A Not-So-Bad Habit

By Alice Inoue Posted in: Go Ask AliceImprove

The next time you find yourself procrastinating, don’t feel so guilty about it. Instead, pay attention to what it might be telling you about your true desires

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: I procrastinate when it comes to things I know I should be doing — like keeping my house in better order and clearing out more of my clutter, all the things I read about in your column. My problem is that I “know” it’s good to do those things, but I just don’t get around to doing them. And it’s not just in my home, but in other areas of my life too. I waste so much time. What is your advice?

Let’s look at procrastination from a more empowering perspective. Like you, most people see procrastination as a negative experience, but I think it can be positive. Procrastination seems to be a basic human instinct. We all do it at some point, but the time we spend procrastinating could have a positive side, mainly to give us time to reflect, gain clarity or do something else that truly inspires us. Much of what I have accomplished and have come to understand about myself is because of my procrastination. Let’s see if looking at procrastination from another viewpoint can help you as well. I’m talking about procrastination as a matter of time management, where the consequence is not that dire.

So, what are you doing while you are procrastinating?

Looking at what you are actually doing — instead of what you think you should do while procrastinating — is a valuable exercise to determine if you’re really wasting your time. We procrastinate mainly because we are not inspired by the things we think we should be doing. Instead of honoring the reason for our procrastination, we feel guilty about it; but what if what we are doing is something that will serve us in the long run?

Ask yourself a few questions:

Are the things you “should” be doing part of your agenda or someone else’s? We usually procrastinate on someone else’s — or on our own — agenda when it is not truly in line with our interests or values.

Have you noticed that you always find the time, money and energy to do the things you really want to do? When we are inspired, no one has to tell us to do anything. In your case, “decluttering” your house may not be that important to you.

What is important to you, and is that what you’re doing while you procrastinate?

When you procrastinate, look deeper. Whenever you feel you are procrastinating, ask yourself this question: “Am I really hurting myself by procrastinating?” If you are, then by all means stop procrastinating, and just do what has to be done; but if your procrastination is about avoiding the mundane while you do something you enjoy more, it is time to look deeper. What you are doing while procrastinating may be a clue to what really inspires you.

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In my case …

When I was in high school, I procrastinated heavily on schoolwork that I found tedious or of no interest. Somehow I managed to get my work done when it had to be done, but I now see that my procrastination actually helped me hone a skill I currently use.

What did I do instead of school assignments? I solved mysteries, formulated secret codes, wrote covert languages, created my own symbolism and deciphered cryptograms. Currently, as a life guide, feng shui consultant and professional astrologer, all the things I did while procrastinating as a student prepared me for what I now do every day: help people solve complex life challenges (understanding some people’s lives is like figuring out a puzzle), interpret planetary codes and understand the symbolism of the environment and how it relates to people’s lives. Because I put off what I didn’t want to do, I spent time on something that was preparing me for a career I hadn’t even considered at that time.

Cut yourself some slack

Rather than feel guilty about procrastinating, develop the perspective that procrastination may not be such a bad thing after all. What if, within your procrastination, you can find an important growth experience? You may think your procrastination is leading you astray, when, in fact, it may be showing you the way.

Embrace what you are doing and stop calling it “procrastination.” We all have things that “have to” get done, and although we may procrastinate until the last minute, we tend to still get them done. See your desire to procrastinate as an opportunity to hone some latent skill, even if it’s daydreaming. Many great writers daydream.

Make an effort to do what you love

Why not procrastinate with a new mindset? Let go of judgments about what you are not doing, and use procrastination as a way to notice what inspires you. So, when you find yourself procrastinating, do something you love. Where do you think it might lead you? See what new experiences you can invite into your life by putting greater focus on what you are doing, and know that you will clear your clutter and put your house in greater order when the time is right — like when a national publication asks if they can feature your home in their next issue. If you agree, I’m certain your procrastination will turn into motivation to get your home orderly and clutter-free in an instant.

Alice Inoue is the founder and Chief Happiness Officer at Happiness U, a friendly educational establishment at Na Lama Kukui (formerly known as Gentry Pacific Design Center) on Nimitz Highway. At Happiness U, you’ll find dozens of inspiring classes geared toward personal growth, helping you live a more purposeful and ease-filled life. Visit www.YourHappinessU.com.