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Bar News - March 7, 2008

Work-Life Balance: Is Procrastination Your Friend?

Betsy Black
Yikes!  That brief is due tomorrow and Iím not close to being finished.  The client has an appointment here in an hour and I havenít done the research I meant to do.


Most of us are guilty of procrastination with negative consequences, whether they concern health issues from the constant stress of doing things last minute, the financial cost of paying fines, fees and interest, or the personal cost of relationships gone bad from lack of follow-through.


I believe procrastination has an upside.  Let me explain.  Procrastination is a common term used to describe not completing tasks or actively avoiding them, with negative consequences.  Examples include those mentioned aboveóand others, such as filing taxes late, failing to meet work deadlines, paying bills late, making travel plans at the last minute and thus always having to pay a premium. 


I do not intend to dismiss the complexity and difficulty procrastination imposes on some people, even creating problems described by psychologists as requiring therapeutic intervention. 


However, I am interested in challenging you to observe your own behavior, behavior that you think of negatively as procrastination; just be sure something else isnít going on that is serving your interests.  In my experience of helping people to be more effective as attorneys, or business people, the term procrastination often is a misnomer for some very good reasons that some particular task is not moving forward.


Say you have a client with a new twist on an old problem that youíve dealt with many times before.  You begin work on the case, then notice that your progress has stopped.  Nothing seems to be happening.  You begin to feel that you are procrastinating, but are you?  Perhaps youíre not quite sure how to proceed.  Do you need more information?  Could talking with a colleague help?  You want to be efficient, since itís your area of expertise.  Perhaps you are thinking, mulling, cogitating.


Ironically, what you may think of as procrastination may be a great investment of your time in a thoughtful treatment of a new issue.  Think for a moment about what you consider your three most common procrastination habits.  Are they productive, a waste of time--or maybe youíre just not sure how to describe them?


Here are a few possible activities you might think are procrastination which are arguably good investments of your time.

  • Reading professional periodicals.  (Increasing your knowledge base.)
  • Exercise.  (Maintaining your health and energy level.)
  • Reading the newspaper.  (Being aware of current events.)
  • Chatting with colleagues.  (Building relationships, keeping motivated, communicating about work.)


            Okay, there are arguably some real time-wasters:

  • Mindless wandering on the internet.
  • Computer games. 
  • Too much television-watching. 
  • You fill in the blankÖ.


            How can you manage procrastination so it works for you?


  1. Observe.  When you experience a loss of momentum in a project, including at its very inception, stop and without judgment observe yourself.  Are you tired?  Do you not know the next step to take?  Are you afraid of failure, or of not meeting a deadline?
  2. Plan for mulling.  When you map out a project, factor in time for mulling and thinking about it.  Your ability to reason as an attorney is a vital part of the service you offer, so make time for it!
  3. Be creative about your time.  Brian Tracy, management consultant and writer, calls being effective ďcreative procrastination,Ē by which he means shuffling around your focus so that you are always focused on what is most important for now.  His book, Eat that Frog! is a great primer on creative procrastination, his premise for success being to do the most important thing over and over again each day.
  4. Build your resource base. Include book learning, continuing education, relationships with colleagues, so you have clear places to go when you need information, another perspective, or a sympathetic ear.  
  5. Accept.  A certain amount of procrastination is human.
  6. Be honest with yourself.  You know whether your actions are true procrastination which is causing negative consequences or not.  Make it a habit to observe your own behavior.  When do you procrastinate and why?  When itís unhelpful, how can you keep it to a minimum?


The next time you find yourself procrastinating, I urge you to take a closer look and see if your pausing in your work is productive or not.  Then proceed with action or contemplation, whatever will provide good counsel to you or your client.


Betsy Black, J.D., A.C.C., is an accredited life coach who specializes in working with lawyers seeking greater satisfaction in their work and personal lives.  Please direct your thoughts, questions and requests for future topics for this monthly column to her at or phone 603- 228-6195.

See other Work-Life Balance articles by Betsy Black, as published in Bar News

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