When Procrastination Isn’t

A few years ago I was working with an auditor who had a report that she was dragging her feet to get completed. She said it was sitting on her desk, and she just didn’t have the time to work on it. She said she was a slow starter but a fast writer, and that once she got to it, she knew she’d have it done in a few days.

As we grew to know and trust one another, she gradually shared with me that the report dealt with a contractor who may have violated the provisions of a contract. It was possible that she would have to ask the company to return millions of dollars. And since she essentially agreed with the contractor’s mission statement and work, but was also a believer in the system that protected her client’s money, she was conflicted about the situation as a whole.

She also opened up about some frustration she had with her supervisor, since she had previously submitted the report only to have it summarily rejected. She hadn’t been offered any feedback, only the blanket instruction, please redo.

Finally, she asked if I would read through it and give her some suggestions. So I did, and we discovered that the problem was one of selection. Once we were able to pinpoint the right criteria for selection, we could back into the narrative that belonged at the document’s beginning and lead the reader logically into its conclusion. (Sorry to be vague here, but it’s a sticky situation, and I’m under a non-disclosure agreement).

The point is this—the writer claimed to be procrastinating with the document. But when we looked closer at the situation, her procrastination was not really procrastination. There were several very good reasons, related to The Writer’s Triangle and The Writing Cycle that were preventing her from progressing. Let’s list them.

1)     The writer was conflicted about her role as the Author and the execution of the document’s Purpose. She personally felt torn between her duty to her client and her understanding of the larger picture.

2)     The Context of the document included a supervisor that was expressing displeasure with her work. As a people pleaser and a high achiever, the Author may have been placing undue emphasis on this aspect of the document and creating a negative energy around the writing experience that made approaching the task especially unpleasant.

3)     The narrative leading to the alleged breach is lengthy and involved. And because of the issues surrounding The Writer’s Triangle (see #s 1 & 2), the Author does not want to spend her time and energy detailing them. So she keeps the initial narrative brief. But as the Audience progresses through the document, new details about time and place (i.e., setting) crop up, leading to confusion.

That’s a Selection issue—Step 2  in The Writing Cycle. But the author is so anxious to be done with the document (see #s 1 & 2) that she has jumped to Step 5—Revision in a vain bid to convince herself that the document is finished and on its way out the door.

I’ve heard all the lines: I tend to procrastinate. I have a hard time getting started. I’m a slow starter, but once I get going, I just can’t be stopped.  I work better under pressure. And I can tell you this. They’re all crap.

Procrastination ALWAYS boils down to two issues: The Writer’s Triangle and The Writing Cycle. What is your Purpose? Who is your Audience? What is your role in the decision-making process? And what kind of energy are you bringing to this task? See your vision, set your intention, clear the air, and begin making notes.

Then decide where you are in The Writing Cycle and work in a way that is harmonious with that stage. Don’t fuss over spelling and punctuation when you’re trying to Brainstorm. If you’re moving paragraphs around, you’re not Editing, you’re Arranging. Remember, you can always move backwards, but you can’t jump forward until the document is ready to go.

So stop procrastinating, and slow down! You’ll be a happier writer for it.


  1. I can totally relate to this. I love how you examined the issues behind “procrastinating” and I’m now really clear about why I’ve been dealing with feeling a bit more stuck lately!

  2. Great example of working thru the issue to find out why the person felt stuck. Many times in my writing I don’t feel like I’ve hit the nail on the head, and then I don’t want to continue the writing until I’ve gotten more insight.

  3. I really like the title of this post. I do have a question: what did the writer do with her newfound awareness of the true problem?

    • Shakirah, that’s a good question. And the honest answer is, she somewhat sarcastically asked me when I had gotten a degree in psychology. And then she asked a few questions. And then she started outlining something. And then she asked for some alone time. And after about an hour, she came back to me and asked me if I thought *this* would work, and it looked really good, and I told her so. And I haven’t heard from her since then, because that’s the nature of my work. I have a feeling she’s doing really well, because that’s just the kind of woman she is–strong, determined, and smart.

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