admitted that the only thing she hated to do more than ironing was addressing Christmas cards; when she realized this, she finally understood why December was the only month when her ironing got caught up!" (1)


When I read this, I thought -- hey, there's something very interesting here!  If I can only find a way to use this!

Since then, I've sometimes noticed myself energetically doing a bunch of useful things while procrastinating something else.
It's like opening floodgates. The motivation is natural, enthusiastic, energetic.  It's kindof miraculous.


Here's a hypothesis:


Hypothesis 1: "Task leverage":  The closer you come to actually being about to do a task you feel highly averse to doing,

the greater the usefulness and aversiveness of the tasks you'll substitute in order to avoid doing it.


So, you can prepare several tasks, then focus hard on the one you

feel most averse to doing, seriously consider doing it now, and try to bring yourself to actually do it. 

If you actually do it, congratulate yourself!  ... and in that case, possibly you don't have too

much of a tendency to procrastinate and don't really need this whole method.  If, on the other

hand, you instead go off and energetically do some of the other tasks you'd prepared, or other equally useful

things you think up, congratulate yourself for that, too!   After all, you could have

originally decided to do them first, and then you'd be achieving your stated goals;

isn't getting them done just as useful even if you hadn't listed exactly those things first?


For example, I planned to do an hour of Pilates exercises before doing my income tax,

even though the taxes seemed more important. One of my reasons was to use structured procrastination. 

Those exercises take a lot of willpower, and I wasn't sure I would get them done if I left them

to later in the day.  By putting them right before the taxes, which I tend to be averse to doing,

I liberated an abundant source of motivation.  Somehow, I was happy to energetically exercise

before doing taxes.


I could have had this conversation with myself:  "Euh, I don't feel like exercising right now."

"So!  Shall I start right in on the taxes, then?"  "Oh, no, no, no!  That's quite all right!  I'm happy

to do the exercises!"  In any case, somehow I had no trouble finding the willpower to complete

the exercises.  I did them, and then the taxes, just as I'd planned.


Consciously or subconsciously, one negotiates with oneself, and it may take a highly useful

and already long-procrastinated task to bargain oneself out of an even more aversive task one had

come very close to actually being about to do.


I'm not sure whether John Perry is being a little tongue-in-cheek about the self-deception

aspect, but I'm not comfortable embracing a method that purposely (and explicitly?) involves

self-deception.  However, I find that it's quite possible to use task leverage without the

self-deception.  In fact, understanding Hypothesis 1 can lead to better insight into the dynamics

of one's patterns of motivation.


I think the main factor in stirring up

the task leverage phenomenon is not importance as Perry says, but the degree of aversion one has to the task.

Importance and aversion are often closely correlated, since importance can lead

to anxiety about doing it wrong or feelings of guilt about not having done it yet; but they are not

the same thing.  Also, the degree of aversion can change with time.


Mark Forster has some nifty time management methods such as DWM, AF (Autofocus), and FV (Final Version).


These led me to:


Hypothesis 2 ("Taming"):  Each time you consider doing a task, and turn away from it

without self-punishment or shame, without invoking of reasons not to do it, and without any other

negative thoughts or feelings, there is a lessening of the aversion you have to doing that task.


In Mark Forster's Autofocus, you quickly read over a list of tasks, then read it again and let

your subconscious mind choose one by letting a task jump out at you.  In this way, you're

saying "yes" to one task without saying "no" to the other tasks.  You don't feel a need to think up reasons

not to do them.  You just calmly read them over.


When you read over a task and it doesn't jump out at you, I think that nevertheless something

good happens:  somewhere in some corner of your mind, some part of you starts to think,

"Hey, maybe, possibly, sometime I might actually want to choose this task. Why not?"

After you do this a few times, reading over the list and choosing other tasks, you might have

reduced your aversion to that task to the point where it, too, has its turn to "stand out".


This happens really fast, in a fraction of a second, just at the edge of consciousness.

The way those rapid thoughts go determines not only whether you decide to do that task

right now or not, but also whether your guilt, fear and other feelings get better or worse.

It matters in what frame of mind you read over your list.


John Perry's method requires finding a series of successively more important tasks, or

deceiving oneself into seeming to.  This might not be feasible or desirable -- but it

isn't necessary.  Instead, from time to time you can add another task which you

feel more averse to doing than the tasks already on your list.  The importance of the tasks might not change, but if you toy with

the idea of doing them in such a way that your level of aversion goes down rather than up,

you can keep adding equally aversive tasks from time to time, and

each of those can still be the most aversive task on the list at the time it's added.

In this way you can knock over a series of tasks that each initially seemed difficult.



1. Organizing for the Creative Person: Right-Brain Styles for Conquering Clutter, mastering time and reaching your goals

 By Dorothy Lehmkuhl1993, Three rivers press, NY, NY.  p. 82.


See also my home page http://www.ncf.ca:/~an588/index.html

and my pages on time management http://www.ncf.ca/~an588/time_man.html 

I wrote this while discussing in the comment section on this page http://braincutlery.co.uk/2013/02/21/why-structured-procrastination-is-just-an-excuse/


(I'm sorry that I can't easily enable the commenting feature on this page, but you can

email me, the first part of my email address being an588 and the last part freenet.carleton.ca)

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