Get you! You are fully in the zone…you have planned and scheduled and organised. You feel amaaaazing, because you’ve got this. You know what you are doing and you know where you are going!
But wait… Uh oh. Could it be? What if all this organising is just a distraction technique? What if you feel great because you think you are doing all the things, when really you are putting off the inevitable – the moment when you must ACTUALLY do all the things?
In this post, we will delve into the difference between planning and procrastinating, and how you can get yourself out of the dead zone and into your flow.
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What is procrastination?
It’s quite simple:
To procrastinate means to put off or delay something that needs to be done.
Now, I’m pretty sure we all do this from time to time, but some of us are so familiar with procrastination that we appear to run to it’s embrace like an old friend.
(This generally isn’t what we are doing. We don’t like it. But telling a procrastinator to “focus and get on with it” is a bit like telling someone who suffers with depression “Cheer up! You’ve got nothing to be sad about!”, or trying to put a tent up on a windy day)
So why do we procrastinate?
It’s quite complex:
Being a procrastinator isn’t a choice…I firmly believe we are hard-wired this way. I had thought I might try and squeeze some scientific explanation in here, but really, nobody is ever going to be able to explain it better or more succinctly than Tim Urban, with his hands down best explanation of procrastination ever written.
Do you know why I’m writing this post? Because sometimes I find it necessary to write what I need to hear.
And listen…I don’t actually think that being a procrastinator is a bad thing all the time…
Working under pressure
Some of us truly do create, think and work BETTER under pressure.
On those rare occasions when I am super duper organised and get everything done ahead of time, I often find that I feel a little lost and vague and like I’ve forgotten something – It’s confusing to me, I can’t remember what I did and if it was right…it’s actually kinda stressful, which I’m pretty sure is NOT the point of being ahead of the game.
However, it’s certainly true that I can be my own worse enemy at times because I allow myself to think I’m being productive, when really I’m just procrastinating under a more acceptable name.
The planning stage
I, like most procrastinators, love the planning stage of any project because it feels so much like I have it all under control.
I am being organised!
Behold how well my Trello backgrounds represent the content of my boards! Look at my bullet journal! I’ve got soooo much done today! Look at all the pretty doodles, and swirly writing, and neat little boxes for writing all my ‘To do’s’ in! (I do try…I even bought the above ‘productivity planner’ in the hope that having pre-printed sections would encourage me to do more planning and less doodling. It didn’t work.)
But it’s not just about decorative touches (because clearly any fool can see that faffing about with watercolour pencils in a notebook isn’t getting work done. Well, y’know, unless you are a watercolour artist, in which case, carry on.)
Even when I am actually planning THINGS. Real, do-able, “business” things…content to create, products to launch, courses to study…it’s just oh so easy to feel like THAT is the work.
I have just spent the past two weeks in a planning frenzy.
Don’t get me wrong. As well as being a massive procrastinator I also suffer from the devastating affliction of “all-the-things-in-my-brain-are-competing-for-attention-at-once-and-I-can’t-focus-until-I-write-the-stuff-down” Syndrome.
Organisation and planning have to happen in order for me to focus AT ALL, and some of this planning really needed to be done. But lots probably didn’t.
I allowed myself to get caught up in the epicness of feeling organised. But then when I paused to look at how much I had achieved in the past few weeks, there was a sad lack of real progress, and now here I am 2 weeks on, with all the same stuff waiting for me that there was before, only with a little more on top.
So what’s a procrastinator to do? How can we tell when we are in control of our destinies and planning with purpose – or just flat out putting off the inevitable?
Productivity VS Procrastination
Danger Zone 1: Planning
Procrastinators tend to plan goals in an extremely vague way. If you can look at your planning and see your goals and tasks broken down into actionable and achievable steps, then congratulations, chances are high you are being productive!
If on the other hand, you are procrastinating, then your ‘To Do’ list will likely contain items which look more like this:
- Go Marie Kondo on my belongings.
- Organise and tidy up computer files/Dropbox/Google docs/inboxes/bookmarks
- Learn Portuguese
- Research and come up with blog post ideas and create a content schedule
- Find out about bat conservation
Nothing wrong with any of these as general concepts. But they aren’t actually going to get the job done. (Fun fact: all of the above are genuine examples of items that have been on my ‘To Do’ list in recent history…)
I have learnt that it is crucial during the planning stage to beware phrases like:
- ‘Learn how to….’
- ‘Look into….’
These spell disaster to the procrastinator, both due to their maddening vagueness and also their likelihood to lead you down rabbit holes. I am not suggesting you shouldn’t seek to learn – but BE SPECIFIC.
Want to learn a new language? Fantastic goal. Now commit. Schedule 1 hour a week (no, not loosely – pick an actual time and make it non- negotiable: Tuesday evening 7-8pm) Better yet, sign up to a class, something which holds you accountable to your goal.
Want to declutter your home? Draw up a plan! Detail every area, assign a week, a day, a time to tackle each one, know in advance what you will do with the things you are getting rid of and schedule that in too. Leave yourself no get out clause!
If you let yourself plan vague “someday” goals, you will do everything in your power to avoid actually getting started, no matter how much you want the end goal. You will waste so much time this way it is unreal.
Remind yourself why you are doing whatever it is you are doing. These big goals of yours. What do they mean to you? Take a look at them.
There are probably lots.
