This is a blog post about procrastinating, because I do it an awful lot. That’s not to say I’m idle or unproductive- in fact, quite the opposite. I just like to attack the ‘quick wins’ first. Jobs I can easily tick off the list for an instant sense of achievement, rather than projects with an undefined (or at least, less pressing) timeline that will require effort, dedication and may incite frustration and disappointment.
When I was a student, I used to both love and hate the essay writing process. I loved doing the research- compiling a reading list, coming back from the library with armfuls of books, reading bits of some of them, making extensive notes, even writing my bibliography up front. But I shied away from putting those first words down on the blank page for as long as I possibly could.
Same with exam revision. In order to start revision, you have to make a list, right? What am I going to revise, when and how- so you can gauge your progress by ticking stuff off as you go along. You probably need to tidy your work space too, to feel comfortable and well-ordered in your surroundings. At least, if you’re anything like me.
The problem is, there will always be other stuff that needs doing. You can tell yourself you’re being productive and using your time well- and you are, because you’re crossing things off the list- but you will NEVER get to the bottom of that list! The other stuff will come and go on a daily basis and your blank page will still be there staring at you.
I’ve been meaning to write a blog post for quite a few weeks now. My ‘other stuff’ included moving house, planning a holiday, getting to know my new neighbourhood, keeping in touch with those I left behind, paying bills, sorting out subscriptions, remembering birthdays, buying groceries, emptying the dishwasher, grappling with a new Mac that’s cleverer than me… and the list goes on.
Speaking of lists, which I have done quite a few times in this post already- here’s the thing: lists are the best procrastination tool there is. I love a good list (in fact, I have been known to have lists of lists. And if my list starts to look a little messy because I have crossed some things off and left others, it’s time to make a fresh one).
Why do I love lists? Because they make me feel in control. My thoughts can be ordered and organised, my tasks can be visible and quantifiable. No need to feel panicky or overwhelmed when it’s all laid out in front of you and it’s as easy as crossing items off, one by one. And what gratification we can get from ticking things off a list! It makes my heart sing!
But lists can be a false friend, letting us think we’re making good use of our time when really we are just avoiding the big task. Here’s a list (ha!) of ideas that might help:
- Allocate time slots for different activities, e.g I’m going to spend 30 minutes on the ‘big task’, followed by 30 minutes on the ‘other stuff’. This will help you kick start the ‘big task’ and you might find it’s not that scary after all.
- Write your list in order of priority, and don’t let yourself start at the bottom.
- Be honest with yourself about what really deserves a place on your list. You don’t put ‘breathe in and out’ on there, so don’t put down the stuff that will get done anyway. You’re making a list for the sake of it.
- And by the way, can’t anyone else give you a hand with the ‘other stuff’? If you start your tax return (big task) instead of hanging up the laundry (other stuff), will someone else be around later to help with the laundry?
Ironically, writing about procrastination was categorically NOT on today’s to-do list and therefore is itself a form of procrastination. But writing a new blog post has been hanging over me for ages so getting anything out at all feels flippin’ brilliant.
Now off to re-organise my to-do list…