Overcoming Procrastination Part 4

OK.  So we looked briefly at those who have no decent work habits, then considered in detail those who couldn’t start a project and lightly touched on those who couldn’t finish one.

That leaves a whole lot of people who have no trouble starting a task and don’t have emotional barriers to finishing it either, but they struggle staying with a task during the long middle.  There are at least a couple dozen different reasons for this, but since I need to wrap up this series and move on to other things, we will just look at two groups from this large cluster.

On the surface, they look a lot alike.  They are easily distracted.  But there are two completely different drives in the two groups I am thinking of here.

The first cause is the need to know the whole story behind something.

Let me illustrate with the case of the US Airways flight which Captain Sullenberger landed successfully in the Hudson River in January 2009.  You all know the basic story line and how he was considered a hero for what he did.  We saw pictures of the passengers standing on the wings of the plane, waiting for rescue boats, and we heard sundry opinions of what happened to the engines.

When I see a story like that, my mind asks a flood of questions which the press never bothers to answer.

-Where did they go from the plane?

-How quickly can an airline mobilize a crisis response team for a situation like this?

-When did the passengers get their baggage that was left behind in the overhead bins?

-What about the passenger who was diabetic and his insulin was in the overhead bin, and he was forbidden from getting it?  Was the airport staff responsive?  Were they able to get a doctor and a prescription and get a delivery before the person was in crisis?

-What about the businessman on his way to Europe who has his passport in the bag overhead?  How long did it take for him to get it?

-Is the cargo area of an airplane waterproof?  Did they eventually get their suitcases, and if so, were they dry or wet?  How long did it take?

-How do you pick an airplane up out of the river anyway?

-So the flight attendants have to be heroic and be attentive to everyone’s needs while they themselves are living the same trauma.  How badly did it hurt them to not be able to decompress and process until hours after everyone else did?

-Do they get any sort of hardship pay after an event like that — like a month off with pay to recoup emotionally?

-What does a captain or a flight attendant feel like the first time they take off again after an incident like that?

And that is just a tiny handful of the questions I ask and would like to know the answers.  So I hear a news report, check out the pictures, and then calmly shift gears to sit down and write an article for the blog.


While I am trying to harness my mental capabilities to focus on the one thing in front of me, my mind is doing laps around the airplane story, asking all these questions which will never be answered because ILIKETOKNOWTHEWHOLESTORY!  It is an issue of design.  I was made to like the whole story.  That is what allows me to see things in Scripture others don’t see quite so easily.

Grrrrr…..   Incompetent news reporters.

The only tool I have found for defusing the drive to think about the whole thing is to put it off for a designated time.  I seem to be able to tell the HIGHLY COMPETENT investigative reporter who lives inside my head, that it will get a reasonable amount of RAM at a later point in time and it works for me — a lot of the time.

On the days when I end up doing assembly or shipping, it is a win/win.  Those two tasks can be a little, umm, how shall we say this.  Ah!  Intellectually unchallenging.  There we are.  (Nice word smithing, Arthur!)  So while I am putting the wrong orders in your box I have probably given my mind permission to go finish the investigations the incompetent news reporters never even began.

Other times it may be my bathroom time, the drive home or some other low value time slot, but I do try to allot some time every couple of days for my brain to rage at the intellectual slovenliness of the people who write everything and anything from instructions, to blogs, to news reports and leave out all the good stuff.

Now there is a significantly different mental issue that looks very much like the first one, because a person is easily distracted.  The difference is that it is, I think, more of a learned behavior.  That is the ability to see every rabbit trail that might lead to something useful in the vague, indefinite future.

And when you see a potentially useful artifact, there is the tendency to interrupt the boring job and go check out the nugget.

I think (and may be wrong) that this is learned, because the people I see it in the most are those who have at some time in their life, been responsible for delivering answers to those in need.

Now this can range from a nurse, to a chef, to a mechanic, to a computer tech.  If you are in a place where people are looking to you for answers in a situation with variables (not something standardized like an assembly line) and you never know what tomorrow’s questions will be, there will likely be a drive to acquire any resources you see lying around today, just in case . . .

For example, when we were living on the River Guama, we generally only went into the big city for serious shopping twice a year.  We had THE LIST which had been discussed, and re-discussed, edited and refined, for a month before the trip.  But as we wandered through the treasure chest of stores in town, there was such an itch to get one of everything to take back to the jungle with us, just in case . . .

Now when you shift that out of the tangible arena into the arena of thoughts, the need to acquire is endless.  Are you a doctor or a writer or an IT guy or an inner healing person?  You never know enough and you never know what tomorrow brings.

So if you have a strong work ethic (coupled with some woundedness and a legitimacy crutch or two) your tendency in any project that requires learning while you do it, is to become easily distracted.

Today’s project is right in front of you, and is known data, but that piece over there is so attractive.  You take five minutes off from the paper you are writing to check out that possible nugget, and then you plan to get back to the paper — except for the fact that while you took that detour, you spotted another possible treasure just beyond . . .

I don’t have a great answer for this dynamic which will cause the energetic thinker (especially the energetic, right brain, slightly wounded, highly responsible, thinker) to interrupt a basic left brain task 100 times.

So lacking a great strategy, here are some coping mechanisms I have seen to be somewhat successful.

First of all is plain old-fashioned character.  There are many people who have learned to just push through the mental discomfort of concentrating on one unloved task for a long period of time, so they can deliver the goods — on time.  It works in the marketplace, but sure isn’t a fun way to live all the time.

A much more common way is to do “responsible interruptions.”  This is my default tool.  When I have a three-hour task that I know is not going to be joyous, I will engage in a lot of short recesses, being careful what I do, so I don’t trigger the first problem I mentioned above.

Now, it is an art form to find something interesting that I can start AND FINISH during the 30 second recess.  It is important not to do something that is going to drag more of my brain power off to some (temporarily) forbidden zone.

So, for example, clicking over to check the news when I need a break is an absolute no-no.  No matter what story I read, I will start wondering . . .

Check e-mails?  Now that is a NO-NO to the third degree.  Nothing remotely like closure there.

On the other hand, I can go check a favorite comic.  I am there and back in 30 seconds, and a comic pretty much has to have some solid closure after no more than four frames.

Or I can interrupt Megan and ask how she is doing on something or another.  Back in 20 seconds, most likely with closure.  Very rarely does she need my help.

A trip to the kitchen for a glass of water, or a snack works.  Or a two-minute recess to go shred some of the accumulated security paper.

Sometimes I will wax the woodwork in my office.  I get out the paper towels and Lemon Pledge and limit myself to one board at a time.  When I have written four more GOOD paragraphs, I can do another board.

Childish?  Maybe.  But I find that at the end of the day, if I have played the game well and taken short recesses (WITH CLOSURE) frequently, instead of forcing myself to concentrate on one project for a long period of time, I end the day with a better project and I am less exhausted.

So the next time you visit our office, check to see if all the glass is clean and the wood work is shiny.  If so, you know I have been doing waaaaaaay too much admin work lately, because I promise you the woodwork never gets a spec of attention when I am working on one of those lovely creative projects that light me up.

Copyright February 2011 by Arthur Burk

From home for a change

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9 Responses to Overcoming Procrastination Part 4

  1. Ellen says:

    I must say, this insight and revelation has exactly what I have needed for a long time. I have so many things to do on a mental list every day, find myself having to change gears often, and find myself taking “breaks” that send me off on bunny trails often. In contrast to that, in note of “bunny trails……I find that sometimes God can show us something that is very important to note and take care of (particularly in the area of spiritual warfare) that others often view as a bunny trail. It is an observation, that when the Lord is called upon to take care of it, it does indeed save time, distractions, and brings victory more efficiently and effectively than had we ignored the situation.
    Thanks again for such profound insights!

  2. Mary-Anne Simpson says:

    This gave me SO much insight into my make-up. Thank-you! Megan suggested I read these, but I have been putting it off ……. we’ve been away, I got back to a mountain of work …. but it has really been bothering me as I never see myself as a procrastinator, I meet my deadlines, I complete my tasks, but here I was procrastinating reading an article on … procrastination. How can the truth be spoken any louder than that?
    When I got to part 4 I actually started to laugh, I had been waiting for a block of time when I could read all the parts together because I need the while picture!
    Arthur you are a lot more diplomatic than I am, when I need to do what I call “mindless” work so that my brain can operate unhindered I cook or I do filing but I have never been able to explain why I put some jobs off until the right sized block of time is available to complete them.
    Thank-you again for plotting the chart that makes me find the rout to the me I am supposed to be.

