1. to defer action; delay
2. to put off to another day or time
I am 35 years old, and I am certain I’ve been a procrastinator since birth.
As a grade schooler, the science project always got started a scant few days before the fair. Books were read only days before a report was presented.
In high school, I remember waiting until the night before term papers were due to even start writing them. I would stay up all night and finish as the sun was rising. I’ve rarely missed a deadline, but I have always made myself insane trying to meet it at the last minute. It still happens all the time.
It came to a head recently when I had committed to make some handmade decorations and ship them to a friend for a party. I waited until the very last minute to even start crafting them, and they took about 8 hours longer than they should have, causing me to ignore my family for a solid day and a half trying to get it all done at once. And worse than that, when I ran the package to the post office (a day later than I’d even hoped thanks to glue that wouldn’t dry), the cost to get the package delivered on time was $110. One. hundred. and. ten. The supplies had only cost me $5. I drove home from the post office in hysterical tears. It would have only cost a fraction of that had I gotten there a week earlier. But I had ignored the task and moved it from one day’s to-do list to the next every single day for weeks on end. Not only did I suffer during that period of time knowing I had a huge project looming over my head, but in the end I was beyond stressed trying to complete it, my family was ignored, and I wasted a huge amount of money needlessly.
I’ve often made excuses for procrastinating. “Well, I just work better under pressure,” or “I need to have a looming deadline before creative inspiration can strike.” Whatever I told myself, true or not, I couldn’t keep living this way.
After drying my tears and doing some hard self-assessment, I realized just how pervasive procrastination is throughout my daily life. If my car is down to a ¼ tank, I will drive right past the gas station; I only get gas when the gauge crosses the red line. If the dog food bin is getting low, I’ll wait until it runs out completely before hopping over to the pet store. I routinely lie in bed for 15 minutes looking at my phone after waking up, or linger over a cup of coffee before I get dressed in the morning. If a blog post is due Monday, I start it on Sunday night. I only clean my house before company is coming over. If there’s a pile on the stairs that needs to go up, I walk right past it. Somewhere inside I’m thinking, “There’s plenty of time later in life to pick up that pile and put it away.” Side note: one of the worst things about being a parent is watching your flaws get passed on to the next generation. Now I watch my kids walk past the pile on the stairs! Every time. They don’t even see it. Not good.
It is routine in my life to exchange the task at hand for a more pleasant or interesting one until that task becomes absolutely necessary. The consequences can range from stress and feeling rushed, all the way to wasted expense, and even-- though it hasn’t happened yet, thankfully-- personal peril! What happens the day I run out of gas during a Chicago winter??
Before I could train myself to think, and therefore act, differently, I decided it was important to get to the root cause of my procrastination. So I made a list of all the reasons I do it.
Why do I procrastinate?
- The project or task is too huge/ overwhelming.
- I don’t like it.
- I’m shy or feel awkward.
- I can’t make a decision.
- I don’t have the tools or supplies to do it.
- I don’t know how to do it.
- There isn’t a good time.
- I’m too tired.
OK, now we were getting somewhere. If someone brought that list to me, it would be easy to slash it apart and give a rebuttal for each excuse. And let’s be honest, these are excuses! When I wrote them out on paper, it was embarrassingly plain to see that. But as with most feelings, I’d never taken the time to articulate and assess them. I just responded with rote physical action (or inaction, as the case may be).
From there, I looked at what specific times of day and in what situations procrastination was most often affecting my daily life.
What times and in what ways am I susceptible to it?
- Getting out of bed in the morning.
- Dishes. I’ll do them later.
- Laundry. There’s always time to put it away.
- Leaving the house. There’s still plenty of time to get ready.
- Projects. It’ll come together eventually.
- Deadlines. I can do it the day before.
- Birthdays. She doesn’t need a card to know I love her.
- Exercise. I’ll start in January.
- Going to bed on time. I still have too much to do (or TV to watch).
I quickly realized that procrastination was stealing some things from me.
What does it rob me of?
- A clean home.
- The ability to invite someone over or feel comfortable if someone stops by without notice.
- An organized environment for my family.
- A stress-free work life.
- A peaceful transition from home to car on the morning commute.
- Progress. The project drags on and on. Or stalls completely.
- Meaningful interpersonal connections (personal and business).
Ouch. It’s true. When I stay in my pajamas for too long in the morning, then I’m running around barking orders and hustling out the door, always forgetting something. “Mom, are we late?” has become a normal part of my kids’ vocabulary. And seriously, there have been days I would have loved to call a friend and ask her to stop by for coffee, but couldn’t because the house was such a wreck. That’s not fair to me or my family. Or the friend who needs coffee!
Tomorrow I’ll share with you what goals I set and changes I made, in light of all this self-evaluation. I’ll also share the experiment I embarked on to kick my procrastination habit to the curb.
PART 2: ATTAINABLE GOALS