To do or not to do
Okay, so the Bard’s phrase was a little different, but I’m willing to bet more people have had to choose whether to get to work now or to put it off a little bit longer than have contemplated discontinuing their existence. We’re busy people. We have to prioritize, to make choices about how to spend our time. Some of us like to plan. Others of us like to “wing it.” And some of us like to do anything but what we’re supposed to be doing.
Job interviewers like to ask what your worst quality is. I have a doozy: procrastination. The thing is, I almost never fail to get something done on time. Perhaps if I did, I’d be more motivated to avoid procrastinating. I’d be embarrassed and embarrassment is one of my key motivators or, rather, the avoidance of embarrassment. I don’t want to look like an idiot. I don’t want to be unprepared. I don’t even like to be late. But I’m not likely to be early, either.
So, you’d think that would be motivation enough for me to overcome my procrastination. Some folks look at procrastination as a problem of value. The idea is that we value the distraction more highly than the task at hand. Either it’s more fun or more rewarding. To fight procrastination, you have to add value to the task or devalue the distraction so the balance tips towards getting your project done. Of course, that gets tricky when the task is perceived as onerous or unpleasant. How do you devalue cat videos enough to make spreadsheets a preferable choice?*
The other option suggested in the article linked above is that you tie the job to a sense of self. That’s where my “don’t want to look like an idiot” thought process comes in to play. You tie the completion of the project to your idea of your future self and you’re more likely to be motivated to work towards that completion.
So, what’s the answer to stop procrastinating? Find what works for you.
Personally, I like lists. I like to put things on my list and I love to cross them off my list. That’s the reward for me when I make the phone call I didn’t want to make. It feels a little Pavlovian, but there you have it. However, I get to tackle things on my list in whatever order I choose. That means the tasks I don’t want to do sometimes get pushed a little further down the line, justifying my procrastination because I am working! See all the things I’ve accomplished?
One of the most important things that I have to remember when it comes to my writing life is a point the “Ending Procrastination” article makes:
[Procrastinators] mistakenly believe that working when not in the mood is suboptimal.
Waiting until you feel in the mood to write means you’ll get very little writing done. I try to write something every day, even if it’s only a few sentences on a project. A lot of times those sentences turn into more sentences, but there are days where all I get is one or two. Writing is work. It’s not always rewarding, but it sure does tie into your sense of self. It’s hard to say you’re a writer if you’re not actually writing. So, get to work! Go. Do.
*I really enjoy spreadsheets, possibly more than cat videos. They make my brain happy.