Benjamin Franklin once said “You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.” Everyday, people delay. We delay starting a project, telling our story, taking a class or making a change in our lives. How many dreams won’t come true because we are busy doing something else, or nothing at all?
The “delay” I am referring to is known as procrastination, delaying or intentionally putting off something that should be done to do something else more enjoyable or less difficult. We all procrastinate from time to time. We put off doing dishes to watch our favorite TV show, or blow off homework to go out with our friends. For most people, procrastination isn’t chronic or life changing but for others it can prevent them from accomplishing their goals and dreams.
I never really thought of myself as a procrastinator, or someone who chronically procrastinates. I managed to graduate from high school and college and haven’t had any difficulty holding a job, but recently I took a look at my life and discovered I am a procrastinator and writing this post has helped me start to overcome it.
Overcoming procrastination is not an easy process. The first and most important step is to recognize we are a procrastinator. Once we accept this fact we can move toward eliminating this bad habit from our lives.
Second, we need to determine why we are procrastinating. There are a number of reasons why we procrastinate. Sometimes it’s because a task is unpleasant and we can’t see the benefit to completing it. For example, cleaning the house. It’s just going to get dirty again, right? Other times we procrastinate because a task is too difficult or time consuming. It would be much easier to read and answer emails than to start that large work project that is due next week. We may even procrastinate because we have a fear of failing, so we never want to start. This is the main reason that I procrastinate.
For a number of years I have had a dream and desire to write a book. I haven’t decided if it will be fiction or non-fiction or what the topic will be, but I know there is a story in me somewhere. Over the past few years I have made lists, collected supplies, signed up for classes and read a lot of books, but today I am no closer to making my dream come true than I was 10 years ago. I have recognized my reason for procrastinating is my fear of failure, so I never even get started. We may also procrastinate because we are not organized. Many times we have too many tasks to complete but don’t know how to prioritize what to do first. When this happens we get overwhelmed and end up doing nothing at all. When I feel overwhelmed, my “escape” is to grab my tablet and play “Candy Crush” to distract myself from the things I really need to do.
The third step to overcoming procrastination is to develop strategies that will help overcome it. If our problem is being disorganized, a solution might be to keep a to do list and prioritize it. Putting the most important tasks or the ones with the soonest due date at the top of the list. Scheduling difficult or very detailed tasks at times we are most alert will also help us complete the tasks on time. When we are overwhelmed by a very large task breaking it into smaller more manageable tasks can make it easier to accomplish. If we make an action plan and stick to it step by step, we will accomplish our goals. If the task is unpleasant, go ahead and try it anyways. It may not be as bad as you might think. Reward yourself when these unpleasant tasks have been accomplished. For example, promise yourself a Starbucks treat after you finish cleaning the house or give yourself an hour to watch a favorite show once you have written your 500 words for the day. Ask someone you trust to check on your progress. It will keep you accountable and on track. Eliminate distractions and noise. If you know that you are easily enticed by TV or video games, eliminate them from your environment. In addition, seek help if we exhibit signs of self-defeating issues such as fear, anxiety or perfectionism.
Many procrastinators, myself included, have said they perform best under pressure but this is really just a way to justify putting something off. A few weeks ago I set a goal for myself. It’s a lofty and personal one. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, I will break this goal into much smaller tasks and reward myself after each of these tasks are completed. In addition, I plan on enlisting a trusted friend to check on my progress to keep me accountable. Once we can recognize and admit that we are procrastinators, it becomes easier to overcome. Figuring out why we procrastinate will help us find the strategies that work best for our particular situation. Every strategy will not work for every person. Finding a solution that works for us is what is most important. “The best way to get something done is to begin” – Author Unknown.