The Link Between Procrastination and Purpose

Admit it. You procrastinate.

We all do it sometimes. (Dont’ believe me? Check out this vintage Ellen DeGeneres take on the art of procrastination. Sound familiar?)

But what is the purpose of procrastination?

As a regular columnist for several online and offline magazines over the years, I have come to realize that, like Ellen illustrates, procrastination is often a necessary part of the creative process. When the words just aren’t coming, and the desire to do laundry, make soup, or re-organize my closet takes over, I have learned that this isn’t always a bad thing. Some of my best ideas have come to me when I took my mind off of the writing for awhile and did something completely different. I have also noticed that the less guilty I feel about these little “side trips”, the more likely I am to get those visits from the inspiration fairy that lead me to drop my vacuum in the middle of the living room and head back up to the office to finish my project.

But wait. Before you get tempted to give procrastination free reign to fuel your creative process consider this: as an entrepreneur who has worked predominantly from home since long before it was considered hip to do so, I can also attest to the fact that the cleaner my house is, the less likely I am to be doing the most important things I need to do to move my business forward.

I believe there is also another, more fundamental root to procrastination. With close to three decades of experience coaching people to discover their purpose and follow their passions in life and work, I have noticed a strong relationship between procrastination and clarity of purpose.

There is an inverse relationship between purpose and procrastination. The more clear you are on your purpose in life and work, the less likely you are to procrastinate.

Why?

Ever noticed that it is easier to follow through on something when you are doing it for someone else than when you are doing it for yourself? This is why deadlines, coaching and support groups work. As human beings, we are naturally wired to look out for and help others, even at our own expense. From an evolutionary perspective this is related to our survival. Tribes of people that placed the interests of the group above their own survival lasted longer in a harsh world.

The very nature of purpose involves having a strong “why” that serves something greater than yourself, so it taps into this deeply ingrained instinct for survival. These days, we aren’t struggling against the elements, but we do need to band together to survive the stress of the modern world.

When you have a strong sense of purpose, it energizes you and focuses your actions on what matters most. When you don’t have a strong sense of purpose, you fall prey to relying on productivity to give you a sense of accomplishment and significance. Measuring your worth by how much you can get done in a day, however, has it’s limits. Your to-do list is never-ending. The more successful you are, in fact, the more likely it is that you add more to your to-do list each day than you check off.

The people you look up to (the ones who seem to have achieved success by following their soul, rather than by selling out), understand that the measure of a successful day is not how much you do, but how much what you do matters. When you understand this, not only will you stop driving yourself to exhaustion with the endless pursuit of “productivity”; you will also stop needing to use procrastination to distract you from this lack of deeper meaning and purpose in your life and work.
The measure of a successful day isn't how much you do. It's how much you do that matters.