I have noticed an interesting phenomenon with several people I know and based on some articles I’ve read, it seems it’s more widespread than my social circle. I’ll call it the misconception of getting ready or how to procrastinate actively.
If there is a non-trivial task to finish or a goal to achieve that takes a lot of effort and constant dedication, some people spend so much time on getting ready for it that the actual, main thing seemingly gets pushed in the background. A good example would be a personal software project that needs to be done fairly quickly, but the person spending long times on setting up the environment, getting version control ready, installing a new IDE, playing around with settings or reading a lot on these subjects (and not on the actual project!). Another one I read about a lot is starting some sport or physical training – this usually happens with women according to my experience. They’ll go shopping, buy the most fancy training clothes, water bottles, accessories and who knows what else and they keep pushing back on actually starting. They read a gazillion blog posts and have fancy, nicely set up photos and post them on Instagram without even breaking a sweat.
This is not about proper planning, mind you. I’m all for that. I like to design and plan my software, I like to know where things lead and to decrease the possibility of unpleasant surprises to the minimum. This is something entirely different.
I think the psychological explanation is pretty simple. These people don’t actually want to do the main activities, but they know they should, so instead of procrastinating the good old way (i.e. not doing it at all), they do it actively. This calms them to some extent – they seem to be slowly approaching the end goal without even starting what they despise. It works wonderfully. I have another example that fits this thinking nicely in my opinion: commuting by car. You sit in traffic and spend a lot of time making the car go in the proper direction. You don’t actually do anything really useful, but since it requires you to pay attention, it seems you’re not wasting time. The alternatives, on the other hand offer better options: on public transport you could be reading a book or if you biked, you could get some nice cardio in.
I’m not saying we don’t need to spend time on getting ready; what I find harmful for achieving goals is doing it excessively.