Whenever I procrastinate and finally get around to doing whatever it is I’ve been putting off, I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t just do it in the first place.
Case in point: bookkeeping. I always put it off until the last minute. Once I sit down and do it, I beat myself up for putting it off. It never takes as long as I think it will, and it usually goes faster and more smoothly than anticipated. For instance, this morning, I spent five hours catching up on the last three months of 2017. Why did I keep putting this off?
Finally, after years of putting bookkeeping at the very bottom of my to-do list—where I hoped it would fall off the bottom of the page—I think I’ve figured it out. It stems from the days when I didn’t always have (more correctly, when I didn’t have) enough money to pay my bills. That’s when bookkeeping started causing me anxiety. Years later, even though circumstances changed, my brain was still back in the day when finances were really tight.
I can procrastinate about lots of things.
I often postpone making phone calls, answering letters, grocery shopping, and car repairs. I’m not about to delve into the psychology of each. I’m sure my brain is holding on to something from the past that was painful, difficult, or cost more money than I had to spend, but perhaps it’s not that complicated.
Brain research blames it on a tug of war between the limbic system, which controls the pleasure center, and the prefrontal cortex—the internal planner and accountability expert. When these two come toe-to-toe, the limbic system usually wins and we delay, defer, and stall.
It’s not my fault, I procrastinate. My brain made me do it!
Is there any way to triumph over this battle? I did some research, and the article “5 Easy Ways to Overcome Procrastination,” from Inc.com makes the most sense. The solution is fairly simple.
- If the size of a task seems overwhelming, break the tasks down into small steps or sub-tasks and start working on the parts rather than the whole.
- When you’re overwhelmed by too many small tasks, set aside time to do a group of them. For instance, set aside one hour to answer emails or clean the kitchen.
- For tasks that are repetitive and boring, limit the time you spend and reward yourself upon completion.
- Sometimes a task is so important that we’re afraid to start because we might make a mistake. Rather than fret over a written project, ask a trusted a colleague or friend to review your draft.
- Then there are the times when you are unmotivated or burned out. At this point, you have two choices: postpone the task until you have more enthusiasm, or push yourself to get it done by providing yourself an incentive.
What tasks are you putting off? Forget about the why. What solutions are you willing to try?
Jan Fishler, MA, is currently co-authoring a new book, Don’t Stop Now, Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life (DontStopNow.us). She is also the author of Searching for Jane, Finding Myself (An Adoption Memoir), and has written several articles about alternative health and PTSD. You can learn more about Jan at www.JanFishler.net.