How I learned not to procrastinate

Carmen I’m not much of a procrastinator. And I owe that to Carmen. (Montse, be sure your mom hears this!)

When I was 12, every day after school we went to Carmen’s house. We all sat around the table and, after eating a snack, we sat there and worked on homework until we were done. Carmen either helped us with our homework, or if we didn’t need help, she sat with us and knitted or ironed. (And before my sister and I learned Spanish, she’d spend time teaching us new words and reading books.) That habit of sitting down and just doing it has stuck with me. When you have a lot to do, you sit down and do it.

Some background.

We moved to Spain when I was 12. Although I was born in Spain we moved away when I was 2, so at age 12 when we returned, I spoke no Spanish. My parents put us in a Spanish speaking school. Then they got jobs teaching English in the evenings and arranged for us to stay with Carmen and her family after school. The first day I ended up in the wrong classroom. The first month, I got a zero on a homework assignment I didn’t even know I had. And I couldn’t even tell the teacher I didn’t know there had been a homework assignment. (For someone used to getting all A’s, that was traumatic!)

After school Carmen patiently spent hours working with us in the evenings. First helping us to do our homework, pantomiming all sorts of words and looking them up in the dictionary when that failed. Then when we were done with our homework, she’d bring out kids’ books and have us read them.

Over the months, we got better and faster at our homework and had more time to play. And eventually my parents got jobs teaching during the day. But for years afterwards, I still stopped at Carmen’s house after school just to sit at the table and chat. I still do, whenever I get to Barcelona!

I didn’t realize until recently that she had taught me how not to procrastinate. Don’t get me wrong, I still procrastinate, especially when I’m not sure how to do something, but it’s nothing like what it would be without the habit of sitting down and doing it. And it was a fun, friendly environment. One that I returned to even when I didn’t have homework. We all sat together at the table, Carmen, her two kids and my sister and I. We ate, worked and talked together.

Now I just have to make sure I pass that on to my kids. I guess I’d better start sitting at the table when my son is doing his homework!

How did you learn how not to procrastinate?

And here’s how I deal with the times I do procrastinate.

12 Replies to “How I learned not to procrastinate”

  1. I procrastinate by reading people’s blogs and leaving occasional tart yet ultimately work-delaying comments even when it’s clearly a bad idea to do so in terms of my overall workload. Sometimes even when I have only 10 minutes to finish something. Go me!

  2. I do procrastinate a lot, actually, most of my university exams have been passed studying the day before, rushed, and usually I have to do them twice.
    It is lately that I have a full time job _and_ still doing exams when it’s getting harder to get away without a Just Do It attitude. So I’m learning, but I think I’m not doing that bad. (Actually, right now, I’m studying for a exam I’ve been preparing for quite a few days 😉

  3. I’m not really sure where I got it since my parents were pretty liberal and not extremely demanding (going on the theory that the trial and error of life would teach me what I needed to know, I suppose), but I have always been a very goal oriented person. If a task comes up that doesn’t have a deadline already, I assign one to it. Both my conscience and my work ethic are very psychologically unforgiving and I just can’t stand to let things go unfinished when they should be. I literally can’t sleep if I know there’s something I haven’t completed on time yet without good reason. Just not certain why I’m that way, I just am.

  4. Hei Stormy,
    you are actually confirming a few of my own thoughts about ‘procrastinating’…
    “…I still procrastinate, especially when I’m not sure how to do something…” and
    “… and some procrastinating is good. It’s actually prioritization mislabeled as procrastination.”
    Exactly. I came to the conclusion that procrastination actually doesn’t exist. It’s a bit of a long arch to explain how i got to such totallity, but your statements point out the basic idea. Most cases that people label as ‘procrastination’ are cases where they actually have good reason not to do something they think they should be doing. But cases, in which they are not aware of these reasons or don’t accept them.
    One of the most common ones is in fact not knowing how to do it. How to get started, where to start, what approach to take. I have learned to deal with this problem by, firstly, getting aware of when it occurs. Secondly, accepting it, that is…instead of beating myself up about ‘procrastination’ i turn my focus to exploring why i can’t sort out how to do it. Often it is the ‘too many variables’ situation. And also, often, there is time for some of these variables to settle to be populated with values. So ‘procrastinating’ is exactly the right strategy and part of the problem solution.
    You mention prioritization as the another one of these reasons. I totally agree. But to realize that, one has to take responsibility for his own decisions. For the decision not to do this now. One has to realize this as an active step of decision making. For instance, i’m kinda famous for being really slack with any beaurocratic exchange with offical bodies like the financial office or whatever. As a result, over the course of my life i have wasted a lot of money in late fees. However, i realized this as my own decision because that money is a bearable tradeoff for doing other stuff at the same time. Stuff i want to do. I want to do that other stuff more than i want the money that i wast in those fees. Hence i’m making a decision. When the letters get a bit more demanding, i eventually come to a new decision to take a moment and do what they want me to. Beause i do not want to get into real trouble and i do not want to annoy them too much. So when the risk of annoying them too much becomes too apparent, what i WANT changes.
    That illustrates that the core realization is that the underlying assumption in ‘procrastination’ is that there is an ‘absolute should’. But actually there isn’t. No-one has the power to force us to anything. But yes, our actions – or lack thereof – has consequences. For us. If i don’t do my tax returns i have to pay some extra fees. If i WANT to avoid that, i will do them. If not, i don’t and that means i decide i can live with the consequences. But no-one actually should do them. At least not in an absolute way. Yes, you ‘should’ do this and that, if you want to have this and that outcome (or avoid some outcome).
    If you know the consequences, and you still find yourself ‘procrastinating’, you might as well admit to yourself, that gaining or avoiding the outcome has lower priority to other things in your life at that time.
    This also hints at that another factor in ‘procrastination’ is the knowledge of the consequences – or lack thereof. Sometimes it is easier to say ‘i should’ do this and treat that as a superimposed absolute than to explore what the consequences of doing it or not doing it are.
    Another big factor is emotional…the feeling of not being ready to do what one ‘should’ do. The concept of procrastination is unhelpful in this case because the underlying reason here is a valid, personal/emotional need. You may feel like you’d rather watch a movie than do your studies. This points to a need for relaxation, stress release, leisure. Often, accepting that need (rather than judging them as procrastination) and giving oneself the space to follow them (either immediately or as at a set time) often frees a lot of energy to get done one needs to be done.
    And so on…however, i found these conclusions very empowering and a foundation for actually being able to get a lot more things done, because they don’t just have interpretational value, but actually lay the foundation for strategies to organize ones time.
    I believe that i read a lot of these concepts in your words.
    Thanks for this valuable post.

  5. This reminds me that I had to prepare the CfP for that “Open Source and procrastination” workshop…
    I’ll sure do it once I’ve learned GtD… which is almost done 😉

  6. wow….well done…amazing analysis and i can feel a sense of relief in me, after reading this…
    it validates my behaviour, shows some understanding, rather than judgmenent…

Comments are closed.