I was going to write about something else completely last week, but then I got to thinking: I ended my last post about freeing up time to get other stuff done, like unclogging a slow bathroom sink. As it turned out, I had three of them to deal with, and finally got to them…a week later, just before I started writing this. And then I thought, “unclogging stubborn bathroom drains” can be a metaphor in itself for procrastination.
Do It Right, The First Time
A slow or clogged drain comes on slowly, over time. At first, it’s barely noticeable. Then it gets a little annoying. But we put up with it, because it’s a pain to clear out a backed-up drain. We’d rather stand back and wait a minute (or two, or three…) for the water to finally go down than mess with actually cleaning it out. When I finally got around to doing the job, I got all three sinks cleared and back together in less than forty-five minutes. I don’t just dump Drano®, or baking soda and vinegar down the drain, either. The trap comes off, the stopper gets pulled out so I’ve got a straight shot down into a catch bowl below, and I push a wadded paper towel through a couple of times. If you’ve ever done this – or just go Google “clogged bathroom sink” and check out some images – you know the hairy, gunky, nightmarish mess that comes out the other end. I want it done right and I’m not waiting on a chemical reaction. It’s messy, but it’s fast and gets the job done right.
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So, procrastination…about that. A funny thing that this post has taken me forever to write. I’ve been sputtering, stopping and starting for days now. My goal is to write a post a week. I did good with the first two, and now…well, I got stuck. I didn’t want to procrastinate on it, but I just couldn’t get my mind back on topic.
Mmm, yeah. The irony. Distractions – minor ones like watching a funny video to major ones like chaos in the house – are major sources of delay. They can throw off the flow, and it can be surprisingly hard to get back on track. By that time, we’ve got more on our plate to deal with, so decisions need to be made. What to do…what’s more urgent? Or easier? Procrastination is as old a problem as humankind. There are even verses in the Bible about procrastination: “Whoever watches the wind will not plant, and whoever watches the clouds will not reap”, Ecclesiastes 11:4; or, “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth”, Proverbs 10:4. One of my favorites – certainly a more proactive one – that I’ve called on plenty of times to get me through, is Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”
How Do I Delay Thee? Let Me Count The Ways
Why do we procrastinate? Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always laziness. There can be a host of other reasons. It can be anxiety, self-doubt, or perfectionism. We might be control freaks. A perfectionist wants the results of the work to be error free, so they delay the inevitable imperfect outcome. Like that, a controller purposely delays a task so that it can’t go wrong, or out of their control. Maybe we get overwhelmed at the size of a project. The bottom line is, most of us care about the work we need to do, and when we procrastinate, we tend to regret it. When we finally end up doing it, we feel better for it afterward. In fact, I usually end up wondering, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” Like with the slow bathroom drains. I could’ve done them earlier last week. Granted, it’s a messy, stinky job, but it’s fast and easy. We generally have the desire to get something done, but there’s that mental roadblock standing in our way. On the contrary, by definition, laziness is the unwillingness to do work or expend energy. Lazy people couldn’t care less if something gets done.
Another big reason we procrastinate is disorganization. We have so much going on around us, and the freedom to choose between so many things, we often lack the self-control to choose the thing that needs done. So we choose a distraction instead. Being disorganized plays right into this. If we’re not good time managers, any and every little shiny bauble will distract us from the task at hand. Some rely on the old “I work better under pressure” fallacy. Been there, done that. Ultimately we find out that less time to meet the deadline often ends up in the project providing substandard results, or it doesn’t even get finished.
Dream It? Do It
Are you a dreamer? I hear you. We’re always coming up with new and fanciful ways to live life, to do the “next big thing”. The trap of being a dreamer is, all of these wonderful scenarios play out just perfectly…in our heads. When it comes to putting an idea into action, we get vapor locked. That great idea that’s been bubbling in our brain can’t seem to get to get from point A to point B, our hands. As one who’s lived through this, I can say that the biggest culprit is fear. What if our grand idea doesn’t turn out as good in reality? How do I even begin to make it a reality?
With writing, procrastination can come on very easy. Two words: writer’s block. But what is writer’s block except just a mental roadblock like what I’ve shown above? That’s a whole other topic for a different post. Writing is like any other task, except those of us who write love to do it, so it’s not generally seen as a chore that we might put off until later. But it can be just as subject to stress, distraction, depression, perfectionism – some of the same causes that lead us to procrastinate on our work or household chores.
Just as there’s a host of reasons why we procrastinate, there are plenty of good ways to get over that bump in the road and get moving. Nike made millions starting in the late 80s with three little words: Just Do It™. Simple, but effective. I used this phrase endlessly with my kids as they grew up. I used it myself countless times. Just get up and get moving! Take a step, even a little one. If the task in front of you seems too big to take just a little step, break it down.
This is where schedules, to do lists and even diagrams can help. I went out and bought myself an easel and a big paper pad to make notes on. I’ve used it to list sources for an article – now turned book – that I started over the holidays. I also plan to use it for article and blog post outlines, and even make flow chart or similar diagrams to help break a bigger project into more manageable pieces. If you’re a visual learner like me, having it written or drawn out does wonders for being able to see it, grasp it, and do it. Schedules and to do lists are great time management helpers, and time management is at the core of a lot of procrastination. We don’t understand or we lose track not just of time, but the value of time. Time marches forever onward, and we don’t get one second back. When you let the urgency of that sink in, it’ll help motivate you to get up and get done today what you could’ve put off until tomorrow.