The art of procrastination for the self-employed – or, as a master* put it,
‘never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow…’
As a freelance writer, I like to think that I’ve perfected procrastination as an art form. Over the years, in fact, I’ve become so good at it that I’ve pretty much managed to convince myself that I don’t suffer from it as a problem, but that when I postpone a commissioned article until the last minute, I’m merely doing it because I write much better under pressure.
This is, of course, utter rubbish. While it’s true that I don’t like long deadlines and that I’m happiest writing things quickly and succinctly, I do put things off because I suffer from a serious case of CPS: chronic procrastination syndrome.
The trouble with the modern world is that there’s far too much surrounding us that can distract us from our set path for the day or week. Procrastination for me starts, sadly, the moment I wake up. I procrastinate about getting out of bed – particularly when it’s cold – and such is my skill that I can often lie there for up to an hour, explaining to myself why I shouldn’t get up. Of course, one of the benefits of self-employment is that I often don’t actually have to get up at a particular time… but the downside of this pattern, though, is that I tend to procrastinate even on mornings when I need to be somewhere.
Once at my desk, my dedication to delaying tactics continues. Before I can possibly even think about putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), there are several email accounts to check. Email is the curse of the modern world, and there are all sorts of techniques intended to help you manage this. Experts come out with all sorts of helpful tips about being religious and only checking your email two or three times a day, for example. They’re obviously confusing me with someone who has discipline. The little ‘ping’ of incoming communication is always enough to have me clicking straight over from my Word document – even though nine times out of ten, it’s likely to be nothing more exciting than some Nigerian spam telling me I’ve won £1m on the lottery, providing they can have my bank details to confirm my identity. It might be an offer of work, though. Best to check.
And it’s not just email that we have to contend with in the electronic age. The internet as a whole is a giant disaster area for those who suffer from CPS. Although it’s an extremely useful and quick research tool for when I’m writing serious articles, it’s also full of time-wasting sites. It’s amazing how much time can pass when you’re listening to animated cats in Viking helmets singing about their lost leopard. The sheer number of pointless sites is frightening, and there’s something to cater for every peccadillo. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s the plethora of ‘social media’ sites that we’re compelled to look at under the legitimate guise of expanding our businesses, such as Facebook, Linked In, Twitter – to name but a few of the most popular sites. I don’t ‘twit’ and I only use Facebook on a personal level (and I have managed to constrain myself to only checking that once a day, I’m proud to say), but Linked In is a genuine business-networking tool and so I can feel utterly justified languishing on various groups there for a good chunk of the day.
But, joking aside, is procrastination such a bad thing? Should I be making a New Year’s Resolution to get down to work without delay? Although I’m poor at getting started, and staying focused, I still manage to meet my deadlines. The lack of time after I’ve finished preparing (aka procrastinating) also means that I can’t prevaricate over articles. I’m rarely left with time to overthink stuff, which means that I have to have a sharp style perfected at all times. There’s no time after procrastination to start waffling!
And the thing about procrastination is that, despite its time-wasting nature, it does actually often produce new ideas and helps to promote creativity. Lastly, I never tire of the work I’m doing, because procrastination allows me to take lots of breaks from it.
Of course, I accept that as I’m self-employed person I do have the luxury of time at my disposal. But everyone, whatever they do with their lives, should indulge in a little procrastination from time to time, in order to blow the proverbial cobwebs away. Make this the year you begin to put things off…
* Mark Twain