I was recently asked how I distinguish between slowness and procrastination. It got me thinking. While procrastinating can cause important stuff to stagnate, maybe slowing down is an antidote to procrastination too.
At its core, procrastination is an action that puts off, avoids, or delays our focus on a higher priority—it may be a desired outcome, an important task, or something we “should” do.
When we procrastinate, we might spread ourselves in a hundred directions. This can frustrate us when trying to start or build momentum on something essential. It might also slow us to the point of stagnation.
But if slowing down becomes our foundation, it can help us procrastinate much less. It gives us space and time to identify what matters most and move with more intention and awareness.
When we’re in a rush, we are more likely to make impulsive decisions.
The Difference Between Procrastination and Germination
Have you ever rushed into a decision, sped through something, and then wished you’d taken more time with it afterwards? Maybe you overlooked something important or didn’t give it time to grow properly.
The alternative to procrastination isn’t always to rush and “get it done”. Things need space to breathe at their own pace. In my experience, creative projects require germination periods when rather than taking overt action, I need to get out of the way so that dots can connect beneath the surface.
Sometimes the best thing to do is something else.
The Difference Between Procrastination and Exploration
Need a good way to procrastinate? Go and research procrastination. There’s a winding (and somewhat confusing) rabbit warren down there (plenty to distract me from writing this post!)
But rabbit hole diving is not always procrastination. It can be vital to processing, developing, and connecting ideas and experiences. Of course, we can quickly judge ourselves as wasting time when the sleeve of our attention gets caught on the thorns around us, but exploration is a necessary beat in the rhythm of humanity. It opens our mind’s aperture, exposing us to new ways of seeing and thinking.
Sometimes the best thing to do is explore and see where we end up.
What Does Procrastinating Feel Like?
Most of us know when we’re procrastinating. We might feel it within—a hint of guilt, tightness, and frustration. There’s often a pull of inner urgency, too, where relaxing feels impossible.
But in a world that loves to measure everything and sees growth through a lens of “up and to the right”, the same feelings we get when we procrastinate might kick in when we’re engaging in the best thing for the moment. Slowing down feels alien. Leaving space is difficult. Allowing a project, idea, or desire to take root in the soil takes tremendous courage.
Sometimes we procrastinate because we want things to happen quickly, knowing they won’t. We’ve been trained to attach growth to a feeling of usefulness and productivity. But change starts below the surface. A seed begins its journey in the dark, out of sight and beyond reach.
When you plant a seed in a pot and create conditions for the plant to grow, slowing down is not procrastination. The temptation is to keep checking, get over-involved, move it to a better spot, add more water, see if anything is happening, and add more seeds to the pot-just to hedge your bets.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
There are many reasons we might procrastinate.
Maybe we are disconnected from the bigger picture (the “why” feels distant). On the contrary, we might have too MUCH of the big picture (the project feels overwhelming). We might lack clarity with too many “priorities”, a chaotic to-do list, and erratic organisation. Perhaps we’re afraid of committing, failing, or getting stuck. Maybe we are motivated by last-minute pressure and tight deadlines.
How Do We Procrastinate?
When procrastination is a problem, it’s like an out-of-place beat in our rhythm. It trips up the groove and stops us from moving at our natural pace.
We often procrastinate by rushing towards something that isn’t important right now. But if we slow down and take inventory of the situation, we might be less likely to procrastinate.
We tend to choose the simplest thing to do at this moment. So what are you drawn towards when you don’t know what to do (or want to delay what you know you ought to do)?
Some of us use planning as procrastination. It gives us the perception of usefulness when we get bogged down in vision setting, time management tools, and developing an intricate spreadsheet to keep track of things once we get started.
Stuck In The Detail
We might zone in on a tiny detail and open a rabbit hole. Maybe we decide that we’ve got to become an expert on a specific topic before we can get started.
Open To Distraction
We might look for passive distractions. Anything except for this! Plenty of scrolling on social and email checking without action because we remind ourselves that we should be doing the other thing.
In Search of a Crisis
We might scour our surroundings (and messages) for a fire to put out. A critical distraction gives us something we can’t ignore. We might leave our notifications open, ready to respond to anything in every direction. This project might become that once the deadline arrives.
Focused On ‘The Other One’
Maybe we get drawn towards another vital task or project. Something we need to do but which isn’t planned for today. This might be a practical approach to work with ourselves to make desirable things happen.
What Do We Do With High Pace Procrastination Energy?
Procrastination is frustrating when it accelerates us towards undesirable destinations and away from what matters most. When we speed up that way, the meaningful priority slows and stagnates. The tide starts turning when we make space for slowness at the start. To grow our awareness around what is needed (and what isn’t).
Maybe it’s not slowing down that causes procrastination, but rather the other way around. And the pace of procrastination, encouraged by a high-speed world, causes us to accelerate from the foundational depths of what matters most.
What could slowing down make possible for you today?