Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
October 2020 - Volume 20, No. 10
Subscribe to this blog

On Procrastination

Notes from a Client Session

The Presenting Problem

My client has been considering a major employment shift. He’s age 30, and this idea had been bouncing around “in the back of his mind” for about a year now. He’s well employed currently in the manufacturing sector, but is now attracted to a more entrepreneurial environment. His domestic environment is stable, married, with a 2y old daughter.

Together, over the past few months, we’ve considered and strategized the timing and process of such a transition. And from a psychological perspective we’ve considered and dealt with a usual list of issues and obstacles.
- family support and considerations.
- current and history of work satisfaction.
- psychological considerations.
- success and failure patterns.
- family history and patterns.
- wealth management history.

Then, all at once, the other day, he told me needed to deal with a problem of procrastination. There was one rather major step in his self-schooling and transition process that he just stubbornly resisted. Nor had he any ‘understanding’ why.

A New Approach

Now over my many years of counseling and therapy, I’ve known and advised many approaches to procrastination and performance resistance. Most of them old chestnuts from within the psychological repertoire - where an ‘explanation’ or ‘new way of seeing’ could accomplish the desired change. But in this case, I needed something different.

Design a Ritual

So I went to another part of my professional toolbox, with a realization that my client could better use a Ritual instead of just psychologically based insight.

Some years ago a Native American friend had taught me that all Native prayer should begin and end with a thanksgiving - a piece of wisdom that has stayed with me in many ways over the years.

About three decades ago I was privileged to attend a lecture by the poet Maya Angelou[1]. She had just traveled to Ghana, and brought back this little (relationship management) ritual, “Blow, Bite, Blow” - which she demonstrated by blowing on the back of her hand, then biting it, then blowing again with a soothing blow. Whatever the interpersonal task, always begin and end with a soothing action. The work or meat of the interaction was always sandwiched between good (positive) words or energy. That seemed to be the pattern of her own effective gentleness.

And so, with my client, I taught him to first honor his skill of procrastination. I began to call it the “P Skill”. After all, I said, much human activity comes from a common 3-part pattern,
Observe (trigger) Think (consider) Act
That middle part is the “P Skill”. Without it, we might:
1) have a brain with no governor, which would involve such rapid cycle ‘thinking’ that we’d surely go crazy with the chaos, or 2) we’d reactively get into trouble, and possibly end up in prison, or perhaps dead. So the “P Skill”, the ability to consciously or unconsciously procrastinate can be a life-saver. Learn to say thank you to it - treat it as a valuable friend and/or ally.

At the end of the ritual, consider a positive outcome from the activity - whether or not the activity in itself is pleasant. I recall from some years ago having collected a list of things I needed to do one afternoon in Flint, and realizing in the midst of driving around with that list in hand, there was nothing there to give me any pleasure - nothing! It was even giving me a minor anxiety attack, thinking of all the things I’d rather be doing. Then I thought to put something positive at the end of the list - I wrote “get an ice-cream cone” - a ‘premium’ one, such as from a local Baskin-Robbins. That ‘promise’redeemed the entire afternoon!

Begin and end in a positive place. Then you can more easily manage what’s in between.


Another “P” ritual for me is list-making. The genius of this is that by putting something on a list, I can buy a little bit of space to keep the Ptask from ‘spinning’ in my head and making me crazy. (Maybe by this slowing down, it’s easier to “just do it” - like Yoda says. I advise others to make the list with pencil[2] and paper. Another joy of writing out a list, is the great joy of crossing it off when done. In fact I’ll add something to the list I’ve already finished, just for the joy of crossing it out right away.

Then there’s a favorite of my own: Do what needs to be done as a way of procrastinating from a larger task that I may want to avoid. (Not a high quality strategy, bus still sometimes useful.)

Some final considerations

All that from a one-hour client session! Pretty good Bill. Then next week he’ll report to me on how well these ideas are working for him. (And I’ll do the same myself.)

Sometimes if I’m driving by an ice cream store, I’ll get into an “I want, I want, I want.” And to avoid getting broke and fat, I’ll promise myself with the words “when the time is right, I’ll get myself one.”

And when the time is right, and the sun is shining, and when the weather is right, and there’s a park bench nearby, and I have a few extra dollars in my pocket, and my sweet tooth is active - I will fulfill that promise to myself.

Managing the art of procrastination can bring us many gifts. Just remember “blow, bite, blow.” and the secret of well-placed gratitude.

And may a better life unfold before each of us.

Pay Attention.


[1] At General Motors Institute in Flint (now Kettering University) in an open-to-the-public lecture. That was the first time I had any awareness of her. She was best known then for her autobiographical book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969).

[2] I’ve never understood why a pencil is better than a pen for this - but once I heard it recommended a number of years ago, I’ve noticed it does make a difference. I’m sure many people have noticed that for many years I’ve carried a black brass Rotring mechanical pencil in my shirt pocket, and a piece of paper for “to do” notes. I’ll probably be buried with that pencil, unless someone steals it away from me at a critical moment.

Comments (2)

  • shifting deadlines, maintaining integrity

    Bill, While anticipating your newsletter and an in-person ‘appointment’ with you I realize that October has completely slipped away and we’re already at the 20th. A very important project, one of the largest translations I’ve ever done has become behmoth in proportions. Daily I wade through the 4th reading, searching for a semicolon or quotations out of place. It’s driving me crazy and preventing me from doing the things I’d really like to do, like have a chance to reconnoiter with my favorite counselor. The carrot and stick reward of an ice cream come has been unsuccessful, I have to give away all the baked goods produced out of procrastination! Thank you for consoling me that procrastination is a common occurrence. A bit of organization, lists and a better attitude shall help me prevail over this tome. See you soon, only 5 chapters to go!!

    — Elizabeth, 10/20/2020
  • Thanks again Bill for sharing some very practical insights and wisdom!
    -Andrea C

    — Andrea Casey, 10/22/2020

Add a Comment

will be kept private

Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

FREE Monthly Newsletter

Whether you are a client or not, you can always benefit from some free monthly words of wisdom:
Your e-mail address: