“You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.” Benjamin Franklin
“First you defrost the refrigerator.” Ernest Hemingway’s response to the question, “how do you write a novel?”
You know what’s ironic? I’ve really struggled to write a decent opening to this piece about procrastination. I’ve drafted many sentences, all drifting off without direction or purpose. I’ve noticed I’ve been finding other things to do (ironing anyone?) instead of writing. It seems the procrastination bug is catching! It is after all, as the saying goes, the thief of time.
Whether you’re a thrill seeking type of procrastinator (waiting till the last minute before a deadline), a perfectionist in disguise (frozen with the fear of failure) or a fan of FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out causing indecision and so everything is missed), to procrastinate is in fact a decision of sorts. It’s a decision, mostly unconscious, to avoid life. A decision to enter a kind of limbo paralysis where nothing moves forward. Where change doesn’t happen. When we don’t make a choice we leave all options available. We live in a kind of suspended fantasy where we can play out different scenarios and avoid any potential for regret or buyers remorse. We become a spectator in our own life. The risk (and reward) of living is removed.
Scrawl the Internet and you’ll find a massive amount of tips and advice on this topic, the search term “how to beat procrastination” brings up 5.7 million hits on Goggle! You could definitely procrastinate by reading all that is on offer!
So to help out a little, here are my top tips on how to beat Mr. Procrastination at his own game.
Get to know your inner procrastinator
Get to know the how’s and why’s of your behaviour (therapy can be a space to explore this further and deeper). This awareness allows you to gain some control over your procrastination. Keeping a procrastination diary can help. Every time you notice you’ve got caught up in this type of behaviour, you make a note of what’s happening, the action being avoided etc.
That way you can step back and see what patterns emerge and then start developing a plan of combat. For example you might discover a certain time of day is non productive for you or a certain distraction tool is being used regularly. Knowledge is power.
The 15-minute rule
Developed by Caroline Buchanan, she suggests breaking down tasks into 15-minute segments. Her other tips include visualising how it will be to have achieved your goal, to plan when you’ll start (pick the right time, place), prepare yourself before setting the 15 minute timer, and then to set a reward for yourself afterwards.
Ask a good friend to be your procrastinator buddy. Check in with each other on a regular basis as to progress made on certain tasks. The idea being that knowing we have to report to someone else can be the ignition to get us into action mode.
We often set ourselves up to fail by overloading our to do list, or devising over elaborate plans of action. Be honest and kind to yourself. Ask yourself would you set these goals for one of your friends? Take one activity at a time, allow for some slack in your timetable (either to be used as overflow or for some time out). Lower your standards (perfectionists take note). Setting ridiculously high goals or expectations is only going to end one way; in failure and beating ourselves up about it.
Importantly don’t forget to give yourself a treat for overcoming your inner procrastinator. It might be something small, like after I make that important call, am going to watch my favourite TV show or something big, like when I submit my dissertation, am going on holiday. Having an incentive in place not only keeps you going but also is way of showing yourself some self-care.
I hope some of the above tips and thoughts might help bring on a call to action. It’s so important for us to get into life, to allow life energy to flow within us. To live is to take a risk. A leap of faith into the unknown. The wise words of Carl Jung help remind us that whether right or wrong, taking action leads us closer to discovering our true selves; “the right way to wholeness is made up of fateful detours and wrong turnings”.
Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash