This is not my usual post, its more of a … confessional. I won’t make it a habit, I promise.
My name is Helen Lisowski, and I am a prevaricator.
This really shouldn’t be news to me. Its certainly not news to people who know me.
Skip back through time a few decades and I can still hear my parents accusatory tones to just, please, get on with it. Whether ‘it’ was homework, chores, getting ready to leave the house. The list was long.
Although through my teenage years my parents accused me of prevarication, I refused to accept the accusation. I also, secretly, didn’t recognise prevarication as a valid problem. I couldn’t understand at the time why ANYONE would willingly do ANYTHING undesirable until they absolutely had to. It made no sense to me.
Over time, I dedicated myself to solving my real problem: time management. I was (and still am) a very busy person. I like to be organised. I get a sort of buzz from preparedness that frankly, verges on obsessional *. If I can, I like to do things early, so as to be ready in case of any unforeseen catastrophe. As a result I am almost never late.
Secretly, I like to think of myself as a sort of facet of a Jason Bourne type character – ready for anything.
But very recently I’ve had the scales fall from my eyes and now I see the true horror:
I am not preparing at all, I am prevaricating.
About a year or so ago, Melisa Collett ran a short fun workshop aimed at introducing the participants to a basic form of feedback in a safe environment. There was only 5 or 6 of us, and we had all been working together for some time. The essence of the workshop was for each of us to categorise every one else in the room into one of several categories. One of these categories was “procrastinator”. It was a fun exercise, and it gave us lots of amusement as we discussed how others perceive us and compared it to how we had pigeon-holed ourselves.
The problem with it was every single person in that room pegged me as a procrastinator, except me. At the time, I was….confused. How could people perceive me as a procrastinator? Was I really displaying behaviour that could be misinterpreted in such a way? (Ha! I laugh now….)
Yes. Yes I was, and yes I still do.
During my search for decent time-management techniques in my 20s I did develop some passably mitigating behaviour for my procrastination. However, I remain a procrastinator. I am not chronic (once I get started I’m fine – just don’t let me stop, or I’ll be off finding out whether butterflies have ears or something).
Now I am over the shock of my diagnosis, I have studied my behaviour with curiosity.
It seems I do often need a looming deadline in order to start work on something that I am not currently and immediately excited by. I consider myself lucky that the deadline need only be ‘looming’ and not ‘imminent’ (as it does for more chronic procrastinators). I’m also relieved to know that what I do produce is of good quality, so my procrastination is not too detrimental to the end product either. Just to my stress levels.
I’m also fortunate that, if I can get on with a great new idea straight away, my excitement at a new and fresh project will over-ride my tendency to procrastinate. I can get a good chunk of the work done and dusted meaning then at least I’m only prevaricating about finishing the work.
My procrastination has had some benefits too though. When I’m looking for something to do besides the task at hand, I read copious blog posts and articles. This in turn has developed into what I see as a healthy habit of curiosity and continuous self-learning. (You can read my thoughts on why this is so important here.)
My father used to call it ‘sharpening your pencils’ and I am always reminded of Rimmer from Red Dwarf, when he was studying for his exams. He spent weeks preparing an amazingly detailed study timetable, but when he had finished, he was already behind on his plan, so he had to revise it, which took more time. He repeated this same prevarication over and over until the day of the exam and he had done no real work at all, just burned time preparing to work. (You only need listen to the first couple of minutes….after that, you’re just prevaricating 😉 )
We all fool ourselves in many ways, but listening to feedback can really help us get better at the things we need to improve, not just the ones we want to improve.
If you want to read a (possibly) more sensible post about procrastination, this is Tim Urban’s post. As far as I am concerned it is the last word on understanding procrastination.
If you prefer to watch not read, he recently gave this TED talk about the subject too. And for those who share my particular sense of humour, as well as my compulsion to procrastinate, try this post of his about procrastinating about writing the TED talk on procrastination. Meta-Procrastination. This is now a thing.
* I have a pathological need to be prepared. I genuinely own one of these “inapikle” bags, a pen knife, and one of these compact survival kits, with one of these mini multi tools attached. My preferred bag is usually a version of one of these backpacks in case I need my hands free to carry my one of these. Hell, I even have some of these dice in my coat pocket in case I ever need to demonstrate just how awful human beings are at estimating (yes, I have used it. Yes, more than once.)
I have all these things with me in the office, right now.
Come the zombie apocalypse, I’m all set.