Even the most dedicated, hard working, on-the-ball people have something that distracts them from getting stuff done, but they recognize the distraction, ignore it, and labor on. The rest of us, who want to get stuff done, but get distracted easily, are always looking for advice on how to finish what we start. Books, magazine articles, and even scientific studies have been done about procrastination.
Hang on, I'll be right back...Just kidding!
According to the article linked above, "...as many as 20 percent of people may be chronic procrastinators." These are the folks who simply can't help it, and can't be told to "just do it". Imagine telling a chronically depressed person to 'cheer up', it doesn't work, and telling the chronic procrastinator to get it done doesn't work either. This blog is not for that 20 percent. This blog is for those of you who are not in the top 5 percent who never procrastinate nor that 20 percent where I reside.
Why do we procrastinate?
Like everything, the answer to the question above is not easy, nor would it cover all the reasons we put things off. Now that scientists are finally studying this issue (for some reason the past 20 years have seen more research done, i guess the researchers were putting it off!) they are finding that people put things off because they may be worried about the outcome. Whether that worry is based on perfectionism, the outcome won't be right, or something more personal like cleaning out a closet shows us we are getting older, the reason is still fear.Forbes Magazine has a great article that links this to a fear of change, which does make sense. Emptying the garage, writing that book, or taking a trip all represent changes in our lives.
Should we try to fix this?
Some say that putting things off can be good for you, that this means you take time to smell the roses, which leads to a better quality of life. But what happens in reality is quite different. The short term effects of putting things off to take a walk, to go out with friends, or to pick lunch from the take-out menu are far outweighed by the long term anxiety that can be the result of procrastination. So the answer to this question is a resounding YES.
Okay, so how do I fix it?
And now we are back to the age old answer: it depends. It depends on your own personality, it depends on what is being put off, and it depends on how soon the task needs to be done. There are lists out there in internet land, but I am not going to link them, you'll click and never finish reading this blog! Instead, the very first thing you need to do is try to not let the fact you skipped something else to read this get you down. As soon as you finish this (and click the contact us button below) try to get back to what you were supposed to be doing. I say 'try' because as I mentioned above, admonishing a true procrastinator is not helpful.
Personal tips with no science and no judgment.
The link to the Forbes article has a great list of stuff, of tips, but, and think about this, what if you put off number one (make a list of goals)? Now you are anxious again, and the cycle repeats. The way I managed to write this blog that I had put off for a week (because finishing it means a serious goal was met, and: change) was to go for a walk. Wait, what? earlier going for a walk was procrastinating. This time, however, I talked with the person I was walking with about the task I was putting off, and that helped me get over the fear of finishing.
When I was trying to write a novel, I found a way to use the distractions of internet and computer games to my advantage. I told myself that every time I hit 500 words I could play one level of Angry Birds or Candy Crush. This way, the fun stuff was more of a reward than a distraction.
I am still mired in that 20 percent of people for whom procrastination is a problem, and if you are there with me, be content in the fact you are not alone. Try the tips at the links, if they help, great, but mostly, try to determine why you put things off, maybe that will help you solve the problem.