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Pro­cras­ti­na­tion, uncras­ti­na­tion, and a fire­ball of catastrophe


Ryan Tay­lor

You start with good inten­tions, we all do. And then, slow­ly, slow­ly, catch a mon­key, the morn­ing has gone. You head to the kitchen to make anoth­er drink. You get caught up in a con­ver­sa­tion around the water cool­er. Some­body has brought in pas­tries. You get to your desk and you’ve for­got­ten your head­phones, so you jump back on the bike and go get them. An update to macOS came out, so you’d bet­ter install that. That’s the after­noon done. Well, can’t start any­thing big, so instead you check email. Pull up a spread­sheet, check finances, make a list of things you need for the week­end. Shit, it’s 6pm. Fuck, fuck, fuck­ety fuck.

It’s not like I want to miss a dead­line, or piss off a client, or enrage the team. I don’t pur­pose­ful­ly set out to hack every­body off from here to Lon­don — and yet — despite it all, too many times I find myself hurtling towards dis­as­ter, nose­div­ing into the earth in anoth­er spec­tac­u­lar fire­ball of catastrophe.

The worst of it is, I have a sec­ondary ill­ness, you know, just in case the first wasn’t annoy­ing enough. Once I actu­al­ly do get start­ed on some­thing, there is absolute­ly noth­ing on this plan­et that can stop me. Then, oh then, I have the exact oppo­site prob­lem. Sud­den­ly, part­ners are cast aside, life is for­got­ten, friends don’t see me for weeks, head­phones go on, and the earth has cycled the sun 14 times before I look up again. I call this uncras­ti­na­tion, the evil sib­ling of pro­cras­ti­na­tion, the child born out of wed­lock, the spawn of the devil.

All these extremes dri­ve me mad, so god only knows what the debris of life, love, and emo­tions looks like that I leave behind. As I first take an inor­di­nate amount of time to get going on some­thing, only then to relent­less­ly pur­sue my goal sin­gu­lar­ly, almost self­ish­ly, into obliv­ion, I can only hope that peo­ple some­how see that as clichéd as this is going to sound: it isn’t them, it most def­i­nite­ly is me.

I’ve tried many times to uncov­er, and ulti­mate­ly under­stand, this fix­a­tion with extremes, but inevitably, think­ing about think­ing becomes anoth­er obses­sion that I tan­gle myself up in. Let’s not fall through that trap­door again.

In the cre­ative com­mu­ni­ty, and amongst those of us that own busi­ness­es, pro­cras­ti­na­tion, and indeed uncras­ti­na­tion, appear to have a hold even more so than the aver­age Joe. Falling into both of those cat­e­gories, I’m dou­bly afflict­ed. It’s fun being me.

Some have said that pro­cras­ti­na­tion is dri­ven by a fear of fail­ure, that you’re so con­sumed by how shit you think you are, that ulti­mate­ly you can’t bring your­self to deliv­er on it, and the whole thing becomes a self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cy. I actu­al­ly think it’s the oppo­site. I believe my dil­ly-dal­ly­ing is brought on by a fear of suc­cess.

Let me explain.

A fear of fail­ure is inter­nal, it’s about deal­ing with your own short­com­ings and expec­ta­tions. While I have those, as we all do, I’m pret­ty cer­tain that isn’t the rea­son, at least for me. Alter­na­tive­ly, a fear of suc­cess deals with what oth­ers will think of you if you pull some­thing off. That sounds much more like a thing that would both­er me.

You see, I came to design in a pret­ty uncon­ven­tion­al way. I didn’t go to uni­ver­si­ty to study design, nor have I had any for­mal train­ing as a design­er. Instead, I’ve taught myself every­thing I know on the job, as I went along. Back in the day, I had a job that paid well, that would have set me up for life, but I hat­ed it. At the same time, I was real­is­ing that the path I’d tak­en wasn’t the one I’d expect­ed, and I had a real long­ing to get back to things I had always loved grow­ing up — art, design, and mak­ing things. So, I ditched my job­by-job, declared myself a design­er, and start­ed from noth­ing. No clients, no skills, no idea what I was doing, just a desire to give it a go.

