Twiddling Thumbs

self improvement, The creative urge, The Inspired Life

Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.

~Robert Benchley


Why is it that when I am supposed to be cleaning the house, I am compelled to write, when I am supposed to be writing, I am compelled to clean, when I am supposed to be working in the garden, I wish to be indoors, when I am supposed to be working indoors, my nose is pressed against the glass, gazing at the garden?

We don’t even need to get into checking the e-mail do we????


I was supposed to write this yesterday but I procrastinated and took a nap. Then I checked my e-mail and twiddled my thumbs. I was still tired. What’s a girl to do?  It was a bad day. It started with no coffee and went downhill from there.

It happens to the best of us ( and that ain’t necessarily me) once in awhile. It happens to the rest of us now and then. It happens to a few of us all the time. And that’s when the big trouble starts.

Procrastination sucks the life out of dreams, hopes, goals and plans. It is a monster that ruins marriages, friendships, business partnerships, and any other type of relationship you can have. It can get you fired. It can ruin your reputation.

Ahhhhh, no it won’t…not me…I can handle it, I’ve been doing it all my life. I did all my term papers the night before; I juggle ten things at once, pull all nighters for important company projects, and own stock in every caffeine drink there is.

Oh yeah?

I know you. You drive the people around you crazy. They just are too nice to tell you. Or if they tell you, it goes in one ear and out the other. You live on adrenaline and you make us live on it too. Even though we don’t want to. You spend your life living like a fire truck, putting out fires, one after the other, swinging your hose all over the place, getting everything wet.

Well guess what. It isn’t as productive as you think it is. Everything is piled up and your dreams and hopes and goals are all piled up too. And you are ticking everyone off. However productive you think you are, you could get more done, if you had a little planning and weren’t wasting so much time twiddling your thumbs before you started driving that fire truck all over the dang town.

Besides. Other then that awesome adrenaline rush and King of the Hill feeling every time you’ve pulled it off again…( don’t ask me how I know that) you know that it really does make you feel rather bad and tarnishes your self esteem quite a bit the rest of the time.  It’s like a drug. It may feel good for a few minutes, but it just isn’t good for you. It needs to stop if you want to do your best work.

OK LECTURE OVER— on to the helpful part…

How to Stop Procrastinating

The first key to stop procrastinating is to determine what type of procrastinator you are.

The experts have their Doc opinions but for us simpler folk, I’ve narrowed it down to these categories.

  • The Rebel This is mine- I’ll go first. I rebel against everything, even lists I made myself. As SOON as I make something my first priority on the top of the list, there is a nasty little excuse monster that starts up in my head that has a reason- and dang if it isn’t a GOOD reason- that I really should be doing something else first instead. I work, hard too, I just am doing something else other than what I was supposed to get done. I just don’t like to follow orders. I want to be free to wander about unstructured. I…am…a…brat. You would think a person would grow out of this. But I am loosing hope.
  • The Thumb Twiddler This poor guy’s got it bad. It is the “In a minute” syndrome. “I’m just going to sit here and twiddle my thumbs and read one more e-mail, watch one more minute of soaps, read one more chapter. This person’s behind never leaves the chair. There is no time management because there is no sense of time. Time is twiddled away and at the end of the day, they are shocked to find out that the day has left and they don’t even know where it went.
  • The Adrenaline Junkie It takes a strong shot of the “juice” to motivate this one. Just looking at the “To do” list doesn’t quite do it. Somewhere along the line they lost their ability to move without a swift kick in the rear. All the other categories default to this eventually, the difference is, that while most of us hate it when we find ourselves here, the junkie lives for it.
  • The Cowardly Lion This fellow would love to get things done-if only he could decide what to do. The last thing he wants to do is procrastinate. He is just waiting until he gets the job done perfectly. Fear of failure is paralyzing the Lion and keeping him tied up in ropes.

Once you have identified which type of procrastinator you are you can take steps to work on helpful hints to undo it. Procrastinators aren’t born. It is a learned behavior. That’s the good news! It can be unlearned. It is based on habits and conscious and unconscious beliefs that we have about ourselves that keep us circling in destructive patterns. By becoming proactive, we can fight procrastination and reach our goals.

You may have felt like you have identified with more than one or that you thought of more. That’s OK. Whatever the list sparked for you, write it down and see what insight you just got. The important thing is recognizing the key patterns of behavior so that we can begin to take charge of it.

Here are some tips to take charge of each of the four basic types of procrastinators.

