Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why I Procrastinate

On this final day of the old year, I woke up at 4:30 (aided by my soft, sweet alarm clock named Snickers, who likes her breakfast early). I headed to my desk bound and determined to make at least some progress on a certain work-related task that has been hanging over my head, filling me with dread and despair, for the past six weeks, a task that I had meant to accomplish over Thanksgiving break, but couldn't make myself face then, a task I had mean to accomplish through all of December, but kept putting off until this morning, when it could be evaded no longer.

I sat down at my computer at 4:35, my trusty mug of Swiss Miss hot chocolate beside me, and made myself set to work.

Now, at 7:35, a mere three hours later, the task I procrastinated on for six full weeks is done. I feel lighthearted - oh, the joy of being able to face the new year without this task to do! But I also feel puzzled: why, oh why, didn't I devote those three measly hours to this task sooner and get it done, done, done?

I have a new theory about this.

This was a task that could have been done in one of two ways:
1) an extremely thorough, painstaking, labor-intensive way that would have involved many hours of toil on my part
2) an extremely simple way that would have achieved results a teensy bit less good, but perfectly satisfactory, with next to no toil on my part.

The reason I procrastinated so long was that I wanted to make sure that I had run out of time to take the first approach and would be forced to take the second approach, the approach I had known all along that I was going to take, but somehow felt guilty for taking unless I absolutely had no choice but take it because the time to take the first approach had run out.

I do this all the time! I know there is a hard way to do x and an easy way to do x, and that I'm going to choose the easy way, and that the easy way will be perfectly fine (only an itty-bitty bit less fine than the hard way). But I feel guilty about choosing the easy way. So I procrastinate until time has run out for choosing the hard way. And then I do x the easy way and marvel at how easy it was, after all.

I'm wondering if in 2014 I can just give myself permission to go straight to the easy way, given that I know from abundant past experience that I'm going to take it anyway, as I always do. Why not trade a few weeks or months of dread for a few seconds of needless guilt? Or skip the needless guilt altogether?

We seem to have a need to valorize the hard way. The hard way, the steep climb, the rocky path is supposed to be the path of virtue. But in my experience, the easy way, the gentle ascent, the flower-strewn path gets me to the same destination.

So here's to scampering down the flower-strewn path for 2014.


  1. Oh, I love this. Thanks for illuminating this thing we probably all do. Here's to the easier path in 2014 . . . and enjoying it!

  2. Wow-- now that you've said it, it seems so obvious -- but we do play mind games with ourselves... Thanks for a great post! Happy 2014!

  3. Thank you! I needed this. Now I'm procrastinating reading your thoughtful blog!