My mother-in-law was a shining example of efficiency and organization. I wondered how her kitchen counter was always cleared, her house was always relatively spotless. There were no dirty dishes in her sink, no cobwebs in the corners. She was undeterred even when expecting a dinner party of 12. What was her secret, I wondered to myself? I decided to observe how she accomplished this, and the answer became very clear. She did not put things off; she did not procrastinate. Rather than waiting for all her utensils to pile up while she was cooking, she had her kitchen sink filled with steamy, soapy water. As she finished with each pot and pan, it was washed and put away immediately. It seemed so simple, and yet so difficult! Could I learn to overcome my own habit of procrastination?
WHAT EXACTLY IS PROCRASTINATION?
Procrastination is the action of unnecessarily and involuntarily delaying or postponing something despite knowing that there will be negative consequences for doing so.
WHY WE PROCRASTINATE
Low self-esteem. Having the feeling that you are not capable or worthy of achieving your goals can lead to avoidance and procrastination.
Finding the task at hand to be unenjoyable. Avoiding boring or mundane tasks can be a reason for putting it off as long as possible.
The task may be too challenging, causing you to feel discouraged and afraid to get started.
Lack of urgency. If you're anything like me, a deadline can be very motivating. When a deadline for a task or project is a long way down the road, it's easy to let it slide and think that you'll "do it later."
Distractions. OHHH, don't we know this one! How much easier it is to mindlessly scroll through face book, answer emails, clean out a closet or do anything else rather than tackle the important task that is looming and calling out to you.
Lack of priorities. It's easy to get sidetracked by less important tasks that are staring you in the face or creating lots of noise. They may be grabbing your attention, but are they actually the most important things you need to be doing right now?
Fear of failure. There are usually underlying fears that cause us to avoid certain tasks. Are you avoiding doing your income tax return because you are afraid you will owe a large amount of money? Are you putting off that phone call for fear of rejection by a friend you haven't spoken to for way too long?
Perfectionism. This is a BIG one. If I can't do it perfectly, I don't want to do it at all. This is practically paralyzing.
Too much on your plate. In a moment of enthusiasm, did you volunteer to be on a fundraising committee, help out a friend, work over-time hours, care for an ageing parent, visit a friend in the hospital....and the list goes on. Trying to be everything to everyone can leave you feeling so exhausted that you end up not having the energy or will to do anything at all.
Depression is one reason that people put off doing the things they know they need to do. Lack of motivation is a primary symptom in people who suffer from depression. If you suspect that this is affecting you, I urge you to see your family doctor and discuss ways that could help you deal with this very real and sometimes debilitating illness.
EFFECTS OF PROCRASTINATION
Avoiding tasks that need doing can lead to a downward spiral of negative consequences. Here is a list of how procrastination affects your overall sense of wellbeing.
Procrastination is often associated with strong feelings of guilt and regret. When you know you "should" be doing something that needs to be done, and you are avoiding it due to one of the many reasons given above, you are likely to end up feeling guilty about it. You may beat yourself up for putting things off and generally judge yourself for being "lazy" and wasting time.
Lack of enjoyment. Even when you are engaged in some enjoyable activities, they are tinged with self-reproach as you remember how you have avoided doing something that was important.
Energy drain. Just thinking about completing a task can drain you of energy. Your mind is being pulled in two directions. On the one hand, you know that the task or project needs doing, but at the same time you are finding excuses for why you can't be doing that right now. Exhausting!
Unable to stay in the present moment. It is difficult to be fully present to this moment when your thoughts are constantly drifting to those unfinished tasks that you have not been able to bring yourself to begin.
Important tasks are delayed and sometimes avoided altogether. The longer you put something off, the harder it becomes to get started and even not done at all.
SUGGESTIONS FOR OVERCOMING PROCRASTINATION
Try THE 2-Minute Rule
The two minute rule came from David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. The idea is simple: If you can get something done in two minutes, just do it. Don’t think it over. Don’t ponder whether it’s more or less important than the bigger tasks you have to do. If it takes two minutes or less to get done, just do it right now. Here's a short video that explains it in more detail. https://www.developgoodhabits.com/two-minute-video I think this is the principle that my mother-in-law unconsciously used when she was cooking.
Do whatever you dread most first. If an unpleasant task is hanging over your head, get it off your radar by tackling it first. The sense of relief you will feel when the dreaded task is completed will give you a luscious feeling of accomplishment with renewed energy to tackle what's next on your to-do list.
Set a timer. I have a client who is working on her PhD thesis, and she finds it very effective to set a timer to help her focus on her work. A timer is an external motivator that reminds you to work full-steam for the set amount of time, knowing that when the timer goes off, you get rewarded by 5 minutes to do whatever you want. The Pomodoro method (means tomato in Italian) was developed with this strategy in mind. If you are interested in learning the specifics of this method, here is a link to check it out: https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/pomodoro-technique
Take breaks. Another client took the opposite approach. In preparation for writing a
book, she plunged into reviewing her journals for hours on end, failing to stop for breaks. She ended up having to take an extended hiatus from this project due to burn-out. For a list of reasons that breaks can be beneficial check out this link: www.linkedin.com/pulse/importance-taking-breaks-why-rest-essential-france
Break larger tasks into small bite-sized pieces. Think back to the 2-Minute Rule mentioned earlier. If you can complete a portion of a major task in 2 minute chunks, think of how that would inspire you to keep going. Success builds on success.
Reward system. Find little ways of rewarding yourself for accomplishing tasks. Even if it's something as simple as standing up and stretching if you have been sitting at your computer for the past 25 minutes. Look outside the window, look at the sky, or even better, step outside for a breath of fresh air. The rewards need to be simple and preferably cost-free. By rewarding yourself in the moment, your brain elicits positive emotions, leading to the realization that your efforts result in a reward. By doing this continuously, your brain will start to link pleasure to accomplishing the task or objective and move towards it in the future.