Grand Master of Procrastination

By Slow Dad - May 20, 2017

You are the boss of you, take ownership of your time. Learn to recognise, accept, then work around your shortcomings by pushing your own buttons.
I had set aside today to complete a university assignment that is due early next week.

The assignment wasn’t a big deal, 2500 words that should have taken about 3 hours to complete... had I just sat down and done it!

A promising start

I got up, had breakfast and was all ready to get started.

Then I defrosted the freezer instead.

Then I went and read Monevator’s weekly round up, followed by Miss Mazuma’s heartfelt defence of the Avocado Toast guy, followed by TFS’s tongue-in-cheek rant against rich entitled folk.

Then my 4 year old son wanted to build a Lego garage together, but instead of throwing up a quick couple of walls (which would have sufficed) we built a 12 storey six foot tall monstrosity, with interconnected walkways, stair cases, slides, and so on. It had picnic areas, a helicopter landing pad, and even an ice cream shop.

Then I took myself away from the distractions and finally opened up my computer... and completed my PAYE tax return that was not actually due until January 2018!

Clearly my heart wasn’t in it.

Now it was lunch time, time for a well earned break.

Grand Master of Procrastination

A couple of sandwiches later I sat back down at the computer, starting to despair. Trying to get myself to knuckle down was like trying to get my kids to do their own homework, only funnier. Force myself to sit down and do something I clearly didn’t want to do was about as difficult (and productive) as trying to nail jelly to the wall.

If at first you don't succeed... go do something else?

I decided rather than force it, I would start out typing up something I might enjoy. Like this blog post. The idea being that I had plenty of time, the words would start to flow, and then I’d be able to seamlessly move over to the assignment.

That got me to thinking, how did it come to this?

Back when I was a university student ~20 years ago I learned the hard way there wasn’t much mileage in being super organised and completing assignments early.

The few times I did during my first year, either the lecturer subsequently changed the question or provided some form of guidance or clarification as to where the big marks lay.

Inevitably I’d approached things a little differently, and as a result I had to effectively complete the assignment a second time.

Which sucked mightily, because the reason I’d completed them early in the first place was to ensure I’d have the time to work on the assessment due in the other 5 courses I was concurrently studying at the time!

Climbing the corporate ladder for fun and profit

A few years later, after 74 rejection letters, I landed in the full time work force as a freshly minted Accountant.

I’d seen through the slavery of unpaid/low paid internships, and the long cons that are graduate programmes.

If I was going to be graduate cannon fodder then at least I wanted to earn a decent wage while being exploited!

Instead of targeting graduate level positions I aimed one rung higher up the ladder (which effectively beat the typical graduate programme starting salary by about 50%).

I observed that in the workplace you get asked to do things.

Lots of things.

All. The. Fucking. Time.

Every time a random idea appeared in the head of a lackwit boss or gormless co-worker, it would shoot out of their mouths in the form of some ill-conceived request that inevitably landed on someone else’s desk (often mine).

I also observed that more than half the time that same boss or co-worker never asked about their request again. The need went away, priorities changed, the urgency diminished, or it just plain got forgotten about.

This taught me a valuable lesson: that somebody else’s panic does not have to become my own.

somebody else’s panic does not have to become my own
It also taught me to be the master of my own destiny, within the remit of my role I would choose what I worked on, when I worked on it, and in what order I would complete the tasks I had been assigned. If a task had no apparent value, or was clearly bullshit, then I just didn't do it. I didn't make a big song and dance about it, just put the request in my bottom drawer and sat on it.

somebody else’s panic does not have to become my own

You are the boss of you. Take ownership of your time

This epiphany has served me well throughout my working life, though I suspect it made me an even bigger pain the backside to manage than I had already been!

However it also meant I was much less stressed out doing busy work than any of my co-workers, which in turn meant I usually had the time to volunteer for interesting projects or to tackle the real value add tasks.

Both get you noticed, in a good way, far more than those colleagues for whom the only tangible measure of their productivity was how many hours they occupied a desk (unless you work for a large American investment bank or a large consultancy, in which case the amount of time you are seen to be at work is far more important than the actual value of any output you may happen to produce!).

This "don't sweat the small stuff" approach meant I had a far more enjoyable work life than I would otherwise have experienced.

don't sweat the small stuff
Unfortunately it also reinforced a behaviour if I ignored most unpleasant task they would eventually go away.

Learn to recognise, accept, then work around your shortcomings

Luckily I recognise, and accept, this shortcoming in my character.

I have learned to work around it.

The reason I semi-regularly sign up for organised long distance running races isn’t because I’m an obsessive runner. Or super competitive. Or even that I particularly enjoy the atmosphere and camaraderie associated with sharing the experience with thousands of fellow runners. To be honest I could care less about all those things.

