Putting Off Procrastination
by Vicki Nunn
“Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.”
Are you the Prince or Princess of Procrastination or perhaps the Lord or Lady of Laziness? Come join the human race, because we can all be prone to bouts of both of these not-so-healthy traits.
Occasional procrastination is fine, but when it starts to control our behaviours and our life, rather than us being in control, then we need to seriously look at how it is impacting us. We also need to understand that laziness and procrastination can have a hugely negative impact on our happiness.
What is the difference between laziness and procrastination? While these two behaviours do overlap, there are some differences. Here are the two definitions from the online Oxford Dictionary:
Laziness: noun – the quality of being unwilling to work or use energy; idleness.
Procrastination: noun – the action of delaying or postponing something.
The difference between the two is the willingness to undertake a task. Laziness is an active choice of will to NOT do something, whereas procrast-ination means we choose to delay a task while believing that at some point we will still have to do it.
Although we may occasionally be a little lazy, in general most people are more guilty of procrastination then laziness, so we’ll focus more on the concept of procrastination.
In What Ways Do We Procrastinate?
We can find ourselves giving in to procrastination in several areas:
- at home: two things that are high on most people’s procrastination list include housework and partic-ularly clutter;
- health: getting exercise, eating more healthily, taking medication or going to the doctor;
- our education: we may delay study or courses because it takes up so much time and we understand that it will require a commitment and effort of will;
- careers: being willing to try new tasks, learning new things or completing courses may seem a little scary or sounds like it’s just too hard;
- relationships: we can put off trying to resolve broken relationships, particularly those with family members and people that are difficult to get along with; and
- as Christians: we may also be guilty of procrastinating putting more effort into our relationship with God, reading the Bible, prayer time or getting involved with our church, and we may even put off consciously listening to God’s leading or teaching in our lives.
How Can Procrastination Cause Us Unhappiness?
Initially when we procrastinate, we may feel glad that we postponed that dreaded chore. The problem with resisting tasks which we find boring or bothersome or that seem too large to tackle, is that they won’t get done on their own. There is no magic fairy on standby, ready to do our work, so the task sits there unresolved, reminding us constantly that it still needs to be done, particularly if it’s something like housework – and we can only turn a blind eye to mess and dirtiness for so long
If we allow time to pass or other tasks to pile up undone, the pressure in our mind increases. Eventually the pile of tasks can become so huge that it’s difficult to know how to tackle it, which can lead to more procrastination and add to our stress.
This can be particularly true of aims such as looking after our health or improving our education. We may suddenly find that years have passed and that the resolution we made to improve ourselves when we were young remains unresolved and regret can take up residence in our minds and hearts, and contribute to our unhappiness.
Living in a pig-sty or having a large list of incomplete tasks to undertake can make us grumpy and even depressed because we can’t ignore it, and in our mind it can take on gigantic dimensions that make us believe it will be too huge or even impossible to do on our own, or even that it’s too late to try and resolve it.
Research of a group of more than 10,000 people indicated that 94% of those who procrastinate believe it impacts negatively on their happiness, with around 19% claiming that it’s enormously negative.1
It can impact our relationships by causing us to put off things until the last minute and make us late for appointments with friends and loved ones, and in the workplace we’ll soon develop a reputation for tardiness or slackness.
Procrastination can become such a chronic condition that it impacts hugely on relationships and our career. I knew a man in his 60s who we’ll call Bob, who had left his marriage and his children when he was a young man, after he discovered that his wife had been unfaithful.
Angry, confused and hurt, Bob stayed away until he realised one day that years had passed. He’d procrastinated reuniting with his children for so long that he would no longer consider even trying to find them. He believed his children would hate him and blame him for abandoning them and so he procrastinated for longer and longer.
Bob was not a happy man because in his own mind he was a failure and he couldn’t bear the thought of the condemnation in his children’s eyes if ever they were to meet. When the thought of his children rose in his mind, he would push it away and try to ignore it, but it hovered there in the background of his mind, nagging at him and reminding him of his failure as a father and perhaps even as a human being.
Bob’s procrastination impacted on other areas in his life as a consequence: he never had a successful career and simply flitted from one short-term, dead-end job to another and he rarely stayed in one place for more than a few years at a time. Though he was desperate to find someone to love, he struggled to maintain healthy relationships. It was if he believed he didn’t deserve happiness or perhaps even that he deserved to be punished for his failure.
How Do We Overcome Procrastination?
One of the biggest reasons that we resist tackling our procrastination is that we’ve let things go for so long, that it’s grown from a molehill to a mountain! We may baulk at the size of the task or dread that it’s going to be boring.
Perhaps we fear failure or if it’s in the workplace, some people may fear that they’ll be so good at the task that they’ll be given more difficult jobs that are beyond their capability and then perhaps people will think they’re failures. On the other side of the coin are the perfectionists who won’t begin a new task until they’ve completed the one they’re currently working on – perfectly.
Let’s look at some ways that we can tackle our problem with procrastination:
- Be honest about it. We often fail to recognise that procrastination is a personal choice. We must be honest with ourselves and look at all of the areas of our life where our procrastination is having an impact:
– household chores?
- Take small bites. Rather than allowing ourselves to feel over-whelmed by how much there is to do or how much we need to change. We should remind ourselves that we can tackle this issue one small step at a time.
