I lingered at the kitchen table one Saturday morning in early June. As I sipped my coffee, I opened the calendar on my iPhone, preparing myself for the day ahead. I noticed that there was no dot under today’s date. Because that’s a fairly unfamiliar sight, I clicked on it to double check.
June 15: “No Events”.
A whole day with nothing scheduled!? I immediately felt a swell of eagerness and determination wash over me. I had been working on a writing project, trying to squeeze it into the cracks of everyday life as the weeks went by. And now today was wide open!? I was going to get So. Much. Writing. Done. I quickly began to make a mental note of the additional tasks I could knock out. After all, I had an entire day!
I stood, armed with my mental to-do list, ready to tackle the day. Feeling as though I needed some fuel to get all of these incredible things done, I told myself I would start with “just a quick snack”. Soon after, I would be on my way to starting the first task on my list.
However, while I was getting that “quick snack”, I noticed the sink was overflowing. Crusty bowls and dirty dishes balanced on top of each other, teetering, in a sort of poorly structured pyramid. With a sigh, I began the chore of loading the dishwasher.
Once that was finished, I headed upstairs. Glancing down, I noticed a disgusting amount of dog hair clinging to the baseboards that I hadn’t noticed earlier. I backtracked into the kitchen, grabbed the broom, and began sweeping up the dog hair. While I was at it, I went ahead and swept the entire downstairs, shocked at how much stuff had accumulated on our hardwoods. I made a quick mental note to sweep more frequently. (By the way, what’s an acceptable amount of time to go between sweepings before it becomes embarrassing? Asking for a friend…)
Procrastination is a Time Thief
Finally, as I was on my way upstairs to settle in at my desk in my cozy writing corner, the mountain of dirty laundry in the corner caught my eye. I threw in a quick load. Realizing that the dryer was also full, I scooped out the dry towels and threw them on my bed, vowing to fold them later. However, I realized that company was coming over the next day and I was sure there were plenty of tasks to complete before then, so I might as well fold them and get them out of my way.
After a good hour and a half had passed, I finally sat down at my computer to write. However, before I typed a single word, I realized I never finished my snack I left on the kitchen counter as I unloaded the dishwasher an hour earlier. So I got up to retrieve it, still yet to start on my task of writing. Procrastination stole my entire morning, and a feeling of failure crept in before I knew what was happening.
The entire scene was a real-life sequel of the book If you Give a Mouse a Cookie (that guy is my spirit animal). I started out with the best of intentions, but along the way I became distracted. As a result, I procrastinated by busying myself rather than just getting started. Again.
Please tell me I’m not alone!
Why Does Procrastination Take Over?
I recently had to have a heart-to-heart with myself to get to the bottom of things. To figure out why I always seem to procrastinate, and why it’s almost become part of my identity. Take writing for instance. I absolutely love to write, but I will stay idle for days, letting an idea bounce around against the walls of my brain before I actually sit down and write one word of it. Eventually, it occurred to me that one main reason I procrastinate is to avoid failure. If I don’t actually do the task, I can’t fail at it.
That’s when things got real.
I recognized that my need for approval and my tendency towards perfectionism frequently join forces, working to block me when I attempt to accomplish something. Maybe you can relate?
I’ve also realized that when I’m working on a job that just seems too large and overwhelming, it feels as though someone has asked me to start digging a basement with a spoon. As a result, it’s tempting to just walk away and settle in with a good Netflix series instead. Even the most driven and hard-working people can feel overwhelmed, and therefore procrastinate when they come face to face with a deadline disguised as a giant.
And let’s be honest here. There are some things in life that I just plain don’t want to do. Laundry is my nemesis. The monotony of it lulls me into an unrelenting state of boredom. If you happen to be faced with that particular task today, my sincerest condolences. May the Lord bless you and keep you.
Tips for Avoiding Procrastination
My mind frequently begins searching for an easy escape route to put off getting actual responsibilities done. (This is often in the form of organizing the spices in my pantry or googling how cold ocean water is). In those desperate times, I have come to rely on three effective strategies that I have personally found will help me to focus and regain control over my day. Maybe these will work for you, too!
- Make a numbered to-do list.
Prioritize the list, putting critical tasks at top, and work your way down. Items at the top should be things that will keep you up at night if you don’t get them done. Share your list with your spouse or a trusted friend who will hold you accountable. (Listen, accountability is the number one reason I do anything). If I know that I’m going to check in with a friend, with an employer, and, honestly, even with God, you can bet that I will take it seriously and follow through. Every time.
2. Remove any distractions.
Distractions can be so frustrating when you’re trying to accomplish a task. For me, I first put away my iPhone. I also turn on some white noise (www.asoftmurmur.com is a great one) or listen to a podcast I really enjoy. I would much rather fold laundry while laughing along with jokes about pop culture or learning about fashion trends. Before I know it, the dreaded chore is done and I’m less tempted to put it off the next time.
3. Set a Timer.
This allows me to create my own deadline. For instance, I have found that 20 to 30 minutes produces the best results for me. Commit to working on the assignment until the timer goes off. Depending on how you’re feeling, you may want to ride that momentum and keep working, or give yourself a much anticipated (but short) break. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish!
No More Putting it Off!
If you battle with procrastination on a regular basis, I hope these tips can help you as well. When we sit back and evaluate the reasons why procrastination sometimes gets the best of us, we can be empowered in finding specific ways to overcome it. When I put these ideas into practice, I’m able to quickly check the boxes on my to-do list and move on to the next endeavor…
…Right after I grab a quick snack.