Getting out of my own way
2 things I’ve learned about procrastination this year
I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m usually not a big procrastinator. I like to get things done in advance, with plenty of time to revise and edit my work so that I can feel good about it and move on to the next thing.
This year, though, I’ve fallen face first into the hole of procrastination a few times. While I usually don’t procrastinate the important things, I often procrastinate the unimportant things (like email). The same happens for tasks I just really don’t want to do, even if I have to.
I don’t like this about myself. Procrastination is not part of my identity. I am the type of person who gets things done quickly and efficiently.
So I’ve taken some time to reflect on my procrastinating woes and it has lead me to two truths of procrastination:
ONE. Procrastination tightens it’s grip the longer you let it.
I was reminded of this while binge listening to Chris Guillebeau’s Side Hustle School podcast this week. As soon as you’ve put something off, it becomes easier and easier to continue putting it off. Then, the fear and guilt of not completing a task rears it’s ugly head and it becomes even more difficult to approach the task.
These thoughts can be a paralyzing downward spiral. I know how badly I need to work on or complete this task because I’ve put it off for so long. But precisely because I’ve put it off so long, it becomes more difficult to get started and easier to just keep delaying.
“What’s just one more day”, you say to yourself as days turn into weeks, then months, and a year later you’re looking around wondering why that same nagging task is still on your to do list.
The opposite is also true — the sooner you complete a task after you’ve decided it needs to get done, the looser the grip of procrastination. It’s better to get something done sooner, than risk it slipping down the procrastinators rabbit hole to be lost to unproductivity and even self loathing. No one wants that.
TWO. Procrastination is the enemy of momentum.
Momentum is a curious thing. In my writing practice, I’ve noticed that writing begets more writing. It is easier for me to sit down and write in the morning, if I did so the day before and the day before that. The same is true for running, reading, and just about anything else I spend time doing.
Consistency breeds momentum. It it easier to continue doing something than to start doing something. Starting over can be difficult, but continuing feels more like the life of a glacier, following the path of least resistance.
Procrastination threatens to halt momentum. As soon as you begin procrastinating a task, you essentially say to yourself, “next time I work on this, I’ll be starting over”. And we all know that starting over isn’t easy. In fact, the idea of starting over can be so intimidating that it will reinforce your need to put off completing the task.
Get out of your own way.
It’s simple, really. Take a moment to reflect on why you’ve been procrastinating the task. Identify the problem.
Is it fear of failure? This one haunts the perfectionist in me a lot. I am constantly reminding myself that failure is part of life, work, and progress. Failure is not the end of the world. You must keep going.
Is it guilt of not doing it earlier? Guilting yourself won’t get you anywhere. There’s only one clear way to solve it. Get it done.
Is it a task that you fundamentally despise? Maybe you can decide not to do it at all. If not, complete the task this one last time, and find a way to prevent yourself from doing it again in the future.
Are you missing information you need to complete the task? Ask for help and seek the information you need. This probably won’t take as long as you think.
No one is expecting you to do it so you can’t get yourself to do it? Find a friend, colleague, or partner to keep you accountable. Ask them to ask you about it, frequently, until it’s done.
Whatever the reason, there is no better time to start than right now.
Once you’ve identified the problem, it becomes easier to see that your procrastination is unnecessary and only makes you feel worse. Suddenly, the solution becomes clear: do the work, get it done, start now, go forward, attempt to do it, put pen to paper, pedal to the metal, just try something, anything.
No matter how you phrase it, it’s time to get out of your own way and overcome your irrational procrastination. You are capable of getting things done.
This is as much a reminder for you as it is for me at the time of writing this. We all struggle with procrastination at some point in our lives. When it comes down to it, we just need to remind ourself that it’s okay to procrastinate, but now it’s time to get it done.