Procrastination is Hoarding

An illustration of Tolkien's dragon Smaug sitting atop his hoarded gold. Artist: David Demarit, CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
  • Please note that, in this post, I’m talking specifically about hoarding your creative / intellectual output, not the commoner definition of hoarding that involves an overaccumulation of material objects. Nevertheless, Smaug (pictured) presents a good object lesson on the perils of hoarding anything. Illustration by David Demarit, CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

We procrastinate, in large part, to avoid the hurt of criticism or rejection. If you don’t hand your work in, after all, it—and, by extension, you—can’t be criticized or rejected. And even if you do manage to hand it in, procrastination provides a built-in justification for any disappointing outcomes you receive: “I was rushed.”

The problem is that, at the same time procrastination is keeping you safe from potential critics, it’s also isolating you from, and thus rendering you invisible to, your essential audiences, including not just whoever is waiting for the work, but helpers, mentors, collaborators, and appreciators of all sorts. At its core, procrastination is a form of self-silencing and, sometimes, self-censorship (if you’re specifically silencing ideas you think will offend, or be rejected by, others). It can also be a form of hiding—and, sadly, because your rushed work doesn’t reflect your best efforts, it’s often the best part of you, and the best of your ideas, that you’re hiding.

Procrastination is also often hoarding. “I’ll hand in my work when it’s ready,” the procrastinator thinks—only, it never is. Or, “I’ll hand it in after this last set of changes”—only, the “last set” leads to another, and another, and another. Or, “I know I need help with this project, but I need to get it in a little better shape before I show it to someone.” But the need to “get it in a little better shape” never ends.

Unfortunately, the more you hoard, the more scared and disempowered around your work you become, and the more you need to do it. (It’s a vicious cycle.) Another way to visualize this is that hoarding creates a wall between you (and your work) and those with whom you should be interacting, including not just your teacher, boss, editor, literary agent, or whoever else is waiting for your work, but also potential collaborators, mentors, and audiences. To be clear, you’re not just keeping your work behind the wall, but advice, support, and opportunities outside it. And the more you hoard, the bigger, taller, and more impenetrable the wall gets.

Isolation, invisibility, self-silencing, self-censorship, hiding, and hoarding are all highly disempowered responses to the risks of self-expression, and the “safety” they offer comes at a high price: self-sabotage. Fortunately, however, there are more empowering responses.

The first is to work to overcome your perfectionism. It’s only natural to be wary of showing your work, especially in a world filled with harsh and clueless critics. However, perfectionism—which, among other characteristics, causes you to overfocus on external recognition and rewards, overidentify with your work (so that you take criticisms personally), and embrace a punishment mentality—will only amplify those natural fears. It is therefore the major cause of many people’s hoarding. You’ll find lots of information on how to recognize and overcome perfectionism here.

The second solution is to share/show your work early and often. Hoarding may create walls, but sharing creates bridges. The more, and earlier, you share, the more bridges you create, and the easier it becomes to keep sharing, both with your current project and future ones.

Sharing doesn’t just mean sharing entire chapters or manuscripts. There are lots of other ways to do it. When starting a project, for instance, you might share your idea and plan with a boss, professor, or other mentor. (Hopefully getting some good ideas and feedback.) Then, as you progress, you can share bits and pieces of the actual work with your mentors or others. Sometimes you do this by asking a question. (“Here’s what I’ve done so far; what do you think?” Or, “I’m not so sure about this plot twist, does it work?”) And sometimes you can share just for the heck (and empowerment) of it. (“Hey, I dig this thing I just wrote, just wanted to show it to you, no reply needed.”)

That last example is interesting because it shows us that the real empowerment comes from the sharing, not from whatever response you get. (Which is why frequently, after someone emails me asking for help, I get a second email a few minutes later, saying, “Never mind. I figured it out myself.” Just reaching out was enough to empower them to solve the problem.) Hopefully, however, you’re also getting some quality answers and feedback.

Obviously, you want to save the more informal kinds of sharing for friends. And you always want to share judiciously, as there’s no point in sharing with those who can’t respond constructively. (That includes your family, by the way: they don’t get a free pass to be harsh.) Those who aren’t yet in the habit of sharing can start small—say, by sharing one small thing with one trusted friend—and then working their way up to sharing more.

Frequent sharing/showing of your work is one of the best things you can do neutralize both your perfectionism and your consequent, fear-based need to procrastinate. And few practices will boost your creative output more.

For more information on overcoming hoarding, plus other manifestations of procrastination and perfectionism, please check out Productivity is Power I (again, for students) and Productivity is Power II (for creative and business professionals). When you’ve read one, please leave a review on Amazon or elsewhere. Reviews are the best way to support me and my work, and even a 1-2 line review is fine.

I would also love to hear your thoughts about hoarding and productivity in general. Please leave a comment, or email me at

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