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Procrastination vs. Percolation (and how to tell the difference)

Oh, procrastination.

We abhor it. We’re told it’s one of the biggest things (if not the biggest) that holds us back from our greatness. We’re taught that we should just keep moving, no matter what.  We’re inspired by action, and with good reason — movement feels good.

As a society, we value swift and consistent action above all other states of being, which is why I’ve felt like such an incredible failure when I’m not in that state.  Can you relate?

Recently, I wrote about one such time, when I experienced a slight (although it felt enormous at the time) case of existential angst. I won’t mince words: it sucked. I felt like I was failing fast and hard, and I was feeling fairly desperate to get myself clear, calm and back in action.

SIDE NOTE: “Successful” and accomplished people have crises, too. I wish “they” would tell you that when you decide to become an entrepreneur, or somewhere along the way. It’s normal. You’re normal. Here’s a great article about riding the wave.

Back to my point (I can’t exactly procrastinate when speaking of the fatality of procrastination, right?): Procrastination is BAD.  Action is GOOD.

But what if you’re mis-labeling your inaction?
And what if not all apparent inaction is bad?


procrastination: the act or habit of putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention.

percolation: the gradual spread of information, ideas or feelings through an area, a person or group of people.

Bingo!
I was so frustrated with myself for “procrastinating”, but I was actually percolating. I was simmering, stewing, infusing and exploring. I needed that space and time to allow myself to walk down the path of desire and clarity; to talk with my girlfriends, my man and confidants; to take mini “vacations” from thinking about what to do; to appreciate and savor the fruits of my previous labors; to spend afternoons in the steam room.  I didn’t need run in a straight line to nowhere.

How to know the difference:
> Do you know what to do and you’re just not doing it, or are you exploring what to do?
> Do you sense that you need some time and space, or do you sense that you are just stalling?
> Do you sense that no more thinking/feeling/exploring is going to make much difference?
Therein lies your answer.

How to not get stuck percolating:

When you’re cooked, you’re cooked. You’ll know. If you don’t, ask a trusted girlfriend what she thinks, and take your cues from there.

What to do if you’re procrastinating:
See below.

FREEDOM QUEST:

Think of an area of your life where you’d like to see more momentum.
Ask yourself: “Am I procrastinating or percolating?”

If you’re procrastinating:
1. Right now (don’t procrastinate!), write down the 3 most important first steps (make sure they’re small enough to do in 15 minutes or less)
2. Do the first step immediately, and the other 2 within 24 hours.
3. Pat yourself on the back and figure out the next 3 steps.
NOTE: Don’t overthink whether or not you have the “right” steps. If you’ve been procrastinating, you just need to get moving. You’ll feel better.

If you’re percolating:
1. Decide that you will have more clarity on Monday evening.
2. Take a vacation this weekend from thinking about it. Each time your mind wanders to this problem/challenge/issue, just tell yourself that you will revisit it on Monday evening.
3. Spend the weekend doing things you enjoy. Enjoyment creates relaxation, and relaxation creates clarity.
4. On Monday evening, revisit the query with a blank slate and see what emerges.
NOTE: “Digging” for solutions in an anxious state is like scrambling to find your car keys when you’re late — your freak-out is only going to increase. Take a break from “digging”, take a taxi, and enjoy the scenery.  When you go back to looking, you’ll probably find your keys in the most obvious place.

In the comments below, share your favorite tips for overcoming procrastination or inviting percolation, and let us know how you navigate these waters.

14 Comments

  1. Yes! I can totally relate. I experienced extreme existential angst for over a year, last year. I knew that’s what it was, but it didn’t make it any easier. I knew I was moving, clearing, clarifying, making room, percolating on the inside, but the lack of clarity or movement (and money) on the outside was frightening. Part of me felt like I was stuck in mud, although a small part of me knew I was working on something big. Finally, all of those things I was dreaming about are just starting to manifest as realities (that and a beautiful relationship).

    • Love this, Greta. Percolating can be a beautiful process when we surrender into it, but you’re right — that often requires a level of external sustainability (money, etc). I love to hear that things are manifesting to fruition. xox

  2. Your post gave me so much insight into the difference between
    procrastination and percolation! I was procrastinating about working on a project – I took your advice and immediately wrote down 3 things I could do. I just finished the first one on my list and I feel like I am on a roll!! Thank you Nisha!

    • Go Sita, go! That’s awesome. Baby steps are movement, nonetheless. Thanks for inspiring us 🙂

  3. This is so totally appropriate for me right now! Thanks for the permission to percolate. I forget that it’s OK to do it and just lay on the pressure which yea… works not.

    Woohoo!! I’m taking the weekend off! <3

    • Yeah, Mara. As I mentioned to Greta above, percolation can be a truly beautiful process when we surrender into it. Enjoy…

  4. I find that I often procrastinate when I need to “digest” events + ideas. Instead of cracking the whip on myself, lately I’ve been striving to get curious–and ask “what do I need in this moment?”

    Often, I need to sit and be and come back to myself. Or goof off. Or take a walk and relish how trees grow and watch lizards scamper (I live in south Florida), and pretend that they are undercover agents carrying messages to and fro, like reptilian UPS men.

    Thanks for this post, Nisha. As always, something good to percolate on…

    • Stella, you have a way with words, my dear! Love this.

      What you wrote reminds me that being in awe of the world around us (aka. not taking ourselves too seriously) is a great way to stop being so freaking angsty. Amen, sister. xxo

  5. love you love this. and love how this is applicable to just about any situation not just business but with family and friends and romantic love.beautiful 🙂

    • Christine — totally! Hmm…you’ve got my wheels turning now. I’m thinking about where I can enjoy the percolation process when I’m feeling knotted up. Thank you, sister. xo

    • Love you, too, Ms. Marcotti! xo

  6. Wow this is so true.

    I know for myself – and many of my clients – we NEVER schedule time off after a huge project or a launch. Then we try and force the next thing – feeling bad that all we want to do is lie on the couch.

    I’ve seen it particularly after a new level of income has been reached.

    The bigger the accomplishment – the more time off is needed to percolate the next thing!

    Loving your new site Nisha! It’s stunning.

    xx Denise DT

  7. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. You are so right about taking time off after a huge event and/or milestone. Yet so many of us push ahead. And I am so glad you love the new site. I am so proud of it 🙂 xoxo

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