Procrastination and Work


As I mentioned earlier this week, I am re-reading one of my favorite books, Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He talks about so many topics in ways that are counter to how we are used to talking about them and one of those topics is procrastination.

Taleb points out that we always think of procrastination as a negative thing but perhaps it’s worth thinking about procrastination as a protective device. Procrastinating in some areas (he gives the example of avoiding surgery for back pain) can give a situation (and nature) time to resolve itself. Procrastination also helps guide us in how we live our lives if we let it. Instead of thinking we need to fix our procrastination, we need to instead think about why we are wasting time on things we don’t want to do. As Taleb says, “someone who procrastinates is not irrational; it is his environment that is irrational.” He goes on to speak about writing:

“Granted, in the modern world, my tax return is not going to take care of itself – but by delaying a non-vital visit to the doctor, or deferring the writing of a passage until my body tells me that I am ready for it, I may be using a very potent naturalistic filter. I write only if I feel like it and only on a subject I feel like writing about – and the reader is no fool. So I use procrastination as a message from my inner self and my deep evolutionary past to resist interventionism in my writing.

“Actually I select the writing of the passages of this book by means of procrastination. If I defer writing a section, it must be eliminated. This is simple ethics: Why should I try to fool people by writing about a subject for which I feel no natural drive?”

This passage stuck with me when I read the book the first time and I’ve thought about it in my writing often since then. If I am struggling to write something, put off sitting down to address it, or dread having to do research about something, I’ve learned that is a sign that I shouldn’t be writing about it. It’s a good antidote to my tendency to think I “should” be writing about particular topics, which got in my way in my last blog and in my blogging for FTP. I’m committed to not being fake here, and that starts and ends with only writing about what wants and needs to come out of my brain – no “shoulds” allowed.

Now, of course this doesn’t just apply to writers. Everyone can use procrastination as a tool and as a way to prevent harmful intervention into a situation that might resolve itself. If you are a coach and you avoid certain tasks, hate when someone asks for a certain service you offer, or put off doing things like blogging for your business, then use that information to guide you. As Taleb suggests, it’s not really fair to offer things to customers that you aren’t enthusiastic about. Dump (or outsource) them and give more attention to the things you want to do in your business. Everyone will be better off if you focus your energy on your strengths.