Procrastinating to Greatness

September 5, 2018

I am a procrastinator. I sit and dwell on things, churning them through my mind. Ideas form and yet sometimes it can take me years to act on them.

That familiar feeling of having the urge to do something and yet holding myself back is a familiar one, and I suspect, as you have read this far that you are not too unfamiliar with procrastinating either.

We Are Not Alone

When I announced the topic of procrastination in our Journey and Drum Circles earlier this summer, there was a collective chuckle, a roll of the eyes and wry smiles, along with mutterings of how procrastinating was one of their challenges against moving forward and achieving their goals.

I used to feel the same, until this Spring when I was reading a book by an author called Adam Grant. The book was called Originals: How Non-conformists Change the World. It caught my eye because anyone on the Shamanic Path, or any spiritual path for that matter is a nonconformist and is looking to change the World in some way.

Whether it is our inner World we are looking to change so we behave differently and life gets a little easier, or whether we are looking to impact our immediate communities around us. Or whether we are raising our heads further afield and seeing that the World we were born into doesn’t make any sense any more to us, and we are looking to help create something different.

We are all looking for change in some way as we walk our journey through life, and so when I picked up that book I was interested in reading about how others had done it.

The book is written for a entrepreneurial business audience, and I love reading these kinds of books and bringing the ideas and concepts into a spiritual context. Those few paragraphs about procrastination in the book really caught my attention.

For what I found out was that I am not alone in this, putting things off. I am not alone in finding it hard to move towards things that I know I am drawn to. What was really impactful to read was that some of the greatest achievers in the World were procrastinators, and I will mention three of the examples Adam shares in his book here now.

Martin luther King

Martin Luther King Jr was apprehensive about leading the civil rights movement.

Keen to spend time with his family and his church work following the completion of his thesis, Martin was nominated by a group of civil rights activists for the presidency.

He reflected later on that it all happened so fast, following the incident of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus, that he didn’t have time to think. If he would have done, Martin said he would have almost certainly turned it down.

Possessed by fear he faced giving a speech to the community that evening. Yet he overcame his trepidation and was eventually to go on to deliver one of the most memorable and impactful speeches of all time about his electrifying vision of freedom.


Taking us back to Italy in the 16th Century, when the Pope commissioned him to paint a fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo wasn’t interested.

Michelangelo viewed himself as a sculptor not a painter, and found the task so overwhelming that he fled to Florence. Two years would pass before he began to work on the project, at the Popes insistence.

Nicolaus copernicus

Again, during the Renaissance, Astronomy stagnated for decades because Nicolaus Copernicus refused to publish his original discovery that the earth revolves around the sun.

Fearing rejection and ridicule, he stayed silent for twenty-two years, circulating his findings only to his friends.

Eventually, a major cardinal learned of his work and wrote a letter encouraging Copernicus to publish it. Even then Copernicus stalled for four more years.

His theory only saw light of day after a young mathematics professor took matters into his own hands and submitted it for publication.


In his book Adam concludes that:

“Procrastination turns out to be a common habit of creative thinkers and great problem solvers, and the drive to succeed accompanied by the fear of failure have held back some of the greatest creators and change agents in history.

Concerned with maintaining stability and attaining conventional achievements, they have been reluctant to pursue originality. Instead of charging full steam ahead with assurance, they have been coaxed, convinced or coerced to take a stand.

While they may seem to have possessed the qualities of natural leaders, they were figuratively - and sometimes literally - lifted up by followers and peers.

If a handful of people hadn’t been cajoled into taking original action the American civil rights movement could still be a dream, the Sistine Chapel might be bare and we might still believe the sun revolves around the earth.”

Reading this was a profound moment for me, and it made me wonder how much greatness hasn’t been achieved because of fear of holding back. I recognise this completely.

In my own life, I spent a good ten years plus working in a job where I felt uncomfortable and out of place. For many of those years I wanted to move away, but just didn’t have it in me.

Looking back now, those years of procrastination were necessary to a degree, but ultimately it was redundancy which was my universal force pushing me into something else.

I knew it at the time too… as stressful as it was I knew it was the right thing.

Allowing Time For Creativity

Later in his book Adam talks about a different side to procrastination. He suggests that procrastination is conducive to originality, an idea presented to him by a creative doctoral student named Jihae Shin.

