We all do it – avoid a tricky task and put off the inevitable. But how much of our time and effort is wasted in doing so? It’s time to stop making excuses, and learn to get stuff done!
Is there a vital task at home or at work you’re avoiding? Whether it’s delaying a dental check-up or ignoring paperwork, we’re all prone to procrastinate at times. And while comedians often joke about it – Ellen DeGeneres says: “Procrastinate now, don’t put it off!” – in reality, it’s no laughing matter.
Sometimes the costs are financial; missing a deadline to submit your tax return or pay a parking penalty can lead to hefty fines. More often the price you pay for prevaricating is emotional, due to guilt, shame and frustration. If you struggle with procrastination, you’ll know that it’s both a source and a consequence of stress and anxiety.
Where are you ‘stuck’?
As a declutter coach and study consultant, I help adults and teenagers to boost motivation and productivity, at home, at work and while studying. Broadly speaking, I witness two procrastinating tendencies. Which is most familiar to you?
Not leaving the starting block: postponing an important project indefinitely, or leaving it to the very last moment.
Getting stuck midway: launching into an activity, but losing momentum and perhaps abandoning the endeavour altogether.
What’s your excuse?
Excuses can be understood as stories that we construct in difficult situations to validate actions (or inaction). But don’t let the term “excuse” make you defensive. When you notice that you’re procrastinating, resist temptation to berate yourself. Let go of self-judgement, and instead focus on challenging any underlying assumptions. By reframing your story, it’s possible to not only shift perspectives but habits, too.
Here are five of the most common excuses that might resonate with you, and some tips to help you kick procrastination to the curb.
I’m too busy
Being rushed off your feet may seem like a contemporary conundrum, but ancient philosophers also acknowledged the difficulty of trying to do too much. Socrates warned: “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
The answer, I suggest, is to declutter your diary. Take stock of how you spend your most precious resource, your time. Defining priorities is key.
Learning to say “no”, and setting boundaries with friends, family or colleagues is also essential. And try dropping the busy bravado – next time someone asks if you’re busy, tell them that you’re active. It sounds less frenetic and will remind you that you’re in control.
I’m a procrastinator
It’s important to recognise that this isn’t simply a description; it carries a great deal of self-criticism that perpetuates the problem. It’s also a vast generalisation; procrastination is a habit rather than a personality trait, so don’t let it define who you are. Think about what you do accomplish rather than what you don’t – the myriad routines that ensure you get your children to school, or keep track of responsibilities at work and at home. Perhaps you take for granted the time management required to walk your dog every day, or the effort it takes to organise food shopping? Give yourself credit for being so productive in certain areas of your life, even if there’s scope for improvement in others.
I don’t know where to start
A meeting to organise, a wardrobe to declutter, a report to write – the more complex a project, the more decisions you’re likely to face. And one of the toughest choices is where to start. Dilemma leads to delay. It’s all the more daunting if you suspect there’s a set way of tackling a task. But what if there isn’t a prescribed order to follow? Assignments don’t always need to be written in a linear fashion. When it comes to decluttering, I don’t advocate sorting according to a universal sequence of stuff. In many situations, it may not matter what you do first; anything is better than postponing. Try not to agonise over the first step and once you’ve taken it, just keep moving forward. As the poet William Wordsworth, advised: “To begin, just begin.”
It has to be perfect
Procrastination and perfectionism often go hand in hand. I regularly work with students who put themselves under immense pressure to achieve full marks. I also coach parents and professionals who tend to view success as an all or nothing concept.
If a preoccupation with perfection is holding you up, the antidote may be to lower the bar, to accept that sometimes “good enough” really can be good enough. Can you gain a qualification even if you don’t achieve a distinction for every single assessment? There may even be occasions when mediocrity is sufficient. In most situations, you’re likely to find that the task doesn’t need to be perfect; it just needs to get done.
I’ll do it someday
Let’s be frank, “someday” isn’t a day of the week. Why not fix a specific date to do what you need to and share your plan with someone else to make yourself accountable? Another option is simply to do it now.