Tomorrow is always the busiest day of the week. I know this because I heard it so many times when I was teaching, (“I’ll do it tomorrow, Miss, I promise!”).
And it’s not just kids. Most of us have a fantastic reserves stock when we don’t want to do something.
How many times have you sat down to read an important but dull report, or prepare a 50 slide presentation? And you find yourself getting up to clean the oven, sort out the laundry, mow the lawn, or brush your Golden Labrador’s coat? Yup, me too.
Procrastination is the thief of our time and each of us has a different trigger for it:
- We could be a Thrill Seeker, who loves the adrenaline buzz of leaving things until the last minute (how many of us did that at university?) and getting in just before the deadline.
- Or we could be an Avoider whose emotions are triggered by a deep rooted sense of indecisiveness (“I just don’t know where to start!”) or even failure as, in the words of the great Homer Simpson, “If you never do anything you’ll never make mistakes!”. So, if we never actually start it, it can’t go wrong – right?
- And some of us are just obsessive perfectionists who avoid getting started because we fear the finished product will never be quite right. This sort of procrastination causes stress and feelings of just being completely drained, which in turn leads to a downward spiral of negativity as we see the task before us become even bigger and harder to complete in time. (I can definitely relate to this one!)
Procrastination is made worse because it’s almost automatic. Starting a long task requires us to get in the right mood, find a clear working space, with few distractions, and all the information we need to hand, plus a nice cup of tea and a snack within easy reach. The second we realise that we haven’t got the notes we need, or we’re just desperate for a glass of water and need to go and get one, then our attention has gone, and we need to work really hard to get it back again. Hence, the distraction impulse is far more automatic than the impulse to concentrate.
So what can we do to try and deal with the ‘Dithering Devil’? Here are some ideas which I’ve found useful:
- Do the most important task first. It will make you feel better and you will find it hard to concentrate on other tasks if the most important one is still looming over your head.
- Think about what you need to do and break it down into sensible, but specific, chunks. Don’t just say ‘I’ll do some of the reading today and make a few notes’, instead try and say, ‘I’ll read 10 pages of that particular book and make one full page of notes.’
- Sounds obvious but … just start it! The time is never going to be completely perfect. Find a quiet space, have a glass of water to hand, and get out the book and a notepad/switch on your laptop. Actually starting is half the battle won.
- Work in 20 minute chunks. Most of us only have this amount of concentration in one span. After 20 minutes, take a 5 minute break and then start again.
- Getting it done is more important than getting it perfect.
- Aim for at least an hour. Then give yourself a pat on the back and small reward. Like most animals we respond best to treats for good behaviour!
And finally, stop punishing yourself for procrastinating. Some evolutionary theorists believe that we are in fact hard wired to delay tasks. Simply snapping into action as soon as you needed to do something wasn’t always a good idea when a wooly mammoth might have appeared out of nowhere and attacked you! As such, taking time to properly consider and reflect isn’t always a bad thing.
Do you relate to any of these? What are your own favourite delaying or action tactics?