A self-professed procrastinator, Cathy Madavan shares the things that help her get things done
I meant to write this article sooner, I really did. I even wrote it on my to-do list. I kept thinking about writing it but then…the phone rang, the dishwasher needed emptying, an email needed replying to and, well, I decided I could do with a cup of tea before I started.
You get the gist. And so here I am, deadline week, and the pressure is on. I must write! So, why do I do this to myself? Indeed, why do any of us procrastinate and stress ourselves out in the process?
Even naturally organised folks get distracted or demotivated sometimes so, in the quest to help myself as well as you, here are some thoughts we might all want to consider.
1 Task aversion
Psychologists have determined that one of the reasons we procrastinate is because we avoid tasks that we fear will be boring, stressful, difficult or distressing. Of course, the irony is that when we put things off for too long, our stress and distress are only likely to increase.
When we know we are avoiding a task, we might need to address our concerns and give ourselves a pep talk, saying something like: “This might not be your favourite thing to do this week, but you can do it. It won’t be that unpleasant in reality.” Facing our fear usually disarms it.
We can be so hard on ourselves. Procrastinators apparently tend to feel guilty, lazy or ashamed that they haven’t got something done. We might even lose sleep over the overdue tasks.
So, instead of feeling crippled by failure, do something positive for yourself instead. Light a candle while you work, play some lovely music, or set a reward for yourself like a nice walk or a call with a friend scheduled for after you’ve finished.
But, most of all, remind yourself why doing this thing matters and the difference it will make – not least to your own wellbeing when it is done.
3 Little steps
I love what it says in Zechariah 4:10: “Do not despise these small beginnings” (NLT). It is so easy to look at a huge task in front of us – be that a large project, an entire house that needs decluttering or a marathon that needs training for – and feel totally overwhelmed and disempowered. But do not despise small beginnings!
We can all start somewhere, and the feeling of progress will almost always propel us further forwards. Just writing a plan, tackling a drawer or jogging for ten minutes is better than doing nothing and feeling bad about it. It’s the start that often stops us, so get started!
4 Deploy your calendar
Here’s the thing: if you wait until you are in the mood to do something, it is very unlikely it will ever happen.
I am never in the mood to do housework or to file my invoices. I am always in the mood, however, to go out for a coffee, and that’s why moods are not always trustworthy.
This is where we can deploy our calendar to create deadlines, mini-milestones and dates for things to be done – and stick to them wherever possible. That doesn’t mean I can’t ever pop out for a coffee if I have time, but I don’t just guess or hope I will get things done – I plan. It definitely helps me.
5 Be realistic
If you know you have peak hours during which you work best, it’s good to make the most of them if you can. Some of us, for example, are morning people who wake up singing, while others of us struggle to hold a conversation until we have had our caffeine (that would be me).
Personally, I leave my emails and easy admin until late afternoon, when I know my brain is less productive. But, most of all, let’s be realistic about what we are likely to achieve.
If we set aims that are impossible, we will end up feeling like we’ve failed again. Set yourself up to win instead and, when you get the job done, make sure you celebrate!