This counterintuitive idea is that when you procrastinate, you are intentionally delaying work that needs to be done. You might be thinking about the task, but you postpone making real progress on it or finishing it to do something less productive. Shin proposed that when you put off a task, you buy yourself time to engage in divergent thinking rather than foreclosing on one particular idea.

As a result, you consider a wider range of original concepts and ultimately choose a more novel direction.

This idea was tested. College students were asked to write proposals for a business on a university campus to fill a lot vacated by a convenience store. When they started the task immediately, they tended to propose conventional ideas like another convenience store.

However when some of the students put off the task by playing computer games, they produced more novel business ideas such as a tutoring centre and a storage facility.

Shins ideas were tested further in the real world in a Korean furniture company, to the same end.

Adam writes:

"Procrastination many be the enemy of productivity, but it can be the resource for creativity.

Long before the modern obsession with efficiency precipitated by the Industrial Revolution and the Protestant work ethic, civilisations recognised the benefits of procrastination.

In ancient Egypt, there were two different verbs for procrastination: one denoted laziness and the other meant waiting for the right time".

A Time For Greatness

In a World where we are so desperately needing change, as the old structures begin to crumble around us, now has never been a better time to step up into our greatness. Yes recognising that there is a need to procrastinate, in order for the creativity to come in, but it is a fine balance, as if we procrastinate too much we stand the risk of missing the train.

Holding back through fear, without the fan club to cheer us on and help us move and take action, leaves us missing maybe one of the greatest opportunities of our lives. It leaves us missing out on achieving our life purpose. It leaves us with that agonising feeling of wanting to do more with our lives but just not being able to take the step.

Yes, we can take comfort that if we are in this place of being between stories, procrastinating is time well spent to ensure that when we do make the move we are well resourced, we have allowed time for the creativity to come through, ideas to be generated.

So when is the right time to move on an idea?

For this I would look to my Spirit Guides for as they as the saying goes ‘divine timing’.

In my life I have received guidance in a variety of different ways to know when the right time is.

One of my favourite stories is when I received the message to close down my sustainability consultancy business and move away from ‘the corporations’ once and for all. I have written about it in my blog here, “When Birds Fall Out of the Sky”. An abbreviated version is that as I have mentioned, I spent many years working in a culture where I didn’t fit. It made me desperately unhappy through stress, but I just couldn’t let it go.

It was my livelihood, and I had worked hard to achieve where I had got too. I was also doing worthwhile work in the World. Yet, in the final years before I made the move Jason and I were forming The Way of the Buzzard. We always thought that one day I might go full time, but neither of us could see when at all that point would be. It is a big leap going from a ‘proper’ job to one where you are looking to support yourself purely through spiritual work.

Then, I got the message loud and clear. I was on the way to a business meeting with a potential new client. I didn’t want to go, but it was new business and a number of large contracts were coming to completion and I needed some new clients.

As I was driving along the road a female blackbird flew out in front of my car and hit my windscreen. She died immediately and fell to the side of the kerb. When I pulled over and picked her up, the realisation hit me. I was going in the wrong direction. No matter how much I thought I was doing the right thing working in environmental business, I wasn’t. If I hadn’t been going on that journey she would still have been alive.

So, I decide to take action and close the business, jumping full time into my spiritual work. When birds start falling out of the sky in front of you that is a pretty clear signal in my book.

My realisation had even more gravitas as I was reading Snowy Tower by Dr Martin Shaw at the time. Martin is our myth and storytelling teacher, and in this second book of his trilogy he tells the story of Parzival, one of our old legends. The part I am referring to is when Parzival's mother orders all the birds to be strangled in her desperate attempts for her son to stay with her and stop showing an interest in the outside world. It is a really poignant part of the story.

So these two things, synchronicity and nature signs showed me that it was the right time to take that leap of faith and move on.

The Mystery School

I have countless other stories I could share too about how I have been guided to take action and make a decision. Shamanic Journeying is key for this. If I have a question, any question, on any aspect of my life I need advice on, then I go on a shamanic journey to ask one of my guides.

They sometimes give me a very straight yes or no, other times they present me an answer in riddles, or tell me to go and do something really off the wall which I then find out leads me to the answer.

Earlier in summer Jason and I were procrastinating as to whether to run a final retreat later this year, going deep into the secret places in the forest. After a journey to our respective guides it because pretty clear that it would be a good move to move on this idea now, and it gave us the nod to go ahead when we could have easily talked ourselves out of it and delayed until 2019 or beyond. We booked up in ten days.

