Procrastination is a Relationship Issue

Fear of letting others down is the enemy of productivity

Nancy’s New Year’s decision was to start treatment, but she didn’t show up in my office until April. In the defense, she participated in troubles about deadlines.

Nancy, who works remotely as a pop culture journalist on a popular website, told me at our conference that her biggest challenge was procrastination. Her job became boring, and she would postpone interviews or rewrite an article until she convinced herself that she didn’t have enough time to write it. This creates anxiety and further exacerbates procrastination. She often asks for extensions, and her once-generous editor is getting frustrated.

Like most human challenges, Nancy’s struggle stems from her relationships.

Unless you are an apocalyptic preparer who lives on the grid, your job is relational-meaning that procrastination is often a relational problem. Anxiety in relationships with colleagues, family, and the entire world can cause people to worry about how people react to your work or to be lazy when others step in to do things for you. It allows you to distance yourself from those who expect you to excel, or pretend you are more capable than yourself. It allows you to focus on getting approval rather than coming up with ideas.

However, in the end we did not observe how we get along with others, but instead flagged productivity issues as personality defects. This makes us feel ashamed and stuck.

Nancy certainly saw her delay as a failed role. She told me that she has read many time management books but has never been able to apply them to them. She believes that if she can learn by herself, can get up at five in the morning or give up her obsession with reality shows, then she will release some superheroes’ mass production capacity.

Nancy was so humiliated that she couldn’t see the big picture. Because she works from home, it’s easy to forget that there are others in the game. She needs to change her mind.

I encourage her to start by listing all the people who live in her brain when she is anxious about her work. The list is long: she’s worried about the editor’s thoughts on the extension, because she can’t evaluate their response via email. She wanted to impress a new girl she saw. She didn’t want to disappoint her lovely grandmother, her house was wallpapered by her jurors for many years. To be honest, she also wanted to look good in front of Twitter followers she had never seen before.

It’s no surprise that Nancy closed her mouth after completing the task: by paying attention to the reactions of others, she invited the entire audience to watch her first draft.

People who respond particularly strongly to praise or criticism often focus on other aspects of their work. They will go to great lengths to try and look good, and there will be a lot left until the work is done. These same people also tend to procrastinate because they often think they let others down. If you imagine a friend is upset with you, you may delay calling them back. If you think your boss will be impatient, you may lie and know how fast you can complete the project. If you thought your grandma would be disappointed by failure, you might forget all the time you used to successfully complete the same task.

It’s counter intuitive to avoid worrying about disappointment and rarely lessens those concerns. Instead of alienating myself, I told Nancy to be psychologically close to the people living in her brain: her editor, her new girlfriend and grandma.

As a result, Nancy started slowly approaching. She had more conversations with editors about big ideas and their lives. She is honest about her girlfriend’s procrastination and career fear. She asked her grandmother about her decision to quit her family business. Taking a step closer, Nancy began to find herself surrounded by humans, not just fans or critics.

Nancy was determined to impress so much that she forgot why she wanted to be a journalist. Without that instructive enthusiasm, she became more focused on what others thought (or what she thought she was thinking). Because her work is always behind, she began to deny the joy of improving her productivity. She tells herself, “You can’t be excited about anything until you finish this article!” This strategy is counterproductive.

It’s easy to forget that the first step in doing something is to be interested in it. As a therapist, if I’m not curious about the client’s challenges, the help for them will be zero.

Curiosity is an important part of productivity, but our anxiety wants us to act directly-do and think-so that we can solve the problem. Our challenge is to cover the autonomous driving response with slower and more thoughtful strategies.

Nancy may find that if she doesn’t leave room for curiosity every week, her career will be boring and stressful. She took the time to write down some ideas about how to be curious about her work. She listens to podcasts while commuting, attends writer talks at local bookstores, and arranges time with friends who like to talk about big ideas. She would jump into the museum’s exhibition during her lunch break. She will continue to observe the relationship that is making her anxious.

At first, Nancy was skeptical of making herself happy. Aren’t these more ways to delay writing? How did she know the difference between curiosity and simply relaxing? To solve this problem, she decided to simply allocate a certain amount of time each week to stimulate her brain. This time it is sacred, just to regenerate energy, not to produce energy.

Over time, Nancy began to value her thoughts, just as she valued the “finishment” of her work. She found that when she made room for curiosity, she still had enough time to get the hard work done.

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