Reframing procrastination: Is it time to let the guilt go?

All notorious procrastinators (and there’s probably plenty of them out there), could find solace in Fleur Daugey’s book, ‘Procrastiner pour mieux créer,’ published in April by Éditions Actes Sud. — ETX Studio pic
All notorious procrastinators (and there’s probably plenty of them out there), could find solace in Fleur Daugey’s book, ‘Procrastiner pour mieux créer,’ published in April by Éditions Actes Sud. — ETX Studio pic

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PARIS, May 5 — Mañana, mañana. No matter what it is, people with a penchant for procrastination will always get it done tomorrow. But fear not if you recognize yourself a bit too much in that description, because people who are constantly putting things off are often bursting with creativity. In any case, that’s the theory that Fleur Daugey outlines in her book, Procrastiner pour mieux créer, exploring how procrastination can actually boost creativity. 

Maybe it’s already been two weeks since you promised yourself you’d repaint the stairway, write the best man’s speech for your friend’s wedding or get on with writing your debut novel. However big or small your project, it’s like you just can’t help yourself from putting it off, almost systematically rescheduling the task until tomorrow. The problem is that when you behave this way, you can’t help but feel guilty. 

All notorious procrastinators (and there’s probably plenty of them out there), could find solace in Fleur Daugey’s book, Procrastiner pour mieux créer, [Procrastinate to be more creative], published in April by Éditions Actes Sud. 

In her book, the journalist — who is also trained in psychology — suggests that we look at the habit of putting off everything until tomorrow from a new angle. Procrastination could, in fact, be a way for our brains to better digest information, to boost our productivity and, above all, our creativity. What’s more, it even seems that geniuses like Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci were themselves champions of procrastination. ETX Studio caught up with Fleur Daugey to find out more. 

What are the common misconceptions about procrastination?

It’s often talked about as a fault, a negative emotion. In fact, many works on the subject explain how to combat procrastination. But for me, I preferred to show that it could also be associated with positive emotions.

Another deeply ingrained cliché about procrastination involves assimilating it with laziness or even with poor organisation. I myself, I’m conscious of time ticking on, I get organised by making to-do lists. And that doesn’t stop me procrastinating, while also being productive! In reality, putting things off until tomorrow stems more from a fear of doing a bad job than from having a penchant for idleness. Because you don’t run the risk of failure if you haven’t got started.

Why is it necessary to be aware of these preconceived ideas to be able to stop feeling guilty about procrastinating?

The less we do, the more guilty we feel, and the more scared we become of getting started. I think that self-acceptance helps to get rid of guilt and break the vicious circle. And therefore to “get started.” It can also be helpful to try to free yourself from society’s pressure to be always “producing more” by accepting [the idea of] doing less, but better.

To me, it also seems essential to find out what our sources of inspiration are. Personally, for example, I need to give my brain a decompression chamber, because after a few hours’ writing, I feel drained.

At these times, I don’t hesitate to take a break: I watch a TV series, I go for a walk... I’m lucky in doing a job that allows me to do that. But I above all learned to do that without feeling guilty about it, because I realized that, in the end, I am more creative when using this method.

So how can procrastination help boost creativity?

Allowing ourselves regular moments of relaxation allows us to breathe, to dream, to rest. Don’t forget that we are humans, not machines. These breaks are very precious when it comes to boosting creativity. Because when we’re “doing nothing” our subconscious is still at work. Leonardo da Vinci was, in fact, a great procrastinator and that didn’t stop him from creating masterpieces!

How can we allow ourselves to procrastinate while avoiding making things harder for ourselves, by missing deadlines, for example?

When I start writing a text that I could theoretically complete in two weeks, I decide to give myself a month, because I know that there will be days when I will feel less inspired, when I won’t want to write. Building this procrastination into my schedule allows me not only to accept it, but also to work with greater serenity.

Still, you caution that it’s important to find an “ideal” amount of procrastination time.

Research carried out by the famous American psychologist Adam Grant and one of his students showed that when we start working on a project “too soon,” it’s often the most banal ideas that come out. We often see this in the workplace, for example, with “brainstorming” sessions.

Conversely, if we get going too late, we will have less time to think calmly, because we will be working in a panic. It’s therefore wise to find an amount of time that’s sufficiently long to let the brain mull things over, but not so long that you’re unable to meet deadlines.

Obviously, this “ideal time” will depend on each individual’s personality, as well as the scale of the project. Some will find inspiration in working at the very last minute! I think that one of the best ways of finding this, is simply by listening to yourself and getting to know yourself better.

What advice would you give to someone who sees themselves as an “incurable” procrastinator?

First of all, be kind to yourself, especially by asking yourself if your procrastination really stops you from achieving what you have started. Then, I think that it’s important to identify the reasons why you can’t get going with a project, especially when it’s something that’s nevertheless important to you. These reasons can be many and varied, and you shouldn’t hesitate to seek outside assistance, from a coach, for example, should you have a real mental block. Once you’ve identified these reasons, you can get going or, on the other hand, give it up, especially if you realize that you’ve set the bar too high. — ETX Studio

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