Not tomorrow (or the day after that, or the day after that)
By Mimi Greenwood Knight
“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” – Pablo Picasso
How ironic is it that I’ve been putting off writing this article on procrastination? Okay, not really (editor’s note: good) but I am writing it now to avoid writing something more pressing, making me the quintessential procrastinator. While many people associate procrastination with laziness, there’s a distinct difference.
Procrastination is choosing to do something else instead of the task you know you should be doing. For instance, I wouldn’t dream of plowing through a season of TV on a work day, but I sure will clean my house, get caught up on laundry, and cook dinner at 10:00 AM to postpone doing the things I should be doing.
And while those are all positive things, avoiding tasks we should prioritize can make us feel guilty, ashamed, demotivated, and disillusioned. Ultimately, it can make us less productive—jeopardizing our long-term goals.
“If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.” – Olin Miller
With that in mind, here are a few tactics that help me procrastinate less:
- First, forgive yourself for past procrastination. Studies show that self-forgiveness helps you feel more positive about yourself, which reduces the likelihood of procrastinating in the future.
- Begin with the task you least want to do. Get it out of the way as early as possible. Then you can spend the rest of the day concentrating on work you find more enjoyable while feeling the satisfaction of having the bad one out of the way.
- If you work on deadline, like I do, let those assigning your work know that you are in fact a deadbeat who should ALWAYS be given a deadline (even if they just make one up).
- Begin with the end in mind. Few things make me feel better than getting to the end of the day knowing I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. Try to remember how that feels and work toward that feeling.
- Promise yourself a reward for completing a difficult task on time. A decadent dessert, a visit to your favorite coffee house, and even a little retail therapy can work as a carrot on a stick to get or keep you motivated.
- Ask someone to hold you accountable. When my workload is heavy, I tell my 16-year-old son how much I plan to write while he’s at school. The little taskmaster takes his responsibility seriously too, asking for proof of what I’ve written each evening. Online tools such as Procraster can also help.
- Minimize distractions. Social media is a major productivity killer. So is television and even the radio. Make your work space a distraction-free zone.
This might be a good time to mention that some of the greatest artists, writers, composers, and political leaders in history have been hopeless procrastinators. So, there’s something to be said for being a slacker—at least some of the time.
“Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” – Robert Benchley
Why We Procrastinate
According to a Harvard Business Review article, the tasks on which we procrastinate tend to fall into a few usual categories.
- Not intrinsically rewarding
- Lacking in personal meaning
Procrastination and Your Health
Experts agree that procrastination can negatively affect your health.
- Putting off health-related tasks such as getting your annual physical exam, eating healthier, or establishing an exercise program can threaten your physical health.
- Studies show that those who procrastinate have more trouble sleeping.
- The stress associated with procrastinating can lead to unhappiness, affecting your emotional health.
Little Known Facts
Leonardo da Vinci was a perfectionist and a procrastinator, so while his legacy includes hundreds of drawings and sketches, he only left behind thirty paintings—many of them unfinished.