Category Archives: Procrastination Strategies

WYCWYC: Small Steps Can Move Us Forward

WYCWYCI have come across an interesting little book that could be a tremendous help to procrastinators everywhere ­– not to mention those who see themselves as perennial failures. It is called What You Can, When You Can: Healthy Living on Your Terms, and it is written by Carla Birnberg and Roni Noone.

The premise of the book is that when it comes to accomplishing the goals we have set out in life for ourselves – whether it is improving our physical fitness or learning a new language – such approaches as determination, willpower and resolutions simply set us up for failure. As soon as most of us decide to go on a diet until we reach our goal weight, or exercise for half an hour every day, or finish that paper one week before it’s due, we are done before we start: one or two slips or misses, and we give up. We throw the baby out with the bathwater.

But, say Birnberg and Noone, if we look at it from an entirely different angle – if, instead of making a huge resolution we are not likely to be able to keep, instead we take one tiny step in the direction we want to go, we will ultimately get to where we’re going. Furthermore, instead of calling ourselves down, we’ll be able to celebrate along the way. All we need to do is to choose the leaner item on the menu just once, or skip dessert, or walk three blocks instead of getting on a bus. Along that road lies success.

They call their approach “What you can, when you can” – “wycwyc” for short.

Endorsed by no less an achiever than Venus Williams, the book is cleverly set out to deliver its own message: the chapters are small segments of a page or two that are easy to digest within a few minutes, then mull over at your leisure. You can read a bit, put it down, then pick up the book again when you have time. (In other words, you can read wycwyc. Get it?)

The book contains concrete tips (declutter, get more sleep) and well as psychological boosters (don’t let yourself compare yourself to other people). Birnberg and Noone have also set up online groups on every social platform you can think of so that you can find others who are celebrating small achievements in their daily lives. To find them, just search the hashtag #wycwyc.

In my own recent efforts to lose weight and (even more difficult, in my experience) to keep the weight off, I have found that it has helped to avoid thinking of myself as being on a diet. Instead, I simply take two days a week to work on my weight-loss efforts (by eating no more than 500 calories) and the other five days are mine to do with as I wish food-wise. The fact that my tastes for overdoing it are gradually diminishing (at least I hope they are.  “Leftover” Hallowe’en candy proved no easier to resist than it ever has) is beside the point. The point is that with this particular program, I did not have to make a resolution to which I was bound to fail again (going on a diet). (As some of you know, this was also the key to Rita’s success in my novel, Rita Just Wants to Be Thin.)

At the moment, I am taking the same approach to building up my ability to plank. Instead of sticking to the 30 Day Fitness Challenge guidelines (at which I would never have succeeded), I am increasing my time as I wish to, when I wish to. If it takes me 30 months instead of 30 days to get to the 5-minute plank, so be it. I have no doubt I’ll get there eventually. (I made four minutes last week.)  Nor do I doubt that I will reach my goal weight…. Sometime. Preferably before the end of January.

Living this way (WYCWYC) is becoming part of my way of life. I just didn’t know it until I read this book.

Are Resolutions a Procrastination Strategy?

Rewards without the sacrifice. What could be better than that?


Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 11.47.48 AMWhen I was working on my CBC Ideas program In Defense of Procrastination (yes. That’s also the title of my forthcoming book), one of the most enjoyable interviews I did was with psychology professor Dr. Timothy Pychyl, who heads the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University in Ottawa and is the author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle. He’s a genuinely interesting and very funny person. I will be referring often to him both in this blog and in my book.

I was happy to read that Dr. Pychyl is now investigating the relationship between procrastination and resolution-making. In a recent article in the Hamilton Spectator, Pychyl pointed out that humans tend to see the future as “a true blank slate.” I know from personal experience (repeated personal experience) that this way of looking at the future is a slippery slope.

By allowing ourselves to put off acting on our (very worthwhile) decisions to make new beginnings, we get a double-whammy bonus: 1) we get to feel great about ourselves, and 2) we don’t yet have to start the hard work associated with the resolution itself. As Pychyl points out in his example, we can pat ourselves on the back because we are going to go on a diet, without actually having to go on the diet… yet. To put it another way, we can easily overestimate our ability to achieve in the abstract: the ongoing drudgery of changing a habit makes reality far more challenging.

