You know you should exercise. You know you should study. You know you should prepare healthy meals. You know you should do your laundry before you run out of underwear. But you put it off to tomorrow, and when tomorrow comes, you put if off again. In fact, you keep putting it off until it is a full-fledged emergency.
Big businesses understand our tenacity to procrastinate. Those late fees didn’t come about because we all do so well at getting our bills paid on time. Procrastination is just a fact of life and part of being human. Most of us do it maybe more than we want to admit.
We don’t work out until we are overweight. We don’t study until the night before the test (if not in the minutes before the test). All this procrastination stresses us out. We know that if we just did the items on our ever-expanding to-do list before we had to do them, we would live calmer lives, get more done, and perform better on those very things.
In fact, we feel so guilty about our procrastinating ways that we beat ourselves up over it. Have you ever laid in bed at night, laden with anxiety about some task and unable to sleep? Or worse, have you laid there beating yourself up over something you ended up missing out on because you procrastinated a little too long?
So why don’t we just do the thing we should before they are emergencies? Why do we procrastinate, and is there anything we can do about it? There are many reasons we procrastinate. Each one of these reasons causes our procrastination in different ways, and each has its own technique to overcoming it. This is why, in one case, making a to-do list helps some with stopping procrastination but may not work for you if your procrastination is caused by something other than forgetfulness.
Forgetfulness is the first reason people procrastinated. We give ourselves way too much credit in thinking that our memories can handle managing everything in our world. You may be able to remember to do the dishes, the laundry, walk the dog, etc. but forget to file your taxes. So this is the unintentional procrastination. You have every intention of doing the task, knowing you will have time to do it later. But the time comes and goes, and you simply forgot.
This is where to-do lists, calendars, cell phone alarms, and even emailing yourself reminders all come in handy to remind you at the right time to do a task. If you have this problem and implement some reminder methods like these, you will love the way it feels. Suddenly, you will be free to be in the moment. You can concentrate on what you are doing and not have that anxiety that you are forgetting something.
The second reason we procrastinate is because we are overwhelmed. If you are already the type to make a to-do list, you may have experienced that awful feeling of writing down everything you should do and realizing you can’t humanly do it all. You become distraught, and suddenly, you are wasting time being distraught instead of accomplishing at least some of what you need to do.
The truth is that your list is too long. We all have things we want to do and should do, but there really are only 24 hours in a day. Take your list and circle the must-do tasks. Cross off the tasks that you can reasonably put off without consequences and mark those you can do once you’ve finished your most important task first.
Now, you have a game plan that you can actually stick to. You will be amazed at how much you actually do get done, and by taking a few minutes to prioritize your to-do list, you will gain the confidence that the important things get done and rid yourself of that awful, overwhelmed feeling.
Still overwhelmed? Sometimes, when that overwhelmed feeling has taken over, the surprising solution is bribery. Bribe yourself to get through your tasks with small rewards. The trick here is that you only get the reward if you accomplish the task and the reward has to have a built-in time limit. Watching a five-minute YouTube video is a great reward because there is always something fun to watch, and if you only pick short videos, the time limit is built right in.
Still feeling like you don’t want to get started? You may be suffering from the effect of your own thoughts. Maybe the last time you did this particular task, you had a bad experience. Perhaps you’ve never done this task but just know you’ll do poorly with it. Do you think you have no choice? You may tell yourself, “I don’t know how to do it.” In other words, are you stuck?
The solution to all these problems is to think it through. Don’t just buy what your brain is selling you. Think about what you are telling yourself and question it. Be like the TV lawyer. Cross examine your own thoughts. Here is how it might go.
Witness: “Last time I did X, I hated it.”
TV Lawyer: “Does that mean it can’t be different this time? Couldn’t you find some way to make it enjoyable if you really thought about it?”
Witness: “But I just know I’ll do X badly.”
TV Lawyer: “Do you truly know you’ll do poorly? Isn’t there a chance you could do well? And even if you did do poorly, wouldn’t you do better trying than not?”
Witness: “I have to do X.”
TV Lawyer: “Really? Would you actually die if you did not do X? Isn’t the truth that you get to do X, that you are free to do X and improve your life in that way?”
Witness: “I have no experience with X. I don’t know what to do.”
TV Lawyer: “Everyone that has ever done a task had to go through their first time doing it. Do you really not have access to Google and YouTube so that you could find out and even have someone walk you through how to do just about anything you could want to do?
Related to thinking is an attitude of perfectionism. A lot of us put off doing things we want to do because we don’t want to do them unless we can do them perfectly. We wait for the perfect environment, the perfect time, and our perfect mood before beginning.
The truth is that you’re not perfect. None of us are. The people who do amazing things in life have decided that is it better to do a task imperfectly than to not act at all. You must decide that you are okay with imperfection if it means the task gets done. After all, not doing the task is worse than even the poorest effort. Also, the experience you gain going through the motions of doing the task will give you experience. You will learn how to do the task better and better.
If a task can be delegated, this is a situation where delegation works well. Some areas that can be delegated include paying someone else to do your taxes, hiring someone else to mow your lawn, or even just buying the pre-cut onions in the freezer section to cut down your time spent cooking later in the week. Using a bill payment system through your bank can save you time filling out envelopes, buying stamps, and running to the mailbox. Would your children be more than happy to fold the laundry even if it is not their chore if it meant you would make a pizza for dinner? There are many creative ways to delegate. Look at your list and consider if there is an easier way to accomplish your goals. Sometimes, we overlook how hard we are making getting things done because we just haven’t stopped to think it through.
So, make that to-do list. Decide what is most important to get done on it. Bribe yourself to follow through. Cross examine your thoughts. Be okay with imperfection. Delegate tasks when appropriate. Procrastination can cause anxiety and worry and even lead to guilt and depression, but by knowing what works to overcome it, you can beat it at its own game. Now, go make your list!