We can set ourselves a goal of attempting just the one task and try to complete as much as we can in a set period such as 20 minutes. Some people may find that setting an alarm may even help. Once the period has elapsed, take a five minute break and remind ourselves of how far we have come, rather than focus on what there is yet to do.
- Try to make it interesting. What can we do to make the task a little more fun? When I’m at home, I find that playing music helps to pass the time and I sing along, or perhaps we can throw in some dance moves! If we lack imagination on how to make it more interesting, perhaps we could ask a friend for suggestions.
- Be aware of distractions. What are the things that distract us from completing our tasks? Do we put computer games, phone calls or social media ahead of our tasks? We can switch that around – we can compensate ourselves with these as a reward once the task is complete, and allow ourselves just a short time of five minutes to enjoy it.
- Focus on one thing at a time. While I may be able to watch TV and knit at the same time, I know that I can’t give my full attention to both. Most individual tasks require our undivided attention so we should just focus on one thing at a time.
If we’re feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the tasks, we can tackle the easier jobs to begin, eg washing the dishes. Once it’s completed, we should allow ourselves a moment or two to feel good about it, and to enjoy how clean and tidy it is. I know that when my bed is made and my room is tidy, it makes me feel good when I step into my bedroom because it looks so nice. Go ahead and feel proud of your achievement!
- Set ourselves a goal. Once we begin to tackle this problem, we can begin to set ourselves achievable goals, such as washing our clothes once a week. In fact, some people put aside a set day and a time to complete a particular chore, eg Saturday mornings may be the time to wash our clothes. We should aim to do all of our clothes, and not just what we think we’re going to need for the next few days.
I love that sense of freedom I feel when I’ve completed my washing and then later have put it away, because I know that I won’t have to think about it for another week, and I’ll have plenty of clean clothes to last me for seven days, including my favourite shirts.
There are a couple of monthly chores that I always aim to complete on the first day of the month, otherwise it’s far too easy for me to forget to do them.
As I recognise that I have a shocking memory for some things, I’ve added reminders into my phone to tackle certain chores.
- Time it. One of the lies we use to convince ourselves to procrastinate is that a particular job will take too long or that we have more important things to do.
The fact is, that it often takes far less time than we think to do the task, particularly those everyday household chores that most procrastinators hate, eg making the bed, washing the dishes or tidying up.
When I recognised I was lying to myself about those annoying little tasks, I started timing how long it actually took to complete them. I now know that making my bed takes me less than one minute and whenever I want to make an excuse not to do it, I cannot justify NOT doing it. Thirty-seven seconds to make my bed? Of course I can manage that! In fact, sometimes I try to set a new record just to make it a little more interesting for myself.
- Do it as we go: some tasks do take more effort than others, but we can make it easier on ourselves by doing what we can along the way. This concept can help in the workplace too, and it’s something that I do while I’m working on SPAG Magazine. An example of this is completing the details of web-pages that I access. This is a particularly tiresome chore that I don’t enjoy at all, but if I write it into the bibliography page, after I finish with research on the one website, it doesn’t seem such an enormous and horribly tedious job. If I leave it till the end, after the magazine is almost ready, I really, really hate it. I’m usually feeling quite stressed by that stage anyway and the last thing I want to face is that dreary task.
Another example is washing up at home – I thoroughly rinse the dishes and utensils etc with hot water after I finish using them. Then when it’s time to wash them properly, there’s no crusty, horrible bits stuck to the items, and then it doesn’t take as much effort to clean them.
- Declutter the clutter. Research suggests that we can waste up to thirty minutes a day looking for lost items. When we can’t find something we’re looking for, it can encourage us to procrastinate.
One way that we can help to eliminate clutter and the frustration that goes with looking for lost keys and other items, is to become more organised.
As I have a terrible short-term memory, I will rarely remember where I put things and so I’ve trained myself to place items in a particular place. It made no sense to me to spend valuable time looking for lost items – valuable time that I could be spending doing things that I enjoy.
I encourage you to put the effort into learning how to declutter – there are various websites that can help you with suggestions on how to do this.
From my own personal experience, I can tell you how much simpler and less stressful it has made my life to be clutter-free, but it took me several years to fine-tune my home and to train myself.
- Planning our schedule. Along with my bad short-term memory is the inability to remember birthdays and appointments. (Strangely I have a remarkable memory for numbers such as bank accounts, tax numbers, medical numbers etc.)
If we are disorganised with our time and miss appointments, it can encourage us to procrastinate in the future. I’m so grateful for modern technology and the fact that I can easily add my appointments, birthdays and other important reminders into my phone. I know of other people who prefer using an old-fashioned pocket calendar. Whatever way you prefer, don’t delay in beginning this very helpful habit.
When I first began using a pocket diary many years ago, it took me three years to train myself to use it faithfully and to check it regularly, but it has been an absolute godsend.
The wonderful thing about overcoming our natural inclination to procrastinate is that it usually results in us having a more pleasurable leisure time, because we aren’t thinking about what needs to be done, or having to walk around the mess in the corner, or forgetting to attend that appointment or engagement.
Do it: now that you’ve gotten this far into the article, is there are a little chore that you can complete right now? Did you say no? Dare I suggest that you may be lying to yourself about your answer?
In fact, I’m going to finish the article so that you can get up and go and do it RIGHT NOW … oh, and don’t forget to time it – you may be surprised how little effort it actually takes! [End]
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