  3. Rosa says:

    Well, thanks to you, I spent a few hours and stuck out the grunt work of preplanting my garden….I really was tempted to go off on a few rabbit trails, such as mounting a bluebird house or two, but no….this series kept nagging this energetic,loosy goosy right brained , slightly wounded, highly responsible (most of the time) individual.I love the idea of short recesses…its the kid in me 🙂

  4. Tracy says:

    Ohh, the rabbit trails – I know them well! The 30-second-recess-with-closure advice is what I know will work for me. I can apply good character and soldier on to completion but often find I am so depleted at the end of it that I need an extended period of time before taking up the next big task. Admin is the most draining, really, since I am a prophetic creative. Nonetheless, it has to be done and with a good attitude, too. I tend to burn bridges when I am overwrought and tired or else when I suffer under too many self-inflicted unfinished projects. This requires good balance, self-knowledge and a great insight from you, Arthur (thank you!!) in order to keep me moving in the right direction.

  5. Janelle Nisly says:

    Thanks, Arthur, for this hugely helpful insight. I shall promptly import the 30 second-closure-strategy into my classroom. Just the right info for the right situation….

  6. Sonia says:

    You hit it bang on for me, I have enjoyed the previous blogs but this one landed. I have worked through several key issues too. Curses on time, character building, spiritual nurture, generational cleanup, and even asking Father is this is my assignment or my project. I am still here though I have had some pretty amazing growth and glory stories.
    Today I ranted in my brain for the Prophet gift while I steam mopped my laundry room. Then when I moved to steam mop another area where I was able to address how the reconciliation needs to take place with those who I know specifically curse the prophet gift with their words.
    I am a mother who juggles, small scale farming, homeschooling, massage and prayer ministry. All of which I really enjoy! I see the big picture and sometime I don’t see the sequence and how in each step, or each day, or even each moment.
    Still working on this and thank you so much for the picture of polishing furniture. I think that I don’t allow myself those little breaks or even allow myself to see their value. This is huge!
    Arthur your articles are always a blessing and always very timely!
    Bless you as you continue to bless us!

  7. Kevin says:

    dios mio! Hilariously accurate!

    Especially…. “I don’t have a great answer for this dynamic which will cause the energetic thinker (especially the energetic, right brain, slightly wounded, highly responsible, thinker) to interrupt a basic left brain task 100 times.”

    The closure insight is worth price of admission!

    Gracias Senior Arthur!

  8. Glenn says:

    I chuckled and smiled repeatedly as I read your description of how I work through each day trying to juggle completion of necessary tasks, planning for the future of our organization, attempting to be a life giver to the hundreds of people in my life and discern what Father is doing and saying.

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience steps you use to maintain personal wholeness while completing necessary tasks. I am learning to appreciate this daily struggle more and more for it is in this process that I experience a deeper reality and understanding of who Father is, that He loves me with a perfect love, that He has a plan for a future and a hope and that He has completed and finished all things in Jesus Christ, His son.

    This post was a blessing and encouragement. I will be smiling for days to come.

  9. Barb Wall says:


    You have just described the life of a busy giver momma who is constantly on the path for someone else at one point or another in the day or in a decade 🙂 I am thinking how useful it will be to implement these short and useful strategies. Some of this also sounds like giver tendencies to the max too. We take on more than we often finish because we see so many that could benefit…I have found tremendous joy and delight in implementing what you talk about in a project that takes an hour or two away from the VERY LARGER PICTURE, and no one around me gets why it seems so NEEDFUL at the time for me. I celebrate hugely when the task is done with a thrill that seems disproportionate to what I have just done. I think it is part of what you are describing to actually finish something in a short window of time. I think these short bursts of starting and finishing would be a breath of fresh air in the grind. I am going to try and work on projects that can be completed in 5 minutes or less. Thanx ever so much!.. I just finished another little project in under 5.

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