The following is a fictional account of someone who is wrestling with the age-old challenge and uniquely human experience of procrastination. Although the story is not “true” from a factual standpoint, it contains much “truth” in the larger sense of the word – and many people will undoubtedly recognize themselves in this narrative. So common and pervasive is this issue, the “author” could be any one of us. The underlying message that I hope readers will understand is that they are not alone, and resources exist to help them.
On February 1, 2021, I reached a 30-day “milestone” – a term I use here very loosely. Since the start of the year, I have managed to totally put off starting work on two pending projects that will be coming due in the next few weeks. Neither is overly demanding, but both involve matters about which I am neither fond nor particularly familiar. I’ve known about the due dates for some months, have had plenty of time to at least get started, but simply seem unable to get off the starting blocks.
Though I often find myself getting anxious when I imagine working on these projects, I occasionally applaud my ability to self-distract. I call it the magnet of other things: I simply engage in other work, other responsibilities, or other activities and try my best to not think about what I should be doing instead. I’m pretty good at finding those other things to attend to ─ not necessarily things that are less demanding, just…something else. And I find that the more I delay, the easier it gets. I confess I’m not particularly proud of my actions (or, perhaps more accurately, inactions); it’s somewhat embarrassing, frequently shame-producing, and does little to reinforce my sense of self-worth or professional competence.
Part of me knows I will get my projects done. I’ve been in this boat before. But another part of me also knows that, in the process of completing the work, there will be self-recrimination, the last-minute push, the disrupted sleep, the irritability, and the inevitable self-promise: Never Again! In short, there will be the usual negative consequences.
I do take some solace in knowing I am not alone. Many other lawyers I talk with tell me they’ve experienced some of these same behaviors. In fact, I’m told that such luminaries as Leonardo Da Vinci, Herman Melville, and Frank Lloyd Wright had their own challenges with seriously delaying that which needed to get done. I suppose I should feel better about my own delays, even though my projects are not great works of art, literature, or architecture. I guess I’m at least in good company.
Most people would call my behavior “procrastination.” And they’d be right, of course! But I’m more concerned with solutions than with labels. What I want, what I need, are some tips or suggestions that would help protect me from myself ─ ways to prevent the behavior or intervene when I’m in the middle of it.
If this experience resonates with you, I would guess you’ve Googled this topic in the past and read at least a fraction of the thousands of articles available online. Some are very good, some not so much. Let me make a couple of suggestions. First, take a look at two good solution-focused inSight articles especially for lawyers:
You can also check the OAAP’s Events page for current programs. We periodically offer procrastination workshops for small groups of lawyers, where we provide current information about procrastination and discuss effective methods to mitigate it in your personal and professional life.