No, the real reason is because I recognise that I’m lazy.

Procrastinators are lazy... and good at it!

However I am also stubborn, and stubborn beats lazy.

stubborn beats lazy
Therefore if I’ve shelled out for the price of admission then I will make myself turn up for the event rather than see the ticket price wasted.

Once I have started a race, I will make damn sure that I finish it.

And the effort of hauling my idle self around a silly number of kilometres is much less painful if I’ve put in some training for the event.

Therefore to get myself exercising semi-regularly it requires the motivation provided by the fear of going into a race undercooked. Otherwise I’d stay sat on my backside writing blog posts that poke fun at the followers of the 4% rule.

Outside influences can ensure accountability

Which brings me back to studying.

The reason I’m doing this unit isn’t because it would particularly aid the profitability of my business. Nor because I am chasing yet another qualification to stroke my ego or enhance my employability.

No it is because I am genuinely interested in learning the finer points about a somewhat dry topic that would cause most healthy minds to turn tail and flee at great speed.

However I also know that this won’t be a rollicking Peter Hamilton or Brandon Sanderson plot, with George Martin-esque characters or an early Jeffrey Archer twist in the tale.

Therefore the chances of me actually sitting down and forcing myself to wade through vast quantities of turgid academic writings on the matter are about as good as those of me lacing up my trainers and going for a run in the rain on a cold winter morning just because I should.

Push your own buttons to achieve the behaviours you desire

How do I get myself to read it then?

Sign up for a post-graduate university unit, pay some tuition fees for the privilege of having deadlines imposed and a need to grasp the concepts well enough to convince an assessor of my work that I have at least a vague inkling about the subject matter they are teaching.

And yet here I am, nearing the end of a blog post and about to actually start that much procrastinated over assignment.

Procrastination over Personal Finance... a common affliction

Before I go I wanted to note the one other time that my mind dances, dodges, and does anything possible to evade performing a task that I know I should do, but seem to be able to find an infinitely long list of preferable things to do instead.

No it isn’t getting a proctology exam.

Nor going to the dentist.

Ironically (given where you are reading this), it is actually looking at my own personal finances.

More precisely looking at my family’s spending, savings rate, and evaluating whether or not our living costs at growing at a greater rate than our passive income streams will support.

Don’t get me wrong, I think monitoring and understanding this stuff is super important.

It is just no fun at all.

Nor is it likely to make me happy, let alone give me a warm fuzzy feeling of inner peace.

Dances, dodges, and evades
This picture has nothing to do with my post, but it is cool nonetheless.

For a bunch of different reasons (families are complicated) I’ve always found it much easier to generate more income, than it is to tighten belts or cut back on spending.

Partly that is because we don’t lead a particularly extravagant or big spending lifestyles.

And partly because we happen to call an expensive part of a super expensive city home. It is the cost of housing that is a killer, and the lifestyle trade-offs required to achieve a material difference on that front just don’t pass the smell test for me.

No matter how much we would like it to be otherwise life is about compromises, and every choice we make comes with an associated opportunity cost of other things we have forgone.

So what?

I am very fortunate to run a profitable business that offers an in-demand service (for the moment) to a wide range of clients who are (for the moment) willing to pay a pretty penny for the privilege.

I am also very fortunate that I long ago got my finances in order, following the basic principles of personal finance, that have allowed me to become financially independent.

For the most part it is good to be me. Except for the procrastination part, and the assignment I must now go complete.

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  1. I love that a simple lego garage turned into a 6 foot project! You have to love the imagination!! :)

    I recently heard on a podcast the idea that a task will take as much time as you give it. Based on that theory, if you have a task that takes 20 minutes and is due in 1 hour, you will start doing it in 40 min. Since you have a 3 hour project that has to be done early next week, it will probably take you until early next week to get it done! ;) I am certainly guilty of procrastination. Knowing something doesn't ave to be done until later I naturally prioritize something else in the meantime. Building a kick ass lego garage was definitely a better priority!

  2. Absolutely Miss Mazuma, it is all about priorities. And you are right, work tends to expand to fill the time available... which is why there are so many underemployed folks around hoping to look busy for fear of being found out and given more to do (or let go as being surplus to requirements!).

    The assignment ended up taking 2 hours (I may be an accountant at heart, but I've learned to provide Engineers estimates!), and should be good enough for a distinction. If I'd gotten it done after breakfast I probably would have enjoyed my Saturday more, but woulda/coulda/shoulda never helped anybody :-)

    And playing with Legos is always fun, plus it won't be too much longer before the little bloke decides he is a "big boy" who doesn't want any help. Seize the moment, we certainly can't bottle them for later.