Everybody Has a Theory About Procrastination. Here’s Mine.

August 27, 2014 at 4:41 pm (By Amba)

But first (ha ha!), here’s the latest new one that made me want to write this. And here’s an old post of mine presenting two opposed perspectives on procrastination, one heroic, one subversive. So there you have three other theories of procrastination (four, actually: the first link talks about procrastination as a time-management error before proposing that it may instead be a mood-regulation error).

So here’s mine.

For us to do anything challenging, and particularly anything creative, our regular everyday self has to get out of the way, and it doesn’t want to.

Our regular everyday self wants the credit for the work, and the gratification of having done the work, but in fact it cannot and does not DO the work. For the work to happen, our regular everyday self not only has to sacrifice the petty, reliable pleasures with which it lines its cozy nest and shores itself up; it has to sacrifice itself. It has to go away. It has to cease to exist for an indefinite unbounded while, a little death that for all it knows might be the big death. For the regular everyday self, this is not only unpleasant, it’s terrifying. It will put up a fight for hours, for days. Procrastination is its rear-guard action. A miniature version of this battle must be fought at the entrance to every workout, every workday.

But you can’t go in at the deep end with your clothes on. You have to shuck your regular everyday self: it’s the entrance requirement of the creative realm. Once you do, and only then, new stuff can come through, into the world through you.

And then at the end of the day or the task, your regular everyday self comes back and celebrates to find itself still alive and possessed of this new stuff that it can show off. The creative doesn’t need to celebrate. It just goes off looking for some other place where it can get into the world.

/my theory of procrastination. But does it help? It helps me.


  1. A said,

    Well, there’s procrastination related to creative work, and then there’s the dulling procrastination of dull work. I’m burdened with both, and tend to label both neurotic —
    which helps not a whit, of course. I do love being reminded of Ambivablog!

  2. wj said,

    My best solution involves having multiple things that need doing. I can always procrastinate on one thing by doing one of the others.

    Where I get into trouble is when I’m down to just one thing that needs doing…. ;-)

  3. Icepick said,

    Is it wrong that I keep putting off reading this post, or is it just thematic?

  4. amba12 said,

    Who wants to read another post about procrastination??

  5. amba12 said,

    Obviously, the reason there are so many is that obsessing about procrastination is a great way to procrastinate.

  6. amba12 said,

    Some of the time-killing websites like Distractify, I think, should really be classified as procrasturbation.

  7. Roger Green said,

    Love the Atlantic quote: “To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”

  8. dustbury.com » Read it later said,

    […] This is Amba’s theory of procrastination, and it makes as much sense as any I’ve heard: […]

  9. chickelit said,

    Heh. You just inspired me to go to the garage and pour another plastic beer.

  10. LouiseM said,

    I wasn’t inspired to do anything other than nod, which was the only action the regular self was allowing the creative self to do tonight. Because the regular self had been busy looking in the four corners of blogdom for some petty reliable pleasures when it stumbled on this surprise and fell over with a Boom! which caused the creative self to wake up from the stupor it was in, take notice, nod, and silently say “Yes! yes! yes! without moving lips while the regular self carried on about needing immediate attention and a larger shore.

    Recently, the creative self talked the regular one into buying “Painting Your Way Out of a Corner” along with a new box of Pelikan watercolors, because they seemed interesting and were fun to think and talk about. Then when no one was looking, the creative self came out to paint and had so much fun doing so, time stopped. No worries though, it started up again when the regular self came back with a list of things that needed doing to keep the nest safe and comfortable.

  11. amba12 said,


  12. Eric said,

    I apologize for the interruption, but this was the only way I figured I could contact someone associated with Jacques Sandulescu. I finally got around to reading Donbas, and was absolutely humbled by it. I was so engrossed, that it only took me a few hours to read on a recent business trip.

    Throughout the book, I kept thinking “why has no one made a film about this?” I thought maybe I could write a screenplay–a scary thought, if you knew about my utter lack of qualifications to do so–and even started theorizing how I would handle all of the languages, the aching passing of time, the coal train ride, etc. After some Googling, I turned this up:


    So, my question is, how goes the screenplay?