We have been embarking in a much longer period of procrastination with The Way of the Buzzard.

Early in getting to know each other we floated the idea of setting up a Mystery School, teaching the old ways, and ever since we have chewed this over and over, through the seasons, through the years.

Now, finally, after years of procrastinating we are in the final moments of making this happen.

Our preparations are coming together so easily we are questioning why we waited so long and kept on putting it off. Yet, this time has enabled us to build up our skills, refine our knowledge and experience to be able to teach this work, and allow our creativity time to develop.

The wait was a necessary wait, and we will finally be ready to launch the School next month. This is the first time we have announced it out into the World and we are very excited!

Dreams are another way to lead me to insight. Those crazy adventures I go on in my sleep give me profound messages when I take the time to work with them.

I find dream work often a little harder to interpret, and teaming up with shamanic journeying works well, as well as taking them into the therapy room with my supervisor.

The root of procrastination

So where am I going with this.

I guess what is most reassuring about this new insight is that there are two aspects to procrastination, and that we are not alone. Great people procrastinate. Arguably the greatest people.

This is fresh information to a culture where we are told we need to be 100% productive all of the time. In workplaces where we are measured on our efficiency to get things done as quickly as possible, it is easy to believe that procrastination is not a good thing.

But we need to look within and see why we are procrastinating. Is it because we are holding ourselves back from fear? If it is, then we need to find a way to move through our blocks, because we are holding ourselves back from our greatness, and also from changing our inner and outer World.

But if we are procrastinating because we are giving ourselves time for the creative ideas to flow for us to build ourselves up, our skills up, our resources around us so that when we make the move finally we are set up for success, now that is a different thing. If this is the case, procrastinate away!

But remember to use the time well, and if you are not sure what that looks like then check in with your Spirit Guides through shamanic journeying. They will point you in the right direction, give you reassurance when you need it and be by your side whispering words so that you know you are not alone. They will guide you to know that you are acting out a divine vision of change so we can collectively lead ourselves into creating a different World, and being different in that World.

Even though it was coming to an end over one hundred years ago we are still living in the after shadow of the Industrial Revolution. This hugely significant time of transformation in the history of humanity and the World brought the rural people into cities, and forced them into nothing short of slave labour. The workers stood up and fought over the centuries, in some cases landing them in prison.

My grandad was a big trade union man, fighting for the labour rights of the factory workers in the northern mills. The actions of the trade unions led to the workers rights we are enjoying today, and yet we are still expected to work long hours with high productivity in an unnatural environment at great personal cost to ourselves.

Now is our time to change this story. We can comfortably rebel and take time out to procrastinate, knowing that it has the potential to lead to greatest things beyond great.

Bring me back to reality, Jason has just pointed this out to me as he stands in front of the washing machine watching it spin its final cycle. He is procrastinating and allowing the creativity to come in. Meanwhile I am busy rushing around making a packed lunch, writing a blog and trying to think of what I need to pack for our weekend away. I have to admit, I agree.

So procrastinate away and let the creativity in, leading to unimaginable greatness.

 Foot notes

The book I refer to through this blog is Originals: How Non-conformists Change the World.
We will be making further announcements about The Way of the Buzzard Mystery School over the coming weeks, so keep an eye on your inbox and we will be in touch!

About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in Anglezarke on the edge of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire, England.
Following a career in corporate sustainability, she now runs The Way of the Buzzard with her husband Jason. Her passion is anything connected to nature and the mysteries of the Earth.

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  1. Thank you for sharing your wisdom Nicola, very profound article.
    It’s great to know procrastinating is a positive attribute to growth in the right direction, and that journeying can help find answers to the questions we can’t always understand ourselves.
    I’m so grateful to be a part of the tribe.
    Thank you ???

