This probably won’t come as a surprise to those who know me well, but I have to confess: At times, I am a total procrastinator.
Most people say I don’t seem like the “type” to procrastinate, whatever that means. But I kind of understand why they say that. I’m an overachiever and a perfectionist. I made good grades in school. I always meet deadlines unless there is a damn good reason not to. Yet I can’t deny the fact that, in certain situations, I put things off for ages.
Why I Procrastinate
I’m unsure what to do. I noticed this a lot when I was still working at my crappy job. When I had adequate training in a particular task, I was always done on time, if not early. But when I didn’t, I knew I was going to have to either (1) spend time figuring it out or (2) ask someone for help. And I hate asking for help, but that’s a whole other post.
The benefit: You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve avoided a serious screwup by putting off something I didn’t know how to do. Like the time I avoided filling out disability paperwork for a therapy client – turns out the way I thought I was supposed to do it was completely wrong.
I don’t want to do something. Obvious, right? This is where cleaning my house comes in. I hate doing it, I will always hate doing it, and I just plain don’t want to. So I don’t – that is, until the house is such a wreck that I won’t even let anyone come in.
The benefit: When I do break down and clean, I go all out. I spend a whole day busting my ass to make everything spotless. And that feeling is much more rewarding to me than “Yay, I dusted.” Also, to be honest, sometimes avoiding something I don’t want to do gets me out of it. Yeah, I said it.
I have too much going on at once. At the risk of making the “I’m busy” excuse, sometimes there really are too many things happening in my life at one time. When I’m overwhelmed, it’s simply not possible to get everything done.
The benefit: Juggling multiple stressors and responsibilities means I have to streamline whenever I can, helping me stay organized.
How to Stop Procrastinating
I don’t really think there’s a cure for procrastination – some people will always put certain things off until the last minute, and others would never do such a thing. That said, I do think there are ways to become a better procrastinator, if such a thing exists.
1. Create prioritized to-do lists.
My to-do lists save my life. I make daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly lists and prioritize my tasks in order of urgency and importance. I also allow myself a few things each day that can be put off until tomorrow; that way I tell myself “Well, I’ve already put off several tasks. I better get the other ones done.”
2. Make a schedule.
Lately I’ve become more and more rigid in the way I schedule my time. If I’ve scheduled an hour of work with no interruptions, that means I don’t check my email, I don’t answer the phone, and I don’t use social media. And I’m far more productive that way versus multitasking.
3. Ask for help.
As I mentioned, this is nearly impossible for me to do for a number of reasons (mostly involving my control issues and perfectionism). But I’ve been forcing myself to ask for help with at least one thing each week. For example, last week I got a request to do a project on a very strict timeline that I just couldn’t meet. So I referred the person to a designer friend and asked for his help. I won’t lie – it hurt a little, but in the end it was a good thing for the client, me, and my friend.
4. Acknowledge uncertainty and make a plan.
For those to-do list items that I’m nervous about or unsure of, I break them down into a specific list of steps I’ll take to get rid of the feeling and move on. For example, I need to schedule my son for an eye exam. Not a big deal, but I’ve been putting it off because I need to check his insurance coverage (he hasn’t been since this plan started in January), make sure his optometrist is in network, find out the best time for him to miss school for the appointment, etc. So I added those items to my list instead of the ambiguous “make appointment” and it became easier.
5. Be mindful of the potential risks.
I try to look at the positive aspects of my status as a procrastinator (as evidenced by the benefits I listed above). But I also have to remember the times when putting things off has affected me (or someone else) negatively. Like the time I was writing a 40-page paper for grad school two days before the due date and my computer crashed. Yes, I lost the whole paper. Yes, I ended up getting it rewritten in time – but I didn’t sleep for about 60 hours. Memories like that help keep my procrastination from getting out of control.
Are You a Procrastinator?
I was almost scared to write this post. I have a vision in my head of people going, “Oh my gosh, you terrible person!” But I have a feeling I’m not alone. So if you’re a fellow procrastinator, what circumstances cause you to put things off? What do you do to manage better? And if you aren’t a procrastinator, feel free to rant about the ones you know – if nothing else, maybe it will motivate the rest of us.