  13. amba12 said,

    Hello Eric. How did you know about Jacques and Donbas? I’m not writing a screenplay now but someone else has bought the film rights and intends to do so. A small independent company . . . I think they can do it, but they have to finish another film first. It’s ironic that Jacques named the book Donbas because when he wrote it Khrushchev was visiting the U.S., and news stories about Khrushchev mentioned that he was born in the Donbas region. Now it is unhappily in the news again. I’m glad Jacques doesn’t have to see that. Russia’s imperial ambitions on the march again would scare him.

  14. amba12 said,

    But that said, I like the things you worried about when considering writing a screenplay. Maybe you are more qualified than you realize. It hasn’t been written yet. Go ahead and beat these guys to it if you are so moved.

  15. Eric said,

    Thanks for responding! I wasn’t expecting one so quickly.

    How did I know about Jacques and Donbas? Well, I saw him in one of the final scenes of Moscow on the Hudson–with Robin Williams. I have a fascination with the 1980s Cold War–I am a child of the 80s, after all–especially Russian actors, and though he only had a small part, something just screamed “interesting guy” about him, so I looked him up. As you are well aware, he is not Russian, but what little I read about him on IMDB led me to do more digging. That’s when I found out about his background, and read the first three chapters of Donbas on donbas.com–I’m a WWII buff, too, so he really fit well into my interests.

    Fast forward a few years, and Amazon was having an eBook sale, and Donbas was included, so I bought it. It sat on my iPad for a few months, when I picked it as my travel book–the book I vow to read on a long trip. Well, it only last me two days into the trip, but that was a good thing, as I was so fascinated by the story. I was especially touched by his journey back–to see the faces of those who were part of that epic just brought a nice sense of closure, but I wanted more–what happened after he recovered?

    Before posting here, I found Hunger’s Rogues, and plan on reading it this week. I also read the story about Mas Oyama, and wished I could have seen that fight, not because I enjoy fighting, but just for the shear spectacle of it. Your story in Oprah also helped fill in some of the blanks (http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Journey-to-Healing-Jacques-Sandulescu-Donbas-Annie-Gottlieb).

    I also learned that he owned a Jazz club. Jazz is one of my passions–I teach it, part time–so there’s another connection.

    That so much could happen to one man is just amazing. It’s like he lived three or more lives, each one deserving to be documented. That’s why I came here.

    I know that there are so many adventures in books, but society seems to only get really excited by films, so I was hoping that someone, somewhere was trying to tackle the problem of squeezing his life into one film. You know better than I ever could, but it just seems to me to be impossible. But regardless of the outcome, his story would reach the audience it really deserves. Not that I got the impression that he wanted this, but such stories really need to be shared.

    And your last sentence–regarding Russian imperialism; near Donbas, no less!–really drives this home: if we do not learn from history, we are condemned to repeat it. My wife often asks why I’m interested in such topics–WWII, the holocaust, etc.–and I try to tell her that if we are not aware of these things, they will keep happening.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling. I hope the film gets the greenlight. In the meantime, I’ll keep pondering that screenplay. Who knows, maybe I’ll have an epiphany during my next bike ride or long trip, and will figure out a way to do his life justice on screen :-). Stranger things have happened.

  16. amba12 said,

    There are certain people that book just speaks directly to, and you are clearly one of them. One guy who knew Jacques since he (the guy) was a kid calls them the “Vanyanistas.”

    Having witnessed the second half of his life close up (he was 44 when we met, I was 26), imagine my feeling of “Where to begin??” I’d like to just write about what it was like to be close to someone of that breadth and depth. The funny thing is that when he was around, his survival story came to seem almost matter-of-fact to me. Only now is it hitting me how impossible it was. I tell it and I can hardly believe it.

    You note that he wasn’t Russian, but when I went back to the Donbas with him I realized that at that impressionable age he acquired a Russian soul. He had a lot going for him before and after that, but that was a definite component.

    Well, I’m really glad you wrote.

  17. amba12 said,

    Eric, the director who intends to make Donbas told me: “Reaction to this book is always wonderful. You can very much encourage him to write a screenplay if he wants to. Who knows, we might use elements of it when it comes down to it! It’s not about who does what, but getting the best version of this story up on screen that is possible. Ronald Reagan had a framed quote on his desk that I often remember – ‘It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.'”

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