  • The Rebel Be prepared! Awareness is the biggest part of the cure. As soon as you know that little voice is coming, you’ve already won because you are not caught off guard. Also plan your list carefully and plan it ahead of time. Make sure that your list is prioritized so that it truly has the A+ priorities in the right order so you aren’t second guessing yourself in the moment. Remind yourself-over and over-if you have to, that you have a choice, you are free to choose and you are choosing to keep your eyes on the goal, and that you want to be the best you can be. Give yourself rewards for sticking to the list. After each one is checked off, take a timed five to ten minute break, and tell yourself what a great job you did. You earned it and you love being your own boss! Then get to the next one, check that clock and see how quickly you can get that task done so you can get to that next break! After all, you are the boss! (By the way, I took my break at Dave Naverro’s site today. When you are done here go there. He has a really good article today about motivation.)
  • The Thumb Twiddler Look, here is the bad news. You have to go cold turkey. You need to identify your time wasters and put them aside until after you get some work done. Do not touch them even for one second. Remember when your Mom told you to eat your vegetables first and then you can eat your dessert? Well she was right. But it doesn’t have to be quite as bad as all that. You do have to eat your veggies first, but you don’t have to eat everything on your plate all in one sitting. Part of your trouble is you feel so overwhelmed by the big picture that you never start. We are going to break it up. This is the FLyLady fifteen minute rule and it’s brilliant. You just can’t sit down on your Bum until you’ve started, OK? Good. Go get a Timer. Set it for Fifteen Minutes. NOW START Your Project and don’t stop until the timer goes off. Now you can take a timed break and then set it for a new fifteen minutes and work again. Honestly, I think you should go to the FlyLady website right now. You need her if you are a Thumb Twiddler.
  • The Adrenaline Junkie First realize your addiction is to the thrill, not the procrastination. Now, here’s the deal. Take up bungee jumping and get your work done! OR Do something crazy like my friend Brett at Six Weeks. ( Don’t click on that link until we’re done here- you’re just trying to get out of this) Make a deal with yourself. Give yourself something to look forward to. Barter yourself. Say- “Self- here’s the deal. We are going to set up a new deadline on that project for one week early and the next day after we finish it, we are going to roll down a hill in a giant Hamster ball.” (Ask Brett, OK, you can click on the link, but come right back.) Put up a picture of the giant hamster ball on your mirror where you brush your teeth. Put it on the fridge. Make it visual. Put it all over. You need the constant rush of looking at it everywhere or it will wear off and you won’t stay motivated to get your work done. Keep yourself inspired with excitement not related to your work! Also, you might want to examine why it is that your work isn’t exciting to you. Are you avoiding doing it because it is the wrong work for you altogether? Does your personality need something else? We weren’t all put here to sit at a desk. Take a good look inside. Don’t avoid the big questions.
  • The Cowardly Lion You, my friend, are a perfectionist. I know that you are looking all around you at your stacks of unfinished work and mess and clutter and you are shaking your head no and thinking….oh, she is talking about somebody else. No…I am talking about you. Yes, Felix from The Odd Couple was a perfectionist, and that is who we tend to think of when we use that term, but there is another perfectionist and that is the one who so wants to be perfect and so fears messing up and is so afraid that the world will see our flaws that we freeze like a deer in headlights and don’t get anything done. So do this one thing. Start. Just start. And know that you are going to fail at it a little bit anyway so it won’t matter. Just say to yourself…good enough is better than not doing it at all. Pick JUST one thing-set the timer for fifteen minutes and Get started. By the way, Flylady is an expert on perfectionists. She can really help you too.

I am sure that this isn’t an exhaustive list. There is a lot more. This is a drop in the bucket. There are posts and posts to be written on each one of these. What are some of the things that you do to fight procrastination? Which ones do you identify with? How do you manage time?

Speaking of time….I have to go……

I promised Dave I would come back. Want to come with? click on the link below

But don’t forget to leave a comment first if you want to, and subscribe too if you want in the top corner!

DAVE’S POST Staying Motivated When It All Goes To Hell



20 thoughts on “Twiddling Thumbs

  1. I used to be the girl who wrote papers the night before. But as I have gotten older, I have drifted away from procrastination and I can say from experience that life without procrastination is much better!

  2. Melissa,

    which one of the procrastinators were you? how did you change?

    I never liked the pressure of doing things at the last minute. It gives me a migrane.

  3. I am the Rebel. You can beat it, using the techniques you described. Although, sometimes I think it a gift for creativity. It seems to me the spirit of a child, before an institutional school system dampens it.

    I’m learning to let that part of me out again, at the proper times… but it’s hard to keep it under control at work… 🙂

  4. Brett,

    Yes, I think you are right about the creative part. Also, I think it was that controlling dad part..although time to stop blaming him and just deal with it…I just don’t like to be told what to do…even from myself.

  5. Wendi- Wanted to stop by and say hi. I was thinking I really don’t fit into one of these categories. Then stopped and laughed, there’s a huge canvas mocking me as I write these words, Next layer please ma’am…yes, just a minute… Sometimes when I find myself “putting something off”, it’s a conflict between the two sides of my bicameral brain…it wants all of the left brained stuff nailed down, quiet…so the right brain can freely play. Then that right brain who wants no clock in the room will run freely until ,something says, hey shouldn’t you check to see if you put on your socks, or shopped for dinner, or mailed off that check, or planned out some posts?
    Now I must go push some more paint around…I’m coming..pushy damn canvas..
    All best, Jan

  6. YEAH, Jan…I know EXACTLY what you mean. That business side of me fighting with the artist. What do you think, Is that covered by the rebel catagory or do we need to make a whole new catagory?

