For as long as I can remember, I have carried the weight of constant procrastination around on my shoulders and have paid the price for it. To this day, I wonder why something as simple as doing the dishes or taking out the trash seems so daunting. What about you? Do you also shuffle through life under the weight of perpetual procrastination?
We Understand Procrastination
Though Eric and I are different in so many ways, we share an ongoing struggle (enjoyment?) with procrastination. In graduate school, many Sundays were spent with him at one computer and me at the other computer scrambling to write and submit term papers by midnight. This past December 23rd, we took a last-minute trip to Walmart and Hobby Lobby, where I feel certain most of my Christmas presents were purchased. ~smile~ And, more often than I like to admit, the day goes by and I put off cooking (or even planning what to cook) until Eric asks me, “So, what are we having for dinner?”
Procrastination is a common problem shared by different personality types. Sometimes its effects are limited to being only annoying (e.g., I really need to take the trash out now before it gets too late, but I am comfortably typing away from the warmth of my snuggly bed.) Yet, other times, procrastination can cost us dearly. Delaying the management of our health, preparing our future plans, and maintaining our relationships can lead to sickness, unrealized dreams, and loneliness – and regret as a result. Over the years, I have shed tears over the time I let slip away from me. Have you experienced the regret of procrastination?
You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again. – Benjamin Franklin
Do You Have a Panic Monster Living with You?
A few years ago, Eric asked me to watch a short Ted Talk from Tim Urban called Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator. Let me tell you, it was as if this man grew up watching my every move and documented it. Funny and insightful, this presentation got me thinking about procrastination in a different way and it gave Eric and me language to express our struggle. Please, take the time to watch and share with others. It is my favorite TED Talk to date!
Tips to Gain Freedom from Procrastination
Though I am far from a recovered procrastinator, I have discovered some helpful practices along the way. Some of them are more effective for me than others, but hopefully at least one of these ideas will assist you in overcoming your habit of procrastination. If you are one of those people who naturally overcomes procrastination, please comment below and tell us your secret!
- Incorporate Outside Accountability. For some of us, external support is essential to crush our goals. Others of us do not like having additional hands and noses in our business. Which side do you fall on? Are you motivated by accountability partners (even if you do not like them)? If you know, excitedly or begrudgingly, that you need outside accountability in your life, find someone who will help you stay on track, ask you tough questions, and check in as often as you need. Better yet, find someone else who also needs accountability in the same area and work together. Make small, achievable goals, encourage each other to stay on track, and then celebrate each other’s victories!
- Write your Obituary. Though a somewhat uncomfortable exercise (at first), writing your obituary can help you determine what you want to accomplish in your life. From there you can craft a plan for completing what you want to achieve with your years. Like the TED Talk visual of the life calendar (if you do not know what this refers to, watch the video!), we only have a short time to make a mark on the world. Seeing our lifespan in black and white has a way of lighting a fire to move out of our comfort zones.
- Visualize the Completed Project. Ask yourself how you will feel once it is done. Some tasks are intimidating. Even if they do not require a ton of time, they suck away our emotional energy. Others are annoying and easy to skip over, until twenty-five small tasks become a roadblock (I know a thing or two about that!). When staring at a sink full of dishes or a full week’s workload, I am motivated by the mental image of finishing my work and experiencing the freedom which comes with accomplishment.
- Reward Yourself for Completing Goals on Time. In past posts, we briefly discussed the merits of making SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Based (e.g., I am going to walk thirty minutes per day, three days per week for the next two weeks.) Without making our goals SMART, they often turn into nice ideas which never come to fruition. And when you complete your goals, remember to reward yourself for a job well done! Which rewards motivate you?
Waiting is a trap. There will always be reasons to wait. The truth is, there are only two things in life, reasons and results, and reasons simply don’t count. – Robert Anthony
Concerning Relationship Procrastination
A less obvious breeding ground for procrastination is relationships. Some folks are quick to create a relationship but procrastinate working through problems, whereas others move methodically from one relationship stage to the next. But most of us know at least one person who procrastinates in forming new relationships.
I am not talking about people who are cautious regarding with whom they meet and connect. I am referring to those who have someone promising in their lives and yet still do not take the necessary steps to move forward in the relationship. Should every promising relationship lead to marriage? No. However, if we procrastinate too long, we lose out on the chance to discover what could be. (A couple with whom we recently counseled appeared to be very well suited to each other based on their PAIR Test scores; yet, if he waits too long, he may “bake the cake too long.”)
Towels will sit unfolded for weeks. They do not complain. Grass can grow waist high and never ask us to cut it. But people are different. People have lives, feelings, dreams, and limits. That person you are dating, or “talking to,” will not wait forever. He or she may wait a few weeks for you to make a move. A few months. Maybe even a few years. And, eventually, procrastination will cost you the relationship.
Maybe you enjoy how the relationship is now. Maybe it is easy because there are no strings and responsibilities attached and you can maintain your freedom while enjoying the fruits of a relationship. For a while, this may be nice, but is it fair? Is it bruising his or her heart? Is it communicating, “Hey, I like you, but I do not care enough to keep our story moving forward”?
If you are in a relationship which is sitting still and has been for a while, ask a few questions: Am I the reason we seem to be stagnant? If not, am I happy with this arrangement or do I need to have a future planning talk with my significant other? Do I see a future in this relationship? Is there a fear I am nursing which is keeping me from taking the next step?
Sometimes I watch young people share laughs and conversations, and think, “What are they waiting for?” They share interests, faith, and ideals, but one or both hold back from taking that next step. Having been on their side of life, I want to walk over to them and say, “Guys, you do not want to let this relationship get away. Make a move!” Love is a risk, but without the risk, there is typically regret and not knowing what might have been. Are you waiting? If so, do you know why are you waiting?
If you dabble in (or are very successful at) procrastination, give the above tips and thoughts some consideration. And, if you are procrastinating in your relationship, do a little soul searching and determine why you are holding back. What do you want your next step (and steps) to be?
He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. (Ecclesiastes 11:4-6, ESV)
Do you need to gain freedom from procrastination?