So, if procrastinating brings us the kind of immediate rewards (e.g., permission to indulge in our less-than-productive activities while also feeling good about ourselves) that we probably won’t get for a long time if we actually try to change our lives, maybe we simply need to keep rescheduling our resolutions instead of trying to act on them. 😉

Your thoughts?

What is your most ridiculous, funniest, most creative, or most time-consuming procrastination episode?

In Defense of Procrastination Walters

We all know the downsides of procrastination (and I will be listing them here in future posts, and you will have a chance to tell me–and my readers–some of your downside stories). They are the stuff of nightmares.

However, it is my firm belief that procrastination also has its uses, and that in fact it can be very beneficial in certain contexts. That will be the whole, overall point of the new book I am writing. It is a book in defense of procrastination. How overdue is that?

This very blog/book project provides an excellent example of what I mean by benefits.

About ten years ago, I did a program, also called “In Defence of Procrastination,” for CBC’s Ideas. In it, I explored the downsides and upsides and examples and horror stories associated with procrastination. I talked to experts in the field (experts of both the psychologist and the practitioner varieties). I talked to people who were married to procrastinators (argh!) and those who worked with them. I amassed quotations on the subject, and I explored the historical and cultural angles of the phenomenon. At the end, on the basis of numerous examples and mounting evidence, I proposed that the procrastinators among us should not feel so guilty: we may actually be doing something that will benefit ourselves and humanity when we finally do get to the task at hand – or even, sometimes, while we are procrastinating.

Ever since then, I have been planning to turn all that material into a book. I figured that while they were reading it, people would at least be procrastinating in a productive way (I planned to include crossword puzzles, doodle pages, etc. that they could use along the way to slow their return to reality down even more.) Plus, with a book they would have something concrete to show to their spouses and bosses that would get them off the hook–for a few minutes anyway. (“Look, darling! I know I said I’d paint the bathroom four years ago, but it says right here in this book that the delay is a sign of creativity!”)

Anyway, I’m only getting around to writing the book now (not only because of procrastination, but partly because of it). But look what’s happened in the meantime? The evolution of the Internet has allowed book writing to become a public activity, which means that all of you can help me write it – by sharing your thoughts and your examples. If I’d written this book ten years ago, it would have been a totally different (and far less interesting) project.

So, in the near future (“near” being a relative term), I am going to post the outline of the book (developed ages ago), and start posting the introduction (which I also wrote several years ago). Then I am going to write the entire rest of the book right here online, including but also adding to the material I did for the Ideas program. The book won’t be in its final format when I write it here, though, because I need your input all along the way to make it the best that it can be.

I won’t publish any examples or comments from readers of this blog in the book without asking for the permission of the person who sent it in, so make sure your avatar will lead me to you if I want to get in touch.  But I do I plan to scatter comments and examples from readers (attributed unless they ask to be anonymous) throughout the book. You will help me make my case.

But more on the outcomes and the processes later. For now, what I want are your examples of procrastination behaviours in which you indulge on a regular basis and — even more interesting — bizarre things you have done at some time in the past (or present) to avoid doing something else. When I did the Ideas program, I talked to one guy who’d had a empty beer can collection in his closet when he was in highschool (?), and one night before an exam, instead of studying he took all of the cans out of the closet (there were dozens) and sorted them by label colour into towers on the floor. Then he threw them all back into the closet, because what else are you going to do with a beer can collection? But he’d wasted most of the night. Another person I talked to, a writer, had on a deadline taken her microwave apart, screw by screw, cleaned all of the pieces, and put it back together again.

So how about you? What is the most ridiculous, funniest, most creative, or most time-consuming procrastination episode you have indulged in? Please let me know via the Comments section if you’re okay with others reading them too, or at mary at marywwalters dot com if you prefer to remain anonymous.

Note that it may take me a while to post the comments on the site after you send them in, as I want to read them before they are posted, and throw away the spam, and I am often away from my computer for up to eight hours at a time (that would be at night). So patience, eh? Play FreeCell while you’re waiting for me to approve your post.

I am sooo looking forward to this! I wish I’d started it ages ago. No I don’t.