Writing and the Creative Life: “The Power of Structured Procrastination”

“The beauty of the structured procrastination method is that it recognizes the extreme challenge in changing that pro-tomorrow vein, and runs with it instead of against it.”

I am not immune to work. Indeed, I am probably one of the hardest working people I know, regularly clocking in with 80–100 hours per week doing all the things I do in this odd professional lifestyle I’ve cobbled together for myself. But even as efficient as I have become over the years in getting things done, occasionally I get stalled by a specific type of procrastination.

It typically involves a task that is big, complicated, and will require a large chunk of time, energy and concentration to complete. Since I have so many other things on my daily work list, I’m pretty easily able to dive into those instead of the more pressing and significant Big Ticket Item.

The problem with that approach, as with any undertaking subject to sustained procrastination, is the tasks doesn’t go away, it doesn’t get any easier, and in fact often becomes more of a hassle to handle the longer I wait.

Of course, I know this from the get-go, yet faced with a list of responsibilities for the day, sometimes I will busy myself with lots of other items that need to be taken care of convincing myself this is the best course of action.

Meanwhile the Big Thing sits there festering…

If every task I took care of was just busy work, that would be one thing. But how I handle all the stuff on my plate directly impacts the time and energy I have for my own personal creative pursuits. And I really don’t want to carry over my procrastination to that arena.

Thus when I stumbled upon this article — “The Power of Structured Procrastination” — I was immediately curious. Structured? Procrastination? Riffing off an old George Carlin bit, those two words don’t seem to go together like “Jumbo Shrimp” or “Military Intelligence.”

So I cracked open the article written by Walter Chen and found his thesis to be an intriguing one:

That sounds very much like what I already do, putting other responsibilities ahead of the Very Important Task. How to use this approach to take on the Big One?

The thinking here seems to be two-fold:

  • By putting the Very Important Task lower on the to-do list, we demystify it at least conceptually. It’s no longer the Big Pain In The Ass Task, rather it becomes one of many, its power to create procrastination undercut.
  • Through the process of getting all this other stuff done, we get into a positive state of mind and can take that as well as the forward momentum we’ve created with us to our eventual date with the Very Important Task.

Raised a Southern Baptist, I was trained in the mentality found in the Biblical verse (James 2:17): “Faith without works is dead.” That can be an effective motivator, however I’d prefer not having the threat of eternal damnation hanging over my head when avoiding a Very Important Task.

At the very least, structured procrastination sounds friendlier.

So next time, I think I’ll go that route.

How about you? How do you handle procrastination, especially related to your creative activities?

For the rest of the article, go here.

Writing and the Creative Life is a weekly series in which we explore creativity from the practical to the psychological, the latest in brain science to a spiritual take on the subject. Hopefully the more we understand about our creative self, the better we will become as writers. If you have any good reading material in this vein, please post in comments. If you have a particular observation you think readers will benefit from and you would like to explore in a guest post, email me.

For more Writing and the Creative Life posts, go here.

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