Is 2020 the Year to Kick the Procrastination Habit?
This week a friend posted a question in her social media feed that started me thinking. She asked: do you wait until the start of a week or the start of a month to begin a new habit? My response was—neither!
When I decide to set a new goal or adjust a behavior, the most waiting around I will do is until the next morning. I like the feeling of hitting a reset button and then rolling out the action at the dawn of a new day. Whether that day falls mid-month on a Thursday, makes no difference to me. I suspect that if I waited until the ‘right’ day came around, my enthusiasm for the goal might fade.
I shared my start-the-next-day response with a friend who replied, yes, that’s because you never procrastinate. She’s not entirely correct, but this then set me thinking about procrastination. Why do some people rarely procrastinate while others put the ‘pro’ in procrastinate?
This year has created the perfect environment for procrastination; even the most productive person has surely found themselves putting off stuff. It is difficult not to think, I’ll get around to it later when all we have is time. This feeling of ennui (defined as a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement) seems to have sucked the ambition right out of everyone. Goals? Call me in 2021. But setting goals, getting stuff done, gives us a feeling of purpose—even if the goal is to sort through all your workout clothes by lunchtime—and right now, we could all do with feeling purposeful.
Despite what my friend said, I do procrastinate, but rarely over small tasks. I am not good at leaving certain things “for later,” and by certain things, I mean easily performed tasks. Most of us have heard of the 5-minute rule; if the thing you need to do will take less than 5 minutes, then do it immediately. Need to make a dental appointment, sweep the kitchen floor, write a thank you note? Just do it! I was born with that in my DNA.
From the time I was a child, I didn’t like the feeling of having tasks hanging over my head. The way I dealt with that emotion was to evaluate the complexity of the task and then, if possible, handle the task as soon as I could. A signature was required to attend a class outing? I walked that form to my mother, pen in hand, and waited until she signed. Done.
When my daughter started school, the various class-mothers, volunteers, PTO members, etc., often commented on how speedy my response was; my form was the first one handed in, or I dropped off the money before anyone else.
I never saw this as any great achievement; in fact, in many ways, it was a cop-out on my behalf. I loathed having to keep track of all the fiddly forms/requests, so I filled them in and sent them back asap. Each afternoon, I would tip out the blizzard of papers sent home by the school, and sift through them. With pen, envelopes, stamps, and checkbook at the ready, I would deal with each one before dropping them right back into the folder. The ball was no longer in my court. I had successfully lobbed it back into the sender’s court. Done.
I tried to impart this wisdom to my children when they were younger. Let’s say this was one of the lessons they never truly embraced. Now, I am not saying they were extreme procrastinators, but the 5-minute rule was often ignored. I relented a bit and focused on teaching them how to tackle the bigger, longer tasks. (And no, the, I work better under pressure approach didn’t gain any traction with me.)
The technique I taught my two children is simple, and I still use these steps in my own life:
The first thing is to prioritize. Make a list based on the time you would like to have the task completed. Are we talking by 4pm, by Friday or by September?
Break each task into steps, and write them out in a basic to-do list. Some projects will have lots of small steps, and others will have fewer broader steps. And, who doesn’t like crossing off things on a list?
Remove distractions. Turn off the TV, set phone aside, close door.
Organize your work-space (desk, kitchen counter, craft table, potting bench, etc.) and set it up to ensure all you need is at hand. How many projects have derailed because someone had to go looking for a pair of scissors, a spatula, or glue? This usually leads to them making a snack, which leads to them letting the dog out, which leads to them waiting on the hammock, which leads to them….well, you get it.
Work when you are most productive. We don’t always have this luxury, but pay attention to when your energy is highest and tap into that.
Set a timer. I spend most of my day writing, and I always write to a timer. I cannot get up from this laptop until 12:30.Start with 15 minutes—trust me, somedays even 15 minutes feels like a month.
Accountability. If the project/goal is very important to you, tag someone as your accountability partner. Checking in with someone who is not part of the project keeps you on track.
Rewards. Build in guaranteed rewards for each step relative to the complexity of that step. Good news; as an adult, you can decide your own rewards. Cake! Wine!
Continually putting off things leaves us feeling unhappy and dissatisfied, while these steps will help focus our thinking. In these endlessly repetitive days, setting reasonable goals helps make us feel a bit more in control, a bit more purposeful. It’s worth a try.
Make 2020 the year you tame the procrastination gremlin.