Near­ly a decade lat­er, I’m still con­vinced that at some point, some­body is going to find me out. That at some point, some­body will realise I’m an impos­tor, that I have no idea what I’m doing, and that I shouldn’t be doing this. My brain for­gets the blood, sweat, and tears I put in to reshape my life. It for­gets about the clients who love the work we do, and the lit­er­al decade of expe­ri­ence I’ve banked. None of that mat­ters because when I suc­ceed, my brain tells me that some­body will know it’s all a fake and take it away from me.

This process hap­pens every time I start a project. And that’s why I pro­cras­ti­nate — if I don’t start, how can any­body find out I’m an impos­tor? And that’s why I uncras­ti­nate—now I’ve start­ed, you watch me pull this off again, you can’t tell me who I can and can’t be.

In the con­stant fight I have with my brain, I can nev­er win.

I guess this is the part where I should wrap this sto­ry up in a jubi­lant turns-out, or craft a con­clu­sion that is heart-warm­ing, life-affirm­ing, or rev­e­la­to­ry. I have none of that, oth­er than to say the fact that I am writ­ing this on our agency blog proves that real­ly I should be telling my brain to do one. And maybe one day I will do that, but it sud­den­ly occurs to me that writ­ing this arti­cle is actu­al­ly a dis­trac­tion from start­ing anoth­er project, so I’d bet­ter get back to it. For the love of god!


I orig­i­nal­ly wrote this arti­cle a while back, and for a time it was avail­able on this blog, how­ev­er being this can­did scared me, and I pulled it down. In the inter­ven­ing time since then, I’ve been diag­nosed with ADHD at the grand old age of 37. When I read this arti­cle back now, I realise that what I was expe­ri­enc­ing wasn’t wil­ful dis­or­gan­i­sa­tion, but the result of an undi­ag­nosed men­tal health issue. And now it all makes sense.

Since my diag­no­sis, I’ve researched every­thing I can and have found that fre­quent­ly peo­ple with ADHD grav­i­tate towards the cre­ative indus­tries. Some­thing about the wiring of our brains fits into the free-think­ing, often dis­parate way that idea gen­er­a­tion hap­pens. Again, it’s all start­ing to make sense. I’ve told myself for the longest time that I was inca­pable of hold­ing down my pre­vi­ous job. Instead, it could be that sub­con­scious­ly, I was guid­ing myself towards a world that makes much more sense for the kind of per­son I am. And indeed, now that I look back at my child­hood, my years at uni­ver­si­ty, and indeed my ear­ly adult life, I start to see very obvi­ous pat­terns and mark­ers for ADHD.

Whether there’s any­thing sci­en­tif­ic about being chan­nelled towards a career that made more sense for my brain, I don’t know, but either way, I’m glad I even­tu­al­ly found my place in this indus­try. Rather than ADHD being a bar­ri­er — and although there are many times, such as with pro­cras­ti­na­tion, where I wish I could switch it off — ulti­mate­ly ADHD is tan­ta­mount to a super-pow­er. I have no doubt the more impul­sive, open to risk-tak­ing side gave me the courage to jump out of my pre­vi­ous life and test the waters of graph­ic design and brand­ing, with­out any pri­or expe­ri­ence. Whether it was sen­si­ble or not is debat­able, of course.

It turns out that uncras­ti­na­tion as I termed it in my orig­i­nal arti­cle, has a name too — hyper focus. It’s a part of ADHD where once I’ve moved beyond the ini­tial inabil­i­ty to start, it allows me to spend vast amounts of time sin­gu­lar­ly and pas­sion­ate­ly on a cre­ative endeav­our, often work­ing fast-paced until it is done. This sounds like a plus to me.

When I apply this to my work, I can see that think­ing about things dif­fer­ent­ly to oth­ers is so impor­tant when build­ing brands, strate­gies, and sup­port­ing com­pa­nies to achieve their busi­ness goals. It could well be that first­ly ADHD pushed me to move into this indus­try. Then, it may also have giv­en me the abil­i­ty to quick­ly learn my craft from scratch, with­out the usu­al doubts and hes­i­ta­tion that oth­ers may have felt in that situation.

For that rea­son, despite ADHD tech­ni­cal­ly being a men­tal ill­ness, I don’t see it like that. In fact, now that I know what is going on in my head, and the rea­sons for the some­times bananas things I do, I’m super-hap­py it’s a part of me. It can’t be taught, it can’t be award­ed, and it can’t be cured. Curi­ous­ly, I find myself grateful.

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