Procrastination or Magic? The Paradox of Doing Without Doing.

Or, how to create something from nothing, without doing any work ;-)

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The Back-Burner Effect

I love bringing groups together because ideas coalesce in new and different ways. This week’s call on procrastination was no exception, and, this in particular seems worth sharing: the seeming paradox of ‘who’ is doing the doing and how come things happen when we don’t do anything.

One of the callers brought this up in relation to a discussion we were having about ‘important’ things, legal matters and so on, and where things appear to be ‘high stakes’.

It isn’t that I don’t do anything, or that I put it off. I’m not scared to look at something, but then I put it down and ideas come to me over the next hours and days.

It’s what we coined ‘the back burner effect’, I see it too and it’s what I do-it’s what we all do but you may not be doing it consciously so you may not be taking full effect of the power of your ‘magic’ helpers.

It’s Not About the ‘Time’…

When it comes to events like the one where this conversation was held, for example, I’m usually inspired to create something around a topic, but the details are pretty vague, or at least unformed. I’ll write a blurb but I know it’s just my first cut.

And then, I do nothing.

Or, rather not that I do nothing exactly, but I leave the ideas to develop, like I might leave bread to rise, or put a pot on the back burner.

I turn my attention to other things, or to nothing, and, a couple of days before, I look back in the direction of the event, or the meeting.

… It’s About Resources

And, like ‘magic’, without me ‘doing’ anything, without pens or paper, without post-it notes, without any kind of ‘active’ preparation, my amazing sub-conscious imagination has made connections for me, it’s wandered and wondered in the direction of who might come, and what I think will be useful and interesting to talk about. I have allowed ‘it’ to be taken care of without any more involvement on ‘my’ part.

And, voilà, ideas come for exercises, questions, discussion points I want to raise, and only at that point might I make a few notes.

Be Inspired but Not Prescribed to…

Now, I’m not saying follow my process, because even I might not follow that exact process every time, what I’m suggesting is that you have many more resources at your disposal than your active intellectual brain. So why not use them??

What’s very cool about this, is the efficiency with which we can operate. While things get taken care of ‘on the back-burner’, we can go about our other business knowing that ‘someone’ or ‘something’ is taking care of it in the background-like the most perfect sous chef, doing all the prep, so that you just have to turn up and create a final flourish. It makes life sooooo much easier, and it makes us more effective, than when we’re rushing around thinking it’s all ‘on us’ to do.

Your own personal productivity concierge? Does it sound like something worth experimenting with?

With love,


Cathy Presland

Here to help with leadership and impact. I have lots of free resources over here, if you’d like to explore more deeply.

Originally published at on December 12, 2020.

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