We all have one of those files. You know the one. It perpetually sits on your desk looking at you, waiting for your attention. It never seems to leave your desk nor your mind. The one that you feel an internal groan when, while at the gym or out for lunch, you think “I must get on to that”. The one that feels just so heavy and hard. The one that has that document you need to draft before its deadline but that you always find something else to pay attention to.
Perhaps its not a file but rather a task – preparing for that partners’ meeting, getting your accounts ready for the accountant, drafting your precedents. More inward groans, right?
In our outcome-driven, busyness-is-validating, action-oriented, work-hard profession (and society!), we end up beating ourselves up if we aren’t taking certain, proactive, task-oriented steps all the time. We start feeling guilt and dread whenever we think of the things sitting, waiting for us, that we haven’t turned to.
I used to think I had a procrastination problem, particularly around preparing for a hearing or drafting documents. I would leave these sorts of tasks to the last minute and then pump them out, under the pressure of the looming court date or deadline. Up until that point, they would loom over me in my head space, dragging me down. Does this sound familiar?
But, here’s the thing – once I started, what I pumped out would flow pretty well, I’d really get into the task and the end result was pretty darned good. Producing good outcomes under pressure, it seems, is my forte.
Then I discovered an article that had me discover that I don’t have a procrastination problem, I have a percolation solution. I wish I could find that article to share with you but the gist of what I discovered is this: Sometimes, particularly with creative tasks or tricky problems, we are not procrastinating. Rather, we are giving our brains the space and time to work the problem while doing other things. Ever wondered why the solution to something comes to you in the shower, or why a great idea about a task you’ve been stuck on comes to you while cruising Instagram, cooking dinner or out for a walk? Because you’ve been percolating it!
Procrastination is avoiding a task – putting it off, usually because you are avoiding an unpleasant emotion attached to tackling it. For example, I may put off sorting the accounts because it will be boring. I may put off making that call to a client because I know she will be upset and will take it out on me.
Percolation, on the other hand, is allowing ourselves to brew an idea or problem, allowing it to develop and enrich so that when we do turn to it, boom!, it flows and the result is great. Through percolation, you have the opportunity to formulate and develop ideas further, consider things from different angles and ultimately the end product benefits from this. An extreme example of this is Leonardo de Vinci who took 16 years to complete Mona Lisa but, in that time, he learned a whole lot more about light that made him capable of creating the masterpiece.
If the work you produce, after delaying it until the last moment, is great work then you are likely benefiting from using (either consciously or unconsciously) percolation as a solution.
We don’t need to be beating ourselves up about not being full-on productive ALL.THE.TIME. So much can happen, below the surface, away from the rushing from client meeting to client meeting, away from the timesheet recorded work, that is still you making progress. You're just percolating.
So, ask yourself this week - what are you percolating and what are you procrastinating?
ps: For those of you who subscribe to my blog, I have a great video about this that I am sharing in my Light Up Your Law Week email to you!