Can’t Start, Won’t Start: My Thoughts on Procrastination

My name is Charlotte and I am a procrastinator.

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It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been thinking about writing one for a while, but like many other aspects of my life, I’ve been putting it off. This morning, I had a meeting with my dissertation supervisor and she asked me to do that which I fear the most: ‘tell me about your working day.’ Even my answer wasn’t to the point. Anyway, I’ve had a sudden surge of inspiration. Over the next few weeks, I will transform myself into a super organised, high-functioning, list-making, opera-researching individual.

But first, a bit of background…

I have recently found myself faced with sudden, unbridled personal freedom. My current goals are few, but include the following:

  1. Part time job: make enough money to eat.
  2. Write 40,000 words by September 2014 (Or Jan 2015, if you really want.)

So whilst the time for research is limited, why do I find myself sat in the library (yes, the library – step one complete), with the words of Foucault’s History of Madness blurring into the abyss. I’m supposed to be reading about insane people, but my inability to complete any task is turning me into my subject. Although, there is a small part of me feels that there is some justification in putting off writing my dissertation, because surely if I wait, I will be older, and therefore wiser, and therefore more capable of writing it… No?

Even this article is a product of procrastination (Oh! The Irony.)

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I’ve been trawling Google for the solution to my procrastination woes, and the results have been overwhelming. Amusingly, it turns out that we humans have been putting things off since the beginning of time, and the puritans called it ‘the sin of folly.’ Most importantly though, I have found that many like me use the same methods and the same catch phrases, and as such, I include a brief jargon-buster for those of your who are unfamiliar with the art of procrastination:

Procrastinator: ‘I thrive under pressure.’

Translation: ‘I am not organised enough to compete tasks before the very last minute, but I still manage to muddle through.’

Procrastinator: ‘I’ll consult my to-do list.’

Translation: ‘I’ll consult my “every single menial and inconsequential task I think of in order not to face my real responsibilities” list.

Procrastinator: ‘I can’t cope’

Translation: ‘I don’t want to face it.’

Don’t be fooled, procrastination is not defined by an absence of intention – I intend to do lots of things. I just put them off. Also, it’s not fun. You don’t get that semi-euphoric, ‘I’m such a badass’ feeling of skipping a lesson at school, or purposely forgetting a boring meeting. Instead, many fellow procrastinators will be familiar with the ever-growing feeling of pressure, and of course, the dreaded mid-night angst. You know, when you wake up in the night and everything you should do, but can’t/won’t do, seems 100% more important, your inability to do it is magnified tenfold, and the impossibility of it all becomes just too much.

Why then, is procrastination such a common phenomenon? If procrastination causes us distress and discomfort, why do we do it? Personally, when I continually put off a task, it’s because deep down, I am overwhelmed by its magnitude. A quick search on Amazon brings up hundreds of self-help books on how to beat it, but perhaps this isn’t the best way. I’m beginning to wonder whether, with a little tweaking, we can use procrastination to our advantage.


There are a couple of scientists who make a distinction between ‘passive procrastinators’ and ‘structured procrastinators.’ My goal – become the latter.

This guy sums its up:

‘Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.’

– Robert Benchley

Basically, whether you’re a garden-variety dilly dallier, or if ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ is your personal anthem, structured procrastination converts us all into effective human beings: revered and admired for all we can accomplish!

For example, if I have to read an article for my research, but instead want to watch Vampire Diaries (don’t judge, its my guilty pleasure), from now on I will do neither. Instead, maybe I will clean the kitchen, check my emails, pay bills etc. All of these seemingly menial tasks will take pride of place on my mental to-do list, alongside the all-encompassing ‘write 40, 000 words’, which, under the new regime, will read: ‘think about a lit review for the first chapter’, thus diminishing its significance. Before long, I think the very fact that i have to clean the kitchen (due to its place on the list), will render me unable to do it, and I will resort to the lit review.

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So basically, as structured protagonists, we recognise and commit ourselves to tasks with inflated importance and unreal deadlines, but in making ourselves feel that they are important and urgent, we resort to carrying out the really important stuff. (Shhhh.)

Yes, yes…the nit-pickers amongst you may feel that structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception. But that’s the point: virtually all procrastinators have excellent self-deceptive skills. What could be more noble than using one character flaw to offset the bad effects of another?

In addition, my new life as a structured procrastinator will foster intellectual creativity – instead of worrying that I am procrastinating, my time can be better spent pondering life’s essential and age-old questions. Ooh, also, as a structured procrastinator, I will be very self-aware. As such, I will not just despair at my inability to do something; I will question why I’m putting it off – thus uncovering its true value. Wow.

Now, I think I deserve a break…

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