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Why Procrastination Isn't About the Task


This week I’ve set aside time to write a series of posts about procrastination. And, ironically, I’ve been procrastinating on writing them.


I’ve been spinning my wheels, trying to get some words out into something that resembles a coherent blog post. I’ve made lists of topics. I’ve tried recording my thoughts as a voice memo so I can translate them into a written post. I’ve done some research. I’ve tried a number of productivity tricks to jumpstart my brain.


And I’ve made a little bit of progress but mostly I still feel stuck in procrastination quicksand.


I had a breakthrough today when I remembered something I already know really well:


My problem isn’t about writing words.


My problem is about feeling like a failure in my business and facing uncertainty about the future.


But I made it about the blog posts because it feels easier to beat myself up about blog posts than to admit I’m feeling like a failure and questioning the future of my business. I would rather make all of my anxiety about writing because it seems like I can control a blog post. I should be able to write a blog post. I’ve written posts before and I know how to do it and if I could just crank one out then I would prove my anxiety about all the other things is unfounded. I could just skip over the difficult emotions and questions and move on, if I could just finish the damn post.


But - maybe ironically - not facing the underlying uncertainty about the direction my business is going in, will keep me in quicksand with writing the post. My brain can’t be freed up to write the thing I want to write until I deal with the anxiety and uncertainty and feelings of failure. I can’t actually get clarity on writing until I get clarity in my emotions.


It’s like if you’re on a computer with a ton of programs and apps open, and you’re trying to do a task and it says it can’t do the thing because there isn’t enough working memory. You have to close out some of the other programs and tabs in order to get enough working memory to do the thing you want to do.


So why do we try to focus on the task instead of looking at what actually is taking energy away from being able to do the task? Because it feels so much safer and controlled. If I can pretend that my anxiety is about productivity instead of being about feelings of failure, I can stay “safe” in the intellectual part of my brain. Admitting this is really about me not being sure if I’m on the right path for my business, well, that feels downright scary and uncontrolled. It takes a lot of courage to go there.


And, most of us don’t have the skills or practice in going there. We learn so much in school and at work about the intellectual stuff and almost zero about the emotional stuff. We spend lots of time checking things off lists and getting things done, and not much time practicing self-awareness and building quality relationships where we can get our emotional needs met.


If you are struggling with this today, consider the steps I took before I was able to actually write this post:

  1. I journaled. I allowed myself to explore what is really going on under the surface.

  2. I cried. Not that crying in and of itself is necessary, but I gave myself time and space to be present with my emotions and feel them.

  3. I accepted where I am. Being here doesn’t mean that I’ve done something wrong. It doesn’t mean that I’m a failure if I stay here. But this really is where I am today, and it is hard.

  4. I reached out to others. I’m part of a group that is pursuing personal growth with each other, and we intentionally make space to support each other. I texted the group to say, “I’m struggling. I feel like a failure. I need some affirmation and attunement.” And I allowed myself to read the responses and take them in.

  5. I gave myself space to be productive or not be productive. Sometimes doing all of the above leads to energy and clarity that unlocks productivity. And sometimes it doesn’t. I gave myself space to still be in an unproductive frame of mind and to accept whatever came next. Today, it just so happened that what came next was an idea for writing a post and the energy to write and edit it.


If this is a consistent problem for you and you want help getting out of a difficult cycle of behavior, I’d love to connect with you about one-on-one coaching. Having a personal coach is one of the best investments I’ve made, it’s helped me have healthier relationships, improved my mental health, and unlocked my career potential. Contact me today to get started on your own journey by setting up an introductory call. You’re worth the investment!


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