Which one is your priority? Which one makes your soul sing?
Do that one.
You are so much more likely to get out of the dead zone and into your happy place if you work on something which motivates you personally.
Obviously, you may have urgent, but less fun things you need to work on. If this is the case, (and they truly are urgent, and not just an excuse to procrastinate on the soul-happy option) then do them first, but remind yourself that they are a priority by necessity only, and you needn’t agonise over them. You have way more important things on your horizon and it’s in your best interest to get the dull stuff out of the way.
Related reading: Intentional living – Live a Life That’s True to You!
Plan actionable goals
Take your happy goal, your main focus, and break it into stages. It’s not enough to have “be debt-free” as your main focus. How will you achieve this?
- Work backwards. Pick a date you want to be debt-free by. Write it down
- How much do you owe? Write that down too.
- Divide what you owe by the number of months between now and your end date. Can you afford that?
- Yes? Set up a direct debit today and start chipping away at that debt!
- No? Either adjust your end date or come up with a way to earn more money.
- If you are going with option 2, “earn more money”, then start this process again. Do not let “earn more money” become your new vague goal! Come up with an actual plan for how to achieve this. You can do it!
Related reading: 3 Simple Ways to Take Control of Your Spending
Productivity VS Procrastination
Danger Zone 2: Time Management
I have been trying something new recently. I have been timing myself when doing tasks that I think I have a handle on and know how long they should take.
It’s actually been a bit devastating.
You can only imagine how much time it will take me to do the ones I have been putting off…
Then this week, I was set a challenge to write for 30 mins a day without distraction. Just writing, no editing, no over analysing, and ABSOLUTELY no browsing open tabs/social media/pictures of sky puppies. This tied in very well with the timing thing and my realisation that I am wasting so much more time than I need to.
The deal is, every time I get distracted I’m to reset the timer. I’ll be honest: Yesterday I reset it a lot. (Largely due to the fact that whilst writing this very piece on procrastination, I decided that what I really needed to be doing was creating stop motion animation of an apple being eaten.)
But even with this fruit-based detour, I can say that I have written more in three days of these 30 minute chunks than I usually write in a week. So there’s that.
If you knuckle down for set periods of time on the task at hand, you are being productive. If you are spending waaaaay more time hitting the reset button, you are procrastinating. That apple munching vid isn’t going to get this blog post finished, now is it?
Return to your Brain Dump/Task list. If any of your tasks are of an ongoing, regular nature, then schedule time blocks into your day.
Be strict with yourself about times, and know that when you are in the zone, you commit to it fully. Let everyone around you know that you are not to be disturbed!
Go with your gut. Some people can manage 1hr time blocks. Others get on better with smaller chunks, say, 20 mins at a time. This can be good if you lack focus (or have kids around). Telling your brain (or children) to try harder for just 20 mins is often met with less resistance than informing it that it’s in for a marathon session of hard, hard work from sunrise ‘til sunset.
The Pomodoro Technique is a popular time blocking approach, usually dividing your time into 25 minute intervals, with short breaks in between. You can set a timer on your phone, use a kitchen timer or an app. Many of the apps available have the added advantage of being able to block certain distractions such as social media for the duration of your work time. Sean Kennedy has compiled a list of great Pomodoro apps here.
If you still find the lure of open tabs, games and apps is just too strong for you, consider installing a website blocking app such as Cold Turkey, which will block you out of own computer if you need it to!
You might just find that getting stuck into these time chunks will get you really keen to keep going – it’s often the getting started that is the hard part.
Productivity VS Procrastination
Danger Zone 3: Perfectionism
If you are sailing through your organisation and planning tasks, creating actionable goals, knocking out your work within your allotted time slots, and throwing caution to the wind with a “this will do the job fine, it is good enough for me!” approach, then you are winning at productivity. If you are still fretting and putting off after having nailed your time management and planning systems, you might be falling foul to the final and most fiendish aspect of procrastination:
Dictionary result for perfectionism
refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.
I have a theory that all procrastinators tend towards perfectionism. By all means, correct me if you are procrastinator who couldn’t care less, but in my experience, we all suffer from analysis paralysis.
Because let’s face it, it is the most legitimate excuse anybody could come up with for not getting the thing done:
I/It won’t be good enough!
What better reason is there than that for putting something off?
Ask yourself though: Good enough for what? Good enough for who?
Sometimes you just have to go with it. Trust that it is good enough, that you are good enough. Send your vibes out into the universe regardless and hope for the best. Jump in with both feet and squeal with delight while doing it!
Whether that thing you are planning and not doing is writing a novel, learning to juggle, starting a business or getting fit, you can do this if you let yourself.
I can’t promise you won’t take the odd detour, but you’ll get there if you want to. You just have to jump!
Related reading: 10 Tiny Steps Towards a BIG Life!
So, a quick recap:
- Planning is important, but plan smart! Beware vague ‘someday’ phrasing, be specific and get started! There is no point making plans just to stare at them and never do them. You will be much more productive if you set attainable, actionable steps.
- Manage your time well. Time yourself to get a feel for how long things take you and allocate time blocks to get things done. Every time you get distracted reset the timer! You might be surprised how much time you can claim back this way!
- A job done well is good enough! Don’t be slack, but don’t worry about ‘perfect’ either! This is important, you will never do anything if you wait for perfect. Just jump….