  7. I am the Classic Rebel, I admit.

    I recently went through a couple of bad years (we all get those) and I got totally burned out. I needed a time-out. So I stopped doing things that weren’t essential. Just for a while.

    But I felt my procrastination was more out of the need to heal and recharge my batteries. Obviously there was stuff I “hadda” do (like go to work, buy food and keep my house clean). But all the other non-essential stuff got put on hold for a few months.

    But I found that by “allowing myself” to slack off like this, I got back on track a lot quicker than I would have if I had forced myself with “shoulda’s” and “coulda’s”

  8. Friar, How very wonderful to see you here!
    I love how the gang is showing up!

    Yes, I have done the same at different times..when I have hit survival mode..

    That’s when moderate procrastination has its place. Procrastination is absolutly a sign you may be heading for burn-out. That is a very good point!


  9. I just keep dozens of different projects all going at once and randomly work on them, sure it might be a week before I do my dishes but I really enjoy washing them as I find listening to the radio most enjoyable while washing dishes as I seem to be able to visualize the show much better while washing dishes, and I can clean up my apartment in the time before my favorite tv show without it being a chore, you just gotta figure out the best case scenario to do the things you do I guess!

  10. Wendi,

    Oh, dear, I am the rebel. Maybe a little of Brett’s creativity theory, a little of your authoritarian upbringing theory, and a bit (?) of my own perfectionism thrown in. I make great lists, then I rebel against me!

    I have done a lot of talking to myself about this over the years, and I’ve come to an agreement with me about which regions of life this can and can not take place in, which has helped.

    I think I have to agree with Friar… “by ‘allowing myself’ to slack off like this, I got back on track a lot quicker than I would have if I had forced myself with ‘shoulda’s’ and ‘coulda’s.'” It sort of helps if I know there are areas I don’t have to be superhuman in. I get to feel naughty, but not let anyone down, either.

    Great post!



  11. Rebel here! No doubt about it. Speaking of which, I must tear myself away from your blog and go write some. 🙂

  12. Hi Vimoh!

    I am seeing a trend of Rebels here! But maybe we are self-actualized rebels. We seem to be all managing our rebellions for the most part ok….by this point in our lives anywhay. 🙂

  13. Pingback: 6 Weeks
  14. The one good thing about procrastination is that by avoiding the one hated task, all the other tasks seem that much more attractive, It stimulates creativity.

    For example, I find I do my best blog writing when I’m supposed to be vacuuming or cleaning the toilets.

  15. Wendi, I have been all these different types of procrastinators. No, I don’t have MPD, I’m just a Gemini 😉 I’m not really sure how I grew out of it, but I think it had something to do with not wanting to pull all nighters anymore and realizing that if I gave myself a little more time, my work would be of much higher quality.

  16. OOH OOH!!! I’m good at procrastination!! I think Iactually have been all 4 different procrastinators!!! I am much better than I used to be, I think procrastination actually cost me 2 jobs, which is ok now because I like my HR job much better!!

  17. Hi Wendi- I think we get a whole ‘nuther category. Although I am sure there is a rebel in me too. Ironically the thing that helps the most with me is routines, and zones. I have a hybrid system created over time that helps me tag the bases so that no one area gets neglected , for long at least. Usually once a week I refer to my “admin. checklist”… I kind of have a reputation for being very organized…organized chaos more like.. 🙂
    I ‘m with Friar though, you have to cut yourself some slack. Necessary downtime is so essential. Creatives are almost always working, even when we’re not. We are our work… so we need to know our rhythms. Chop wood carry water….do what is essential at the time. Which right now is having a slice of freshly delivered pizza…:)
    Best, Jan

  18. Jan,

    Yes, the zones and rythems…habits are what keep me going.The creative disipline. Kind of a paradox.

    Stay tuned, That post is up next. If it comes out right.. it is circling right now, all day..round and round…boiling frogs and lack of discipline, bad habits and structure..and creativity and all….
    ah the insanity that lives in my head…you should seeeee what it looks lik in there before it turns in to words….

  19. Hi Wendi, this is a brilliant read. Rebels R Us, I chuckled when I read the description as it fits to the T. My (not so) special ability is making lists in my head and on paper of what I am to do, then the final thought, when the list is created is to start tomorrow. Of course because I need a break. I am going to try your suggestion and see whether rapid improvement can be made.

  20. I’m not going to jump on the band wagon and say I’m a Rebel, because I’m a rebel. I like the fire engine metaphors. Very nice, Wendi.

    We eventually get back on track. Hopefully? I always think about this when I see homeless people.

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