It has come to my recent attention that I, like several others I know (yes, that’s you I’m talking to) am putting the “pro” in procrastination. Seriously. When life gets overwhelming, sometimes a little impromptu game of hide and seek occurs. The problem being, of course, everyone is hiding and no one is seeking. . . Oops.
I’m not saying I don’t get things done. I do. I am a Task.Master. I do more in one day that most people do in a week (she said ever so humbly). But, I also, um, seem to have the attention span of a five year old during center time when it comes time to sit and work for more than an hour.
This is hardly a problem unique to me; there’s a reason that a Google search for “procrastination” brings up “About 3,930,000 results.” As a matter of fact, I think we ought to make our nationwide motto:
“America: avoiding dealing with our own shit since 1776.”
Stop laughing. Seriously. At least try. You laugh because you know it’s true. This is learned behavior, to be sure, and learned in response to the desire to manage our emotions. When faced with a task, our brains immediately react in certain predictable ways, triggering a fight or flight response pattern, a growth or a fixed mindset, a pessimistic or optimistic point of view, and a work ethic we have trained ourselves to hold. In sum, there are certain patterns of thought and action that either help, or hinder a person in their attempt to get ‘er done.
To clarify, let me provide an illustration, organized in a compare and contrast method to best enlighten you. Let me present:
The Pedagogy of Procrastination: How to make difficult things take longer and get more complicated.
1. Identify the task, project or assignment. Write it down on your to-do list. It is now
2. Stare at said herculean task. Turn it into a metaphorical monster by thinking immediately of the end result. Focus only on the outcome, that MUST be achieved, right away. Because.
3. Be sure to set a shit ton of expectations for yourself surrounding said outcome.
4. Panic a little. Slump shoulders. Complain a bit. Sigh several times, loudly. Announce to the world that those were really “deep cleansing breaths,” just to make yourself feel better.
5. Get up and do something else. The dishes look dirty. Pretty sure the laundry needs to be swapped out. And those baseboards? I mean, have they ever even BEEN cleaned? Now is a good time for that. For sure.
6. Come back to the list. Reorder it. Do something else that looks more fun and cross it off, in permanent ink. Look at you, getting things done. #superstar
7. Give self a pep talk. Remind your reluctant brain of the super high stakes (that you set) and why it is super critical to do it. NOW.
8. Sit down, resolved to get to work. Open up five other tabs on your computer screen. Music, work e-mail, personal e-mail, other, other e-mail, social media, you know, important stuff. Respond immediately to all pings, dings, and beeps from said apps.
9. Remember that you: a) were supposed to be somewhere else right now, b) pick something up for a friend, c) are missing some material for the task, d) haven’t worked out yet. Get up and go do that instead.
10. At 9pm walk into to the shitstorm you have created for yourself. Pull an all-nighter to get task done. Spend the entire next day completely exhausted and unproductive. Unless sleepwalking is a skill, then you get an A+.
Sound familiar? Yeah. Thought so. Let’s work through that, a different way. In other words:
Let’s do this, bitches.
HOW TO BREAK UP WITH PROCRASTINATION: ONE STEP AT A TIME:
1. Make the list, if you’d like, but limit it to what you can realistically accomplish today. No more than five items (second reference to this method) as the key here is to prioritize.
2. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Focus on the first task. Not the fifth. Not the end result, the FIRST task. If it requires multiple steps, do not, I repeat, do NOT, get hung up on the enormity of the end product. That immediately raises our affective filter and we respond in a number of negative ways, including anxiety, avoidance and sometimes, a total meltdown. Instead, turn it into a performance goal in lieu of an outcome goal. What can you do, right now, to make progress? Do that. Save your energy for the next steps when it’s time to do them. Sidenote- I hold to this philosophy (one step at a time) so strongly I got it tattooed on my foot written like a heartbeat; it’s my lifeline, literally.
3. Speaking of tasks… When choosing the first task, it can be very helpful to choose one that is easy to complete first. This gives you a sense of accomplishment, gets you moving in the right direction and puts your brain in happy place. Happy=productive=work=success. Bing, bang, boom, done.
4. Work with your natural rhythm, stop fighting with yourself. If you are a morning person, do important tasks then. Night owl? Do your work in the twilight hours, if you can. Know yourself and when you will work best and use your less productive times to do things that don’t require significant effort.
5. Set a time limit. Seriously. Ten minutes even. Think this isn’t enough time to get stuff done? Really? How much can you get done in a microwave minute? How about a treadmill minute? Yeah. Thought so. If you give yourself an end point, then devote 100% of your time and energy for that duration the quality and quantity of your work will improve, significantly. The same rule that applies to “how many miles left,” “how many more sit-ups do I get to do” also holds true to e-mails, phone calls and projects. Set a reasonable amount of time to get work done, then do it. Our brains are comforted by quantities; when we know how long or how much of something we get to endure we can better prepare ourselves to endure it.
6. Speaking of minutes and natural times of productivity- try this method for small tasks when you have a bunch of “little” things to do – if you can do it in two minutes, do it now. If it takes longer than two minutes, put it on the list for later. This adds up fast- really fast- you’ll be amazed at how many little tasks you can get done in an hour with this approach. Just remember- this is for times of low productivity. This is NOT meant to be used to avoid the big stuff. Nice try though.
7. Take frequent breaks to move after you finish a task or your timer hollers at you. Take a ten minute walk. Do 20 push-ups, use a foam roller or a mobility ball to break up lactic acid in your arms and legs. Do not simply choose another time-sucker such as Words With Friends. Nope. Get your ass up and get moving. The blood flow will go to your brain and increase your mental productivity, energy, and mood. Don’t believe me? Dare you to try it.
8. Go incognito when you work. No phone. No e-mail, no apps open. Ignore the beeps. You can even set your browser to incognito mode to help yourself. This means, gasp, you will only have one tab open at a time. I know it looks weird to only see one label up there, get over it.
9. Stop eating like shit. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. You are what you eat. Sugar makes you crash, hard. Ditto on empty carbs. Eat a balanced meal that won’t upset your stomach or make you fall asleep on your keyboard. Drink lots and lots of water and minimize your caffeine intake. Really. Quick “energy boosting” nonsense labeled as “food” gives a short burst of artificial energy that dissipates quickly. Even worse, it flushes your natural endorphins out and then actually cycles your body into a craving mode leaving you tired and wanting more and more each time. Basically, it works just like a drug. Not kidding. The easiest way to avoid this problem is by not consuming it in the first place. One cup of coffee- healthy. Five? notsomuch. Remember- a fueled body is a productive body. A tired body gives up quickly and has an attention span rivaling a small furry rodent. Be a turtle, not a squirrel.
10. Hold yourself accountable to the realistic commitments you have set. Be your own boss, even if you’re not really. Work like you’d expect an employee to work. Would you pay yourself to browse the Twitter feed? I think not, unless you are in content marketing, like uh, me. Work with integrity, and let that be your guide. Walk your talk, do the right thing, even when no one is looking, because the truth is, someone probably is. Be who you want to be, all day, every day. #youcandoitputyourbackintoit
Well alrighty then. I can cross that off my list. Ahem. Sitting up straight now. About to take a break. Phew.
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I’ll swear I’ll stop procrastinating. Just you wait and see.