I’ve got this mate called Jim whose mantra is, ‘I’ve just gotta get through the next couple of weeks and I’ll be ok,’ – and I’ve heard it so often that I’ve told him it’ll be on his bloody gravestone (he won’t mind me telling you this, I rip the piss out of him for it all the time).
Of course, like most chronic procrastinators, once his self-imposed time limit of a couple of weeks is up, he finds another reason to not take action, and his favourite phrase comes out to play again. This isn’t a newly-formed habit for Jim. I’ve known the man for over 50 years, and he’s always been the same, and perhaps you recognise a little bit of yourself in our Jim.
“I’ll do it tomorrow.”
“I’ll look at it later.”
“I’ll just get the weekend out of the way and I’ll get started.”
Chances are, you’ve always been this way – cramming for an exam the night before after not even opening a book for the last month, doing that important assignment the night before…even putting in for that repeat prescription after you’ve taken the last pill, rather than when you still have a week’s supply left – it seems that procrastinators are born, not made.
And what can seem like a cranky and amusing personality trait when you’re laughing about it with your mates down the pub, can be nothing short of a nightmare for the sufferer in real life situations – particularly if you’re running your own business.
No one wants to work with someone who keeps moving deadlines or can’t be relied upon to get products out on time. No one wants to receive a ‘rush job’ – especially if they’re paying top dollar – because you spent the week finding excuses to put the work off until the very last minute.
One day you won’t be able to say, ‘I’ll do that tomorrow’, because your client will have fired you today. In business you’re only as good as your reputation, and no one’s service or product is unique, so if you can’t deliver what the customer wants and when, a five minute Google search will soon find someone who can.
Apart from the fact procrastination could cost Jim – or maybe you – customers, revenue, and even a job, this ‘put it off until tomorrow’ attitude is also pretty bad for your health.
‘Stress’ is pretty much used as an umbrella term these days, one that we apply to any situation that is less than ideal for us, but the truth is, the stress associated with the worry and sleepless nights we might experience knowing that any type of deadline is looming, can genuinely make you really ill – and running a business is stressful enough without deliberately adding to it!
Studies have shown that habitual procrastinators are more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease, stomach ulcers, and hypertension; not to mention headaches, digestive problems, colds, flu, and insomnia. So, if you’re not careful, a mantra like, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ or, ‘I’ve just gotta get through the next couple weeks and I’ll be ok’, could be on your gravestone sooner than you’d like.
Another troubling side-effect of being like Jim is that it means you’re unprepared for all of those little curveballs that life likes to chuck our way sometimes. Let’s say you have a Friday deadline and intend to do the work on Thursday (despite having known about the project for a month), and then Wednesday night your cat knocks a glass of red wine all over your laptop and it’s, to put it bluntly, fucked.
Sure, it gives you an excuse for why you’re going to miss your Friday deadline, but you (and the client) will be only too aware that if you’d done it last week, you wouldn’t be in this situation now. Nothing feels better than being ahead of schedule, trust me, and you’ll definitely enjoy your work more if you’re not knocking it out the night before it’s meant to be done.
Also, and I know I’ve briefly mentioned this, but you’re never going to do your best work if you leave it until the last minute – you’ll know this if you’ve ever done your homework on the bus on the way to school. Being ahead of time instead of thinking, ‘ah, I’ve got ages, let’s just get through these two weeks first’, means you’re giving yourself plenty of time to revise your work, make any improvements, get feedback and opinions….even start over if you feel that you need to.
Let me be clear, I don’t think Jim, or anyone else with the same ‘there’s always tomorrow’ trait is lazy; procrastination is an active process that means you choose to do something else instead of what you should be doing, whereas laziness suggests an unwillingness to act and a general sense apathy. I’ve already said that procrastinators seem to be born rather than made, BUT, because it is an active choice, it DOES mean that you can choose NOT to put stuff off until another day.
First of all, you have to recognise that that is what you’re doing. Jim, who does that classic procrastinator ‘thing’ of finding another reason why he can’t act right now once his original time limit is up, struggles with this. A lot. He always claims the reason he can’t just ‘get on with it’ is a genuinely important, vital or life-changing priority.
It rarely is. If, like him, you’re putting things off indefinitely, constantly pushing back your deadlines and then filling your day with low-priority tasks, or always waiting for the ‘right time’ or ‘right mood’ before tackling what you have to do, you’re procrastinating.
It helps if you can recognise WHY you’re putting stuff off. Is it because it’s something particularly boring or unpleasant or because you’re badly organised? Are you worried about the outcome or have doubts about your ability (imposter syndrome)?…..Once you can figure out the reason, it’ll be easier to put strategies in place to tackle the problem.
Strategies such as:
1. Write shit down.
If disorganisation and forgetting what you have to do and when is a big part of the reason that you keep putting things off, making a to-do list of tasks you need to complete is a great tip. It’ll help you to commit to and focus on the task if you can see it written down in black and white. Write down your deadlines as well, or a specific time-frame – again, it’s easier to stick to if you can see it written down, and it will help you to be proactive.
2. Reward Yourself.
Like when you’re trying to get one of the kids to do the right thing, or when you’re training a dog, positive reinforcement will work for you (and Jim!) too.
Every time you complete a task ahead of time, or even on time, give yourself a treat. It can be something simple like a coffee or cake or, even better, schedule something fun for the time you now have free because you’ve finished something sooner than you normally would – like meeting a friend, going to the pub or the cinema etc. Your brain will soon associate finishing tasks ahead of time with something pleasant.
3. If you can’t check yourself, get someone else to do it for you
I’m not normally a huge fan of peer pressure, but you can use it positively in this instance. Get someone to help you keep on schedule by having them check that you’re getting the work done when you say that you will. If you’d rather not have your mate or partner nagging at you to get stuff done, there are online tools that can do it for you – like the Procraster app. It’ll save you time – and possibly save a relationship or two. Maybe join a great accountability group?
4. Change your internal dialogue.
When that little voice inside your head starts uttering the phrases, ‘I need to’ or ‘I have to’, flip the script and start hearing, ‘I choose to’ instead.
This phrase implies that you are in control of your work and own the project you need to undertake, rather than that you have no choice in what you do. It’s a powerful tool that can change your whole mindset and make work feel like less of a chore.
5. Get rid of distractions
This is a big one – put your bloody phone away while you’re working, or at least have it far enough away from you that you’ll be forced to move to answer work-related calls, but won’t be tempted to keep stopping to check your social media. Don’t sit near the TV either – because before you know it you’ve watched half an hour of Loose Women, Deadenders, or some other crap show you’re not particularly interested in, and the page in front of you remains blank.
So, there you have it. Don’t be a slave to ‘tomorrow’, ‘next week’ or beyond…own your procrastination and take steps to stop it in its tracks and you could have a more productive now and a more successful future. Do it now, while I’m forwarding this to Jim.