    1. Oh lovely to read your reaction to my blog Vanessa, thank you 🙂 … we are very honoured to be able to create a place where we can all be and grow together 🙂

  2. So much resonates in this. Completing the design stage of re-designing my garden is taking years rather than months, or even the day/s of instant makeover. I have been finding homes for the plants I have nurtured over the years. I did a couple of courses on growing vegetables, and fruit, organically, and came away thinking I knew exactly how to remodel the garden: but something held me back. It was partly not wanting to build containers for raised beds that would harbour slugs and snails, and the problem of how to raise the soil alongside the north facing fence. A year long Weeds and Wild Medicine course run by two Medical Herbalists led me to realise there were other things I wanted in my garden rather than just fruit and veg. Next I attended an introduction to permaculture, which gave me lots more ideas and I came across the concept of perennial vegetables. I didn’t want my garden to look like an allotment nor did I want to be tied to its demands. A further permaculture course taught me all about improving soil (no dig, mulch) and gave me the answer to the north facing fence: hugelkultur, so now I knew why I had retained all the trunk and branches from two conifers that were taken down ,and my hard pruning of shrubs before digging out – apart from my promise to them that they would be recycled in the garden . I dismantled the existing hard landscaping materials, and recently have lifted and sifted all the gravel and stored it (ready for re-use) in two strong bags, harvesting 7 buckets of finely tilled soil in the process. Needing to site a rotary drier, I understood I also want some social space that will incorporate shamanic elements for ceremonies. I am finalising that design and am about to get quotes for building a patio type structure specifically to that design, re-using the materials currently carefully stored. If I had rushed ahead along semi-conventional lines I would have been unhappy and stressed especially when I found it wasn’t what I wanted. So by the end of this year, my garden will re-emerge reflecting all that is important to me.

  3. I was going to put off writing this .. and it may have been a more creative response!
    ….. which is my usual and preferred way!
    But time presses so no time like the present. It is certainly good to chew over an idea, let it fester, seek other’s views, float it, tease it and see what emerges.
    A chance or opportunity may be lost by force of circumstance. Sometimes a quick decisive gut reaction is required.
    Of course in a partnership a bit of both could be the ideal!
    So: some and some I think but overall I agree the impact of an idea or creative is greater when released slowly after contemplation and procrastination. Ideas and creative initiatives are not sausages to be banged out on the conveyor belt of life!

    I write poetry and the best ‘flow’ occurs when I do nothing but wait for an idea to ‘float on by’ then grab it and release it lovingly just channeling its own energy .. just being! Anything forced or contrived e.g. ‘To a deadline ‘ looks feels and sounds exactly that .. forced and. contrived .. and soulless!
    John B – Norfolk

    1. I agree wholeheartedly John 🙂 a partnership of a bit of both is required in life. Our challenge is to work out which approach to use and when. All adds to the rich tapestry of living!

  4. The need for mystery schools is something I have been chatting with a few people about. When I was growing up there was nowhere to go, no-one to talk to, about my experiences of the spirit world and no context for what I was experiencing either in secular society or Christianity. I thought I’d gone mad for a while… it was a long time until I discovered Paganism and the shamanic paths and longer until I realised my experiences were of our native Otherworld – Faery/Annwn. I think it would be so helpful for others to find help and direction in some kind of school that acknowledged and nurtured mystical experience. I’ll look forward to hearing how this progresses x

    1. Love that you like this idea Lorna. I too felt I was going mad for a while and it all came together when I found like minded folk and began to have a focus for my studies. We are just in the throws of preparing to launch so we will be in touch with more information soon 🙂

  5. This is a wonderful read, it made so much sense to me, so many bits resonated , it actually gave me reassurance reading it. Im also grateful for the support I received to make my dreams come true and the push from my previous role. Thank you for sharing and good luck in your new venture, I know it’s going to be wonderful.

  6. As I am very much into the hidden mysteries of nature and science which my Grandfather taught me when I was a child – I am very interested in becoming an active member in you and Jason’s Mystery School.

  7. I have procrastinated on actually reading your blogs but lo! when I read this your hope for Mystery School coincides with me getting together some unconventional like minds tinvolved in compassionate work because compassion is our truth…and to further our knowledge of all that is. To evaluate our journey and purpose and realise we are walking the same path as others we have yet to know. Exciting times which we hope will add peace to a troubled world. Blessings

  8. Hi Nicola,
    my friend and I recently birthed a drum with you. And this is the second blog I have read of yours. This resonated so much with me so much. Thank you for writing it.
    I have always loved anything mysterious and magical. When I was a child I loved the Beverly Nichols books which I still have to this day. And I love your Way Of The Buzzard website. It is very professional! Keep on doing what you are doing.
    In love and light.
    D. x

  9. Makes a lot of sense . I was always drawn to spiritualism ,unfortunately those close to me ridiculed .they have no idea of this need in me & I fear it will continue

    1. I know what it is like to be ridiculed and I am really sorry to hear this is your experience. It it tough. I hope that they will come round enough to be more supportive in your following you path Linda.

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