I don’t know if any of you like to dabble in the arena of procrastination but I could win medals. Seriously, Olympic style, golden medals. I would sing the national anthem every year from the top of the podium, always getting the words wrong because I never bothered to learn the lyrics. A little procrastination humour for you there.
Being a serial procrastinator can be described as stressful, exhausting, irritating or just plain irresponsible. There is a tendency to liken it to laziness, which although makes sense on the surface doesn’t accurately describe the feeling of procrastination. Laziness conjures feelings of apathy. No, I haven’t finished that task and moreover I don’t really care. Please leave me be.
The procrastinator, in contrast, cares. Believe me, they care deeply that the chore/task/assignment is not completed yet. So the obvious question is, why don’t they just do it then? Why don’t I just get on and do it?
There are many reasons why people procrastinate. They range from the classic, ‘I can’t be bothered right now’ to ‘I am paralysed by the overwhelm that I feel.’ The running thread for me however is always – the consequences don’t outweigh my inaction – yet.
If nothing bad is going to happen then why, oh why, would I fold the clean laundry and put it away neatly? I just wouldn’t. There is simply not enough motivation there for me to act. A silly example yes, but that laundry would stay there indefinitely until the scale started to tip in the other direction. My husband being genuinely irritated is usually enough to spur me on. But what if he wasn’t there? What if I still lived alone? The pile would increase, probably to a worrying level and then one day, as it topples over nearly crushing the cat, I would say to myself – ok, enough. Now is the time for action.
Once there is a real danger that the consequences looming over the horizon are now heading full steam down the hill to destroy me, I will always snap into action. I go from lounging on my metaphorical sun bed to charging into battle, ready to defeat whatever foe I have been ignoring for the past however many weeks, days, sometimes even months.
Consequences worthy of this 360 degree turnaround are always serious.
“You have to get out of bed and go to work OR you might get fired.”
“You have to finish that assignment OR you’ll fail the course.”
“You have to hand in that report OR your boss will tell you off.”
Or as we saw previously…
“The laundry nearly killed the cat! Put your clothes away for goodness sake!”
However, by far the most effective threat for me is this:
“They won’t like you anymore.”
Nothing makes me react with such life preserving speed as this. “They won’t like you anymore.” Deadly.
There is of course another factor that keeps the procrastinator in chains from achieving their goals, especially if there are no consequences at hand – and that’s failure.
“I’m going to learn guitar!
I’m going to learn French!
I’m going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro!”
Well, you’re not actually because you’re too scared of failing. You may well buy a ‘learn to play guitar’ from eBay, sign up to Duolingo with a discount code, or google Skyscanner flights to Tanzania but you won’t follow through. (Gryffindor is not the procrastinator’s house. The sorting hat is laughing at us.)
This aspect of my personality can be a bitter pill to swallow. I can become obsessed with starting a new hobby or learning a new skill but unless another person is literally dragging me to the venue (many a friend has done this, especially to the gym) I just won’t commit to more than the odd session. And when I reflect on why I give up so easily, it is usually a fear of failure. If you gave me a crystal ball and said, ‘Practise piano for 30mins every day and in 2 years you’ll be pretty good!’ I would do it – no question. Because I would know that success awaits me, that I will do well. It wasn’t wasted time. How ironic that the procrastinator fears wasted time when that’s all we ever do. But at least we have control over how we waste it.
Another reason, at least for me, is low energy. I know, that sounds like a cop out right? Like, I’m making up conditions to justify being lazy? Well, maybe sometimes – no I don’t want to go out, I want to watch Netflix forever. Before Zoom and Teams meetings became unbearable, I was in my element. You mean, I don’t have to leave the house? I can achieve things from the sofa, while wearing pyjamas and drinking coffee with Loose Women on in the background?!
Sign. Me. Up.
But also, there are many deficiencies that our body can be held captive to without our knowledge. For a decade, I didn’t understand how my hormones were affecting my physical and mental health. When I did, I created a mini Holland and Barret in the kitchen in an attempt to rebalance them. So far, so good. I do on the whole feel more positive and more energetic. Whereas before, I could not understand why no-one else loved napping as much as me. Take me on holiday with you and I will have a 1-2 hour nap every afternoon without fail. Which either makes me the best, or worst, holiday companion ever, depending on your preference of partner…
Lastly, crippling overwhelm is the extreme end of the procrastinator’s handbook and it is this feeling that doesn’t just pause your action or delay your motivation – it completely stops you in your tracks. Unfortunately, we don’t always know when we are approaching this danger zone and therefore don’t seek help before we’ve slammed into the proverbial wall.
If you find that your self-talk is becoming increasingly mean and your environment lacks care and attention, it may be time to talk to someone. They may not be able to delete the items on your ‘to do’ list but discussing those spiralling thoughts will begin to lift the burden off your shoulders. If there is a natural organiser in your life, or someone that loves to achieve tasks – those are your people. They will help you organise your muddled priorities and you will start to see a way through.
Don’t wait for the overwhelm wave to hit; ride it to safety instead.