I am a terrible procrastinator.
No, strike that. I am a superior procrastinator. Truly top form. I have finely honed my craft over many years.
Take for example that yesterday I wore a windbreaker to work in 19 degree weather. This is because even though it’s January my two winter coats are in the laundry room downstairs. My faux shearling desperately needs a dry cleaning, and my wool coat’s lining is ripped at the seams and needs a repair. And you know what? I’m sitting here writing a blog post rather than searching for a green drycleaner and fixing my lining.
How on earth did I get here? Why would I as a generally sane adult walk around freezing and leave bills unpaid and laundry undone and the roof unfixed and the dog’s nails untrimmed and…well…the list goes on. I could site lots of silly reasons. Too tired, too busy, too ADD, etc. I’m sure we all could. I’m also sure single parents would see my general to do list and laugh me out the door.
A quote from the book:
“Since its first appearance in the English language in the sixteen century, procrastination has identified not just any delay but an irrational one — this is, when we voluntarily put off tasks despite believing ourselves to be worse off for doing so. When we procrastinate, we know we are acting against our own best interests.”
So how is a lifelong procrastinator to shake this terrible habit? I think the answer hit me when I read that quote.
- Admit that you have a procrastination issue, that what you are doing is against your own best interests. Make an agreement with yourself to work on changing this habit. My new habit for January is to Do It Now.
- Do some real, deep self assessment of WHY you procrastinate. A good technique to use is to ask yourself “The Three Whys”. Like a small child asking over and over: “Why?” to ever answer that you give. Ask yourself why you procrastinate on X. Then when you have an answer, ask Why that answer applies, then ask why about that answer. Each question may have more than one answer, really. Write down your answers on paper so you can really think about them. Act on changing those reasons if you can.
- I know in my case, anxiety and fear are great unconscious procrastination motives. I know this is the case for many people. While in the beginning a procrastination habit just seems like “laziness” or “distraction”, once you’ve procrastinated long enough tasks can pile up to the point that they seem daunting. Skipping laundry for a day, not really an issue. Skipping for a month and you have Mount Washmore waiting for you, and a whole day of laundry looming over you. It is important to know that a pile of procrastinated tasks is almost always not as difficult as you think it will be. One little step starts a journey of a thousand miles.
- Break down any daunting task into very small steps. Do at least one step a day. One step is better than no steps. Small regular increments will get you there. In Zen there is a saying that small drops of water will fill a great vessel.
- Practice the “Do it now” principle taught by Flylady. Got something in your hand that needs done? If it’s something simple, do it now. Rather than waiting until later to write an item on your grocery list while you’re thinking about it, do it now. Then you’re sure you won’t forget. You’ll never miss those couple of minutes. Really you won’t. When I practice this principle, it’s amazing how much I can do.
- Another great Flylady tip is to use a timer. Kitchen mess seems overwhelming? Set a timer for 15 minutes, and promise yourself that at the end of those 15 minutes you are done. Do what you can in 15 minutes, being sure NOT to get distracted with other outside tasks, then stop. Stand back and see how much you have accomplished. This technique can work very well for people with attention deficit or impulse issues. Almost everyone can concentrate and work 15 minutes.
- If you find yourself unable to celebrate progress in light of a large overbearing task, or you are unable to overcome a sense of anxiety to start a task, seek counsel. Whether inner counsel from meditation, spiritual counsel, community counsel from friends or forum boards, or professional counsel, you need to celebrate progress and overcome anxiety in life, and it’s ok to need help to do that.
Are you a procrastinator too?