Today I would like to introduce you to a new series I’m doing called "The Pursuit of Purpose and Productivity”. Having freelanced on and off for 5 years now, I have been faced with many a challenge from a business perspective, but also as an individual. We all have those demons, the little habits that form over time that seem so harmless as a kid. For me, a biggie was procrastination. Something we all laugh about: “Hello? Yes hi Jess. Yep, I’m still re-organising my dvd collection. Today it’s in order of genre. Oh you have painted your nails three different colours today? Hardy ha ha! We are silly aren’t we?” Oftentimes it isn’t even as “productive" as that… Some days it’s watching mindless TV or making a cup of tea to fuel the strenuous task of staring at the wall.
Why do we procrastinate? For me, a huge factor is fear, and the perfectionist in me. I fear failure, and I want to do things to the best of my ability. If the fear of failure grips me, I find myself putting off a task until I think I can put my all into it. But the danger there is that there is never a perfect time. Haven’t we all used the excuse, “But I work so much better under pressure!” Do we? DO WE? Or are we lying to ourselves to justify all the wasted time… There is something to be said for enforced time limits to mimic the push that last minute pressure gives us, but that’s a post for another day.
So what is the result of all this procrastination? I often end up “punishing” myself for procrastinating by forcing myself to stare at my computer screen, waiting for inspiration to strike, or simply staying at home instead of going for a walk on the beach, going for coffee or reading my book on a bench in a nearby park. One day I was staring blankly at my computer screen, with the sun shining outside and I was invited to go for a run, which I refused because I was reaching that last minute stage of the deadline and realised that what I was doing was completely ridiculous. That was the wake up call for me. I realised that procrastination is a thief of time (thank you Dickens). I was wasting time that I could be:
a) Following my dream and being a productive, awesome, creative force of brillianceb) Exploring, taking in the beauty around me and getting inspiredc) Relaxing, savouring something I love like a book or coffeed) Completing admin tasks that were weighing on my mind or exercising
Watching endless hours of re-runs I had seen before, or refolding my clothes, or scanning numbly through social media were not things that I wanted to write down in my journal to remember. Yes, you are probably thinking that not every moment can be noteworthy, but wouldn’t you rather TRY to make those moments purposeful, or have room for spontaneity feeling satisfied that everything you wanted to accomplish is done for the day/week?
It can take time to be free of the hold procrastination seems to have on you. I want to you to stop beating yourself up and instead get busy working towards the freedom from this vicious cycle, and the joy of guilt free spontaneity. Here is a recipe of sorts that I find helps. It can be repeated to distract from it and get you into better habits.
- Firstly, look at your to-do list and pick a task that you know can be accomplished in an hour or so.
- Then, do something constructive. It doesn’t have to be connected to that task. It’s about relieving the pressure we associate with work. Even if it’s as tiny as replying an important email or clearing out the trash on your desktop. That, combined with a walk around the block, should clear your head and make you feel the slightest bit more resourceful.
- Now this is key. When you get back, DO NOT allow yourself to sit down and get on your phone. Ride the wave of resourcefulness. That little bit of energy and motivation you feel? Hang on tight. Go quickly onto something else. Depending on your goal… Get going with that first task. In my case I could start writing an article or wrap up a design I have been toying with for days.
- After 40 minutes, take a break. Not an hour long lounge on the couch watching cheesy TV. I mean a 5 minute break. Do some yoga (I used to laugh when people said this but I don’t mean a full session, just ease into downward dog for a few deep breaths), make some tea and look out the window. The important thing is to relax without easing back into bad habits like playing mindlessly on one’s phone or checking for grey hairs.
- Sit back down and wrap up that first task. Just do it. If you feel yourself drifting, remind yourself that this is just 40 minutes and you ONLY need to do this, and nothing else. Keep the thought of relaxing afterwards with no guilt in mind.
- Rinse and repeat. But yes, do it all over again if you can, or start slow and build up the process over a few days. Once we become aware of the awesomeness that we are missing out on, it's harder to drift back into wasteful, negative behaviour.
Note the word mindless that I have scattered through this article. Being mindful is SO important. In fact, being mindful isn’t part of procrastination. We blatantly chose lying on the couch knowing full well that it’s not a good idea and convince ourselves that we are tired or that it won’t be for long. Stop lying to yourself. Be proactively aware of what you are doing, and what you are accomplishing.
I hope that this helps. I know from experience how days of procrastination can sap ones' self-worth, so know that you are not alone, but do not accept it as something that is part of your character.
Do you struggle with procrastination? How do you get motivated to push through?
In my next segment of “The Pursuit of Purpose and Productivity”, I will be looking at productivity and motivation further and how to continue recreating new, positive habits. Over and out fellow humans.