What is Active Procrastination?
Shut up and do the work already
A while ago, I was running the recruitment function for a charity when I got a new supervisor. She came in fresh-faced and bushy-tailed wanting to make her mark, the usual office go-getter stuff.
She asked me for regular updates on my work; she made me a planner to fill in, a form to show tasks completed, even a webpage to update. They were well-intentioned requests but I was hideously overworked anyway and these new tasks meant about 20% of my time was spent simply updating her on how I spent my time.
That equates to a whole day a week. It was nonsense.
Why am I telling you all this? I'm using it as a clever metaphor for all the productivity hacks touted around out there; the apps, the journals, the planners, the goal trackers and alike.
They simply don't work for the vast majority of people. They are an administrative burden, they create work, they don't reduce it.
There's an argument for having your shit together, but this isn't the way to gather your shit. This is just more shit. This is adding to your shit.
Top-hat enthusiast Abraham Lincoln (I think he was also President) once said:
"If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe."
What he didn't do is buy an app to gamify the process of axe-sharpening so he could win credits each time he posted a progress photo to social media. Nor did he buy a goals book to help him work out if axe-sharpening was a realistic SMART objective and how it fits into his 5-year plan.
Planning is fine but be realistic, nobody successful got where they are because of an app or any other crappy task embellishment. Did they dream big? Yes. Did they work towards a vision of the future? Sure. Did they plan it all out using an EVO journal for £29.99 that needed updating each day?
It's time to fight back against the tsunami of faux-productivity apps, journals, planners and tools – for want of a better phrase "hacks" – that bombard us at every turn.
Why? Because not only do they not work, they come with a side order of guilt. There's something hyper-snake-oily about them.
If you buy a mind journal then fail to update it daily or complete it as specified, you will most likely blame yourself if you fail to reach your goals rather than blaming the journal for being superfluous to your needs.
This is the problem with all personal development, if it doesn't work, the blame is shifted onto the person trying to better themselves –You must have been slacking, no you can't have your money back, please go away.
I've done the goals books, the visioning exercises, I've completed the gratitude journals, I've done my morning pages, I've tracked my foods, I've logged my workouts. Some of it works but most of it doesn't.
The only thing that did work was taking action.
When you're stressing over productivity hacks it means you're not doing the work.
Stop worrying about managing the work and… do it.
We all like fresh journals and snazzy apps to embellish tasks because it feels like we're doing something without actually doing it.
Studies show the brain feels as rewarded for procrastination as it does for doing real work because it feels like you're working on something. In reality, nothing is getting done.
This is what I call "active procrastination."
Ever needed to complete an essay but instead, you tidied your room? Or spent hours getting the right environment so you can sit down and write? All that time you could have been writing. All that time you could have been doing the work.
Sorry to play entrepreneur bingo, but do you think Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos or Gary 'I scream at you on social media' Vee use apps to manage their workload?
Do you think they fill out goals planners and templates in journals to monitor their progress?
Instead, they quite famously do the work.
Elon Musk said recently most businesses spend too much time in board rooms and on PowerPoint presentations when they could be - that's right - doing the work.
There are no productivity hacks. You just do the work or you don't.
There are no apps that will help organise your day better than a calendar. There is no to-do list better than the one you write yourself. The moment you formalise being productive is the moment it becomes a distraction.
We all know someone who wanted to start working out so spent a month shopping for activewear and the right water bottle instead of getting off the couch and going for a run.
Productivity apps are gear for the people not running. They are excuses wrapped up in faux-importance.
How to fight back
Ask yourself at all times "Why am I not doing the work?"
Sometimes, there's a valid answer, everyone needs time off for example, but often it's fear and resistance fucking with you. Don't underestimate their powers to delay and confuse proceedings.
Instead, resist their charms by removing their weapons. Start the fightback by deleting the apps and abandoning the goal journals. If you can work fine without your Pomodoro Technique app, then guess what, you don't need it.
Aim to lower consumption of all kinds and increase creativity in its place.
This all starts by… well, starting. We can work out everything we need with a pen, paper and some self-reflection. And then, action and more action.
As Bruce Lee said:
"Knowing is not enough. We must apply. Willing is not enough. We must do."
Do the work. Everything else is embellishment and detail. You do it or you fail. There is no in-between, no compromise. No app or template in a goals journal will change that. So there's only one choice you really have, and that's to start.
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