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Putting the Brakes On: The Wisdom of Procrastination

Josh is procrastinating and he knows it. He’s never done one of these applications before and, without knowing exactly how to proceed, he keeps pushing the work to the bottom of the pile.

Alex has been asked to do a piece of research on a question that is so open ended she knows that getting a comprehensive answer is an exercise in hopelessness and will take a mountain of boring hours of work.

Josh and Alex are procrastinating, but not in the way we usually associate with the word.

Procrastination is putting off what needs to get done. We often view this as a negative thing that chews up productivity and spits out wasted days.

As a coach I often encounter something different – procrastination as the result of the wise brain putting the brakes on and saying, “don’t move forward”.

The problem is we don’t often listen.

Our brains are complex reasoning machines that are nowhere near as straight forward as our computers. They give us an enormous clutter of distracting background chatter, and remind us of important things usually when it’s too late to act.

Meanwhile, the wisest part of our brain works silently outside of our conscious mind. It’s really important insights can’t get past the noise of our external environment and internal chatter and into our alert, awake attention.

But one very important thing to be aware of is the mind-body connection. When that wise brain can’t be heard it will put on the brakes. The wise brain communicates important messages through our physical bodies and, if we pay attention to how we are feeling, clue us in that there is something important we need to focus on.

You know that physical twinge you get in the check out line in the grocery store nudging you to pause and think, wasn’t there one more thing to get?

Or that tingly sense that there’s still another important piece missing in a legal argument you’ve just drafted?

Procrastination is another one of these physical cues that there is something to pay attention to.

In Josh’s case, he needs to take a different action. His body’s braking system is on because it’s best he NOT to work on the application. He needs to talk to someone who can walk him through the required steps.

In Alex’s case, the research question is ill conceived. She knows how it could be framed into several, more precise questions that will produce the required answers. She needs to NOT invest the mountain of hours in the vague request but go back to the practice group leader to discuss how to focus the research for better results.

Next time you notice there is something you are avoiding on your to do list, pause and ask yourself these questions:

  • What is it about this task that has me putting it off?
  • Do I need more information?
  • Does the task itself need to be reframed?
  • Or, is it something dull that I’ve have done so many times before that I could delegate it and provide a learning experience for a young lawyer?

Pay attention. Don’t miss the signals from the wise brain when they come.

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