Procrastination is the thief of time

THIS WAS ONE OF MY mother’s favourite sayings when I was a child. She had a whole repertoire of helpful clichés. Quite whether this particular homily from Edward Young was rhetorical, or she was directing her sageness at me, I can’t remember. But it was a phrase that clearly stuck in my mind. And although I hate to admit it, I’m certainly a procrastinator now. Even more worrying, I seem to have become even more intimately acquainted with the ‘P’ word as I’ve got older.

So, in an attempt to explore, and gently knock my deferral habit on the head once and for all (maybe a childhood fall from a horse is where it did, in fact, all go terribly wrong) here are my thoughts and findings on the whole Procrastination Phenomenon…

The Definition

Procrastination essentially means putting off till tomorrow what you can do today. Or as I read somewhere recently: “Procrastination is like masturbation; in the end you’re just screwing yourself”.

I couldn’t put it better myself. Procrastination also happens to be the ‘grave of opportunity’ for many of us. It sucks. So how does the ‘P’ word manifest itself in our daily life?

The Symptoms

A deliberate decision to defer doing things, ranging from: I’ll tidy up those papers later to… that ironing can wait, to I’ll apply for that job next week, to I’ll get a divorce next year when the economy’s better. We’re so good at making up excuses why we shouldn’t, can’t or just simply won’t do things we know need doing.

I know that I can suddenly have an irresistible urge to do the hoovering when I’ve got papers to file, my cupboards suddenly need sorting when I have a writing deadline, or I just have to get some fresh air when faced with demanding tax returns to fill out. The list and the excuses are endless. I even find myself ironing rather than doing what I should be doing. Crazy making. If I have a writing deadline, I will often wait until I’m up against the wire to get it done. This way it gets done faster, but I also put off more important deadlines like job applications and such like.

So why do we procrastinate?

The reasons we put things off are many and varied. Is it sheer laziness, this stubborn refusal to get on and do the damn thing, is it fear, or are our self-sabotaging habits indicative of more serious emotional and mental problems like depression?

I often procrastinate if I’m feeling overloaded or overwhelmed, and poor management is probably the key element here, but an inability to prioritise can lead to severe procrastination. Perfectionism, another dangerous ‘P’ word came up when I spoke to friends and colleagues about their own delaying tactics. We often have unrealistic standards – for ourselves and others – a self-limiting belief that it’s better not to start at all than to risk failure, or sub-standard contributions. Occasionally severe worry about a task to be done means that more time is spent angsting than doing, while some of us may feel that any kind of setback is a complete disaster – we have an “all or nothing” mindset. So don’t try again once we’ve experienced so-called ‘failure’.

And of course there are some things in life we have to do that are simply boring or difficult. It’s easy to put them at the end of our ‘to do’ list. More serious is the negative mind chatter that tells us ‘we’re useless’ or ‘nothing ever goes right for me’. If you are experiencing this to any degree, tell it to shut the f**k up. Or get professional help. Quick.

The Solutions

Here are a few strategies I’ve used to help me with my own procrastination:

1. Look at your list of ‘to do’s and list them in an order of priority. What are the things that you simply HAVE to do either today or tomorrow? Which are the tasks that can be left until next week or next month, without making you feel stressed?

2. Ask yourself exactly what you are gaining from procrastinating. What’s the trade-off here?

3. Mind your language. Try changing the ‘shoulds” “have to’s” and ‘can’ts to choose to and choose not to. This could be very revealing. No one has a gun at your head – perhaps you’re in a job/marriage/relationship that needs leaving!

4. Are your values aligned with your actions? Many of us doing work we actively dislike, assuming there are no options. Make a list of your values and see if your job is in synch. If not, then look around for another form of work. Yes, the economy is in dire straits, but there is plenty of work out there. Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t – you’re right!

5. As Brian Tracy recommends in his book, Eat The Frog – tasks can be looked up on as frogs – the most dreaded task being the ugliest frog. He recommends eating the ugliest frogs first!

6. Reward yourself when you do accomplish something. This is vital!

7. Remember, its better to produce/do something than nothing at all.

8. Just cut the bull and get on with it!

Good luck! And on a final note, here’s a great quote from William James:

“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task, which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome”

Recommended Reading:

[amazon ASIN=1576754227]Eat that frog[/amazon] [amazon ASIN=1848501617]Just Get On With It: A Caring, Compassionate Kick Up the Ass![/amazon] [amazon ASIN=0738211702]Procrastination: Why You Do It, What to Do About It[/amazon] [amazon ASIN=0471173991]Do it Now: Break the Procrastination Habit[/amazon]