Many of us learn about procrastination at an early age
When I was little, I loved the song “The Book Report” from the musical “You’re a Good man Charlie Brown. It’s a song about writing, working under pressure and procrastination.
For decades, I’ve been singing the same procrastination song
I work from home. Every morning I sit down at my desk with the best intentions to write and post something. I don’t struggle with getting started, but I can stretch the writing and research process out for much too long a time. Sometimes I find myself getting distracted with tasks that are well-defined and immediately rewarding, like cooking, laundry, and even cleaning the house. I eventually get things done, but feel bad about myself for not being more focused.
But I’m changing my tune
After listening to a recent KQED Forum segment on procrastination and productivity, I am feeling better about myself and my ability to get things done. I also have a few new techniques that will help me work more efficiently.
The segment featured Mary Lamia, an author, clinical psychologist and professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley. She has a new book, “What Motivates Getting Things Done: Procrastination, Emotions, and Success.” And what I heard her say made a lot of sense to me.
Whew, it isn’t inherently bad to procrastinate
It’s a tactic that actually motivates some people to get things done. I know that I need a deadline to get my writing done, otherwise my blogs turn into lengthy, totally out-of-date tomes that I never publish.
Lamia describes task-driven or deadline-driven approaches that are motivated by various emotions
- We can be motivated by positive emotions (e.g., satisfaction of checking things off of a list) or trying to avoid negative ones (e.g., being yelled at by our boss or disappointing a customer or loved one)
- Task-driven people see a task that isn’t done and need to get it off of their plate
- Deadline-driven people become motivated by an imminent deadline
What’s a person amidlife to do?
Stop focusing on which way is better
- I remember getting in an argument with a sibling about which was better, a Franklin Planner or a digital planner. The correct answer is of course whatever works for that person, but it took me a long time to figure that out….
Don’t try to change people. No one likes to be “fixed”
It’s much more productive to work on the one thing you can control, yourself…
If you tend to be task-driven, you might do well to:
- Recognize that not everyone feels as compelled to get things done as immediately as you do
- Remember that just because you get stressed out by uncompleted tasks, not everyone does or needs to. Don’t get upset if the deadline-driven person in your life isn’t stressed and you certainly don’t need to inspire the same level of anxiety in others
- Establish mutually acceptable deadlines with deadline-driven people and then let go, trusting that things will get done
- Make sure that the deadline-driven people in your life understand the importance of these deadlines—how leaving things until the last moment is stressful for a you, as you fear that other things will get in the way and the desired task won’t be done in time
- Stop reworking things because you have the time
- Stop and smell the roses from time to time—you will be more productive in the end
And if you tend to be deadline-driven, you might do well to:
- Recognize not everyone responds well to the stress of doing things at the last minute
- Understand that if you are handing off work to a task-oriented person, you shouldn’t leave them with very little time to get their portion of the task done. Not cool
- Don’t tell a task-driven person to relax! It will have the opposite effect, especially if it is coming from a loved one
- Don’t miss a deadline. If you have established mutually acceptable deadlines with task-driven people, you need to earn their trust by meeting those deadlines. If other things come up, you need to take care of these and meet your other deadlines. It isn’t an either/or situation
- If you are not meeting your deadlines, you need to revise your approach
Is there some common ground?
I’ve been inspired by SARK, who wrote “A Creative Companion: How to Free Your Creative Spirit” and “The Bodacious Book of Succulence: Daring to Live Your Succulent Wild Life!”
In A Creative Companion, SARK talks about developing a habit of completion. I read this book over 10 years ago and am still working on this. I try my best to make sure that I wrap things up before moving on to something new.
This doesn’t mean that you have to do everything all at once. In “The Bodacious Book of Succulence”, SARK details her approach of Micromovements, baby steps that lead towards the completion of a much bigger project.
- She breaks projects down into smaller tasks, (she prefers ones that can be done in 5-minute increments) that ultimately lead to the completion of a much bigger project.
This approach works for both task- and deadline-driven people!
- For task-driven people, you get the satisfaction of crossing many things off of your to-do list
- For deadline-driven people, you set many small deadlines that put the pressure on
You can set your increment depending on your needs and attention span, for me it takes about 30 minutes before I feel a bit distracted. I allow myself to become temporarily distracted, usually by something that is less mind-consuming but productive (I’m task-driven). After a short break, I can get back to the task at hand. Taking a break can restore your focus, make you more anxious about getting things done, and hence become more motivated to get things done.
Other tips that seem smart.
- Break tasks into critical and non-critical/serious or fun, and do the critical and serious ones when you know you do your best work
- Schedule a specific time to get something done and create pressure to get it done within the time frame, like before a meeting or some other commitment that you can’t change
- Tell someone else about your goals, someone who will hold you accountable
- Above all, stick to your deadline (don’t cheat!)