Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday

Oscar Wilde said, ‘I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly leave until the day after.’ Rita Mae Brown said, ‘If it weren’t for the last minute, absolutely nothing would get done.’ My favourite quote comes from Chuck Palahniuk: ‘Reincarnation is just another way to procrastinate.’

What makes us procrastinate?

Often procrastination can stem from a fear of failure. Why start something if it’s not going to amount to anything? Why take the risk if you’ll be exposed as someone who wasn’t up to the task? But it can also come from a fear of success. What happens if you do really well? What if your life changes in ways you feel unable to handle? Could you cope with the attention or extra pressure that comes with success?

When you notice yourself procrastinating, go back and re-examine what it is that you really want. Is that thing worth the risk, the sacrifices and the changes that are required to move ahead?

Getting started can be the hardest part and that’s often because we don’t really know what steps to take. Feelings of confusion or being overwhelmed can be paralysing. If you feel like this, ask for help. Brainstorm with someone to get you going.

Our brains are made up of two halves. One half is the rational decision-making side, which weighs up re ward versus effort and sets practical goals. The other side of our brain is the playful side which is necessary for creativity and other fun stuff. However, left undisciplined, it can sometimes sabotage our good intentions. When the playful side dominates our thinking, it takes us off track, seeking to do almost anything other than what we should be doing – things like looking in the fridge to see if something new has materialised since the last time we checked, or watching just one more You Tube clip, playing one more game, checking social media – again (and again)… We all get caught up in seeking instant rewards and steering away from the discipline required in order to reach our long term dreams.

If it weren’t for the last minute nothing would get done

There are two kinds of procrastination.

1. Urgent procrastination – This type of procrastination often comes with a deadline and, in a way, it is the easiest to overcome, because the sense of urgency eventually results in action. There are two breeds of people. The first is the rare breed who space out their projects, pacing themselves towards the completion of a task, with plenty of room left over at the end. Then there is the majority, who tend to live in the urgent zone. They leave important tasks until the last 24 hours before the deadline, when the panic monster rears his ugly head. Then they run around like people possessed, trying to get the job done. My observation is that these people ultimately feel super-stressed and anxious, and wish they could learn to better control the playful side of their brains.  

2. Non-urgent but important procrastination  – This form of procrastination has no deadline and is more difficult to recognise. It includes such things as exercise, building relationships and personal development. Because there are no obvious or urgent drivers to make these things happen, they are often put off or neglected. Then, one day you wake up to discover that you are unfit, living in an unhappy relationship and lack the necessary skills and resources to solve your problems. Often this type of procrastination plays a role in dreams that have never become a reality. It wasn’t that those things couldn’t be achieved, but rather the necessary steps were never taken. Don’t put yourself in that position. Instead, take planning and prioritising seriously and become a master at being organised.

When someone or something tries to distract you, let your diary, calendar or planner call the shots in your life.

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