“Procrastination is the thief of time.” — Edward Young (1683-1765)
Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a procrastinator. Do you procrastinate, too? Come on, raise your hand. Yes, you – I see you hiding back there!
The fact is, a lot of us do. A student with Statistics homework. A homemaker who needs to scrub the oven. A CPA who has to read Volume 42 of Title 26 of the United States Code (26 U.S.C.). See? I started yawning just writing that.
There are a lot of reasons why we procrastinate. Most have nothing to do with boredom, despite my examples above, and much more to do with what Freud called the “Pleasure Principle.” Simply put, it’s the idea that we instinctively avoid pain and seek pleasure. It’s not because we are lazy. It’s not because we have no time management skills. It’s because we think the future is ideal. In our picture-perfect future, the “stuff” that interferes with life – car repairs, dentist appointments, sick kids – will magically vanish, leaving us plenty of free time to meet our deadlines.
Given those psychological truths, how can we cope with this sometimes crippling phenomenon? Here are a few methods I use to meet my deadlines.
- I decide that I want it more than I’m afraid of it. Bill Cosby said this, and the quote is the lock screen on my iPad. Every time I unlock my iPad, I see the quote, and it strengthens my resolve. I’m easily overwhelmed by seemingly complex projects, not knowing where to begin. I also procrastinate if I don’t know what I’m doing. Deciding that I want it more than I’m afraid of it leads me to my next step.
- I backward-plan. You can call this taking baby steps, if you prefer. Make a list (no, not one of those to-do things where you write down everything you have to do and then ignore it). If my deadline to my editor is September 1, then my deadline to my agent is August 1, and my deadline to my critique partners is July 1. Given this due date, I calculate the daily word count needed to reach my goal of an 80-100k word book. I then factor out weekends and the occasional mental-health day. At the end of it, I know exactly what I need to do to stay on track. Since I know there’s no wiggle room, I keep to that schedule.
- I choose to write crap. Don’t misunderstand: my career goal is to write well-crafted stories that people enjoy reading. However, I also get hung up on every word needing to be perfect. Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” If it worked for this great American author, it can work for me, as well. I give myself permission for the first draft to be messy and imperfect. And then I revise, and edit, and revise some more, until it’s gone from shit to a polished gem.
- I work in different places nearly every day. My office gets cluttered, and clutter makes me want to take a nap. Routine bores me. Looking at the same scenery every day saps my creativity. Knowing this, I’ve scoped out every Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Paradise Bakery in a ten-mile radius around my house. All of them meet my three key requirements – coffee, food, and Internet. When I start to dread going to one place, I pick a different one. In this way, I keep my environment fresh, and my mind on my work and not on my restlessness.
- I eliminate distractions (well, mostly). It’s too easy to get into the rut of, “Well, I’ll just check my email, and then I’ll get to work. After I catch up on Facebook. After all, Facebook is a legitimate marketing tool. So is Twitter. I must Tweet. And blog. Yeah, let me put out a blog, then I’ll start writing.” I’ve had entire days pass like this. At the end of it, I’m worn out and have absolutely nothing to show for it. Or, as Bisola Akinduro put it, “And a great wind blew, I blinked and saw the day pass by with not as much as a hello.” None of that helps me reach my goal. When I have days like this, I head back to #1 above and recenter myself.
I think procrastination is part of the human psyche. There are a myriad of reasons for it, and countless self-help books to guide you past it. However, “when we procrastinate, we also put a hold on happiness.” (Charles F. Glassman, Brain Drain—The Breakthrough That Will Change Your Life) Is procrastination making you happy? Will it get you closer to your life goals? Do you want it more than you’re afraid of it?
I’ll leave you with one final quote: “Great goals are never scored by not kicking the ball.” ― Constance Chuks Friday
So how do you expend energy not doing what needs to be done? What’s your favorite coping strategy for procrastination? What do you want more than you’re afraid of it?