It’s December 13. Have you sent out your Christmas cards yet? Well, neither have I (but I will). I’m disciplined and organized and you know that to be true, because I’ve faithfully published this blog every Tuesday morning since June 2009. I enjoy writing this blog and I enjoy receiving cards from friends and colleagues every year, but getting into the mood to write my cards takes some effort. I will do it as always. But first, I’ll write this week’s post…
According to psychiatrist Ned Hallowell, author of “Driven to Distraction” (1995), we mostly put things off because we are busy. Most of us are working harder and longer these days. Second, we are prone to avoid what we consider to be drudgery. But as we all eventually learn, procrastination does not pay. Avoiding the thing we hate does not make it go away. It hangs like the sword of Damocles until the required work has been done.
The experts say that what we procrastinators need to do while we’re busy doing everything except what needs to be done is to understand why we’re avoiding the inevitable. Research demonstrates that it basically breaks down into two categories:
1. You’re faced with a task you despise and you’re unable to face it, or
2. You don’t know how to do what you need to do, so you’re afraid to get started
We all put off doing what we dislike, but procrastination cannot be allowed to rule one’s life. To be a productive and responsible citizen, to maintain positive work and family relationships, we must train ourselves to put shoulder to the wheel and plow through onerous tasks when necessary. Consider it character-building.
We can help ourselves by being honest about the kinds of tasks that we dislike and cause us to procrastinate and then figuring out which can be outsourced. ( Would a virtual assistant write Christmas cards? ) You may want to hire someone to clean your apartment twice a month, or send your laundry out, or order your groceries online and arrange delivery.
Setting up a time table and schedule can help to get you started on what can’t be farmed out to someone else. Use deadlines to motivate you to get cracking and get the job done. Teresa Amabile, co-author of “The Progress Principle” (2011), suggests breaking a project down into manageable segments and creating an achievable time table and deadlines for each. These “small wins” make the project more manageable and less intimidating. When faced with a task you have a history of avoiding, put it in your calendar to tackle segments of it, to ensure that you get the job done on schedule. Post-it notes on your computer screen can work, too.
It’s helpful to give yourself rewards for completing projects. When segments of your project are completed, maybe treat yourself to a nice hot chocolate and your favorite croissant at breakfast the next day. When an especially important project is completed, maybe a facial or a massage can be scheduled, or perhaps even a weekend trip to a favorite place.
If your procrastination is caused by not knowing how to do something, then get help. Solicit advice from a trusted friend or colleague, or do an internet search to get more information about how you can approach the project to learn what successful completion looks like and what you have to do to get there. If you don’t have the required skill set, recruit someone who does and make your project a team effort.
OK, enough avoidance behaviour for me, it’s time to face the music. I bought a nice box of cards and holiday stamps back in November, so I’m able to dive in and start writing. My reward is a Christmas lunch party that’s in my calendar for December 14. On my way to the party, I’ll pass by the post office and mail the cards, I promise.
Thanks for reading,