Saturday, 3 March 2012

I was about to procrastinate, but I think I'll leave it till tomorrow

Right on time: Mick Jagger may have
belted out "Time is on My Side", but we
all know time won't wait around for ever.

Picture: 2001 Paul Smith/Featureflash/Crestock
Those of you old enough to remember The Rolling Stones in their heyday, will recall Mick Jagger belting out  “Time is my side.... yes it is”. Well, for most of us, “no, it isn’t”.

We all have things to do , and there’s nothing like that satisfying feeling of getting the job done. But if all it took to spur us into action was the prospect of a warm glow of smugness,  then the word “procrastinate “ wouldn’t exist.

Procrastination is not about laziness, it’s so much more complicated than that. In fact, the more I delve into the subject, the more I realise that people who repeatedly “put off till tomorrow what could be done today”, have a host of emotional side-issues weighing them down.

See if you recognise yourself in the following list:
·         You spend a lot of time thinking about what you need to do, without actually doing it.
·         You leave whatever needs doing until the last minute because: “I do my best work under pressure.”
·         “I‘ll do it tomorrow,” you say, but in reality you mean some distant time in the future.
·         You make deals with yourself. “Ill go to the gym when Ive lost a bit of weight.”
·         Displacement activities start to get out of control; for example, you spring-clean the house before sitting down to do the dreaded pile of paperwork.
·         You do all the good bits first to help you gear up for the job you really don’t want to do. But as you start to enjoy yourself, you feel less and less like tackling it. So you put it off to another day.
·         Your antennae are on full alert to any excuse to delay or stop doing the job altogether. Then you claim to have lost your motivation.
·         You create the illusion of getting on with things. Suppose you have a pile of paperwork or bills to tackle. You start by tidying your desk, then you tidy the room because you “can’t work in a mess”.  This convinces you that you’ve been working on the project, even though you haven’t actually started it.
·         You make excuses by putting yourself down. Phrases such as: “ Im lazy,” “I’m a slow starter,” or “I’m a hopeless case,” are all ways of getting in first before other people start criticizing you. That’s a sure sign you have a real fear of failure.
·         You wait until you feel motivated instead of biting the bullet and getting on with things.
·         You decide to let sleeping dogs lie, and do nothing about a bad situation for fear of the consequences.
·         You put off doing something  that would actually enhance your life, for fear of not being able to handle the success or pleasure it may bring. This is a form of self-punishment: “I don’t deserve it, so I won’t make it happen.”

Now, why would anyone deliberately avoid doing something that makes them feel better or gets them the recognition they deserve? It doesn’t make sense. There have to be other things going on to cause this self-defeating behaviour. And there are. Here are three reasons why people can’t break the habit of putting things on hold.

Anxiety or fear: Some people spend their lives avoiding anything they think might be a threat to their self-esteem. So, they put off asking the boss for more money in case he/she says their work doesn’t merit a pay rise. They  put off auditioning for the local panto “until next year”, for fear they won’t get a part. And they put off learning all kinds of life-enhancing skills because they are convinced  they’ll make a fool of themselves.

Low boredom threshold: This type of person puts off doing things because they can’t  stand the boredom, frustration, hard work or discomfort that doing a specific job entails. They want quick fixes and they don’t want to make an effort. The trouble is, the unpaid bills, untidy garden or calls to the credit card company don’t get sorted, and life becomes more and more frustrating as unfinished jobs pile up.
Rebellion brought on by anger and resentment is another reason for using delaying tactics. Taking too much time to do a job is a way of getting back at someone because you resent them telling you what to do. Such an attitude almost always backfires. You are labelled “difficult” at work and get passed over for promotion; or you lose friends and alienate family, who can’t put up with your constant harping and unreliability.

So what’s the answer? For really chronic cases, the best course of action is probably to get professional help. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a tried and tested course of action for dealing with the type of negative thoughts which could be holding you back. A life coach or counsellor can help identify where the irrational thinking comes from and work with you to make changes.
If, however, you’re in a temporary rut and struggle to get motivated, a good place to start is to bring some order to the table.
·         Draw up a list with all the jobs that need to be done in order of priority from high to low.
·         Banish distractions and stick rigidly to the tasks in hand. Do not cherry pick from the list, but deliberately tackle the most unpleasant jobs first. This improves your mood as you work your way down the list.
·         Finish one task before moving on to the next. This is good for your self-esteem as well as having a practical purpose.  If a genuine obstacle prevents you from finishing a job, make it a priority on the next day’s list.
·         If a job is too big and complicated, chunk it down to smaller, bite-sized pieces and tackle it a little at a time.
·         And finally, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get everything done.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

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