|The Beauty of Nature Inspires Me|
No matter how much you mentally flog yourself, you can't get started. You find an endless number of other things that suddenly need to be done instead, and manage to put off starting the big project this morning, and this afternoon, and this week. The stress builds, and the lack of progress starts to feel like a crisis. You don't feel good about yourself.
Procrastination is something that I struggled with during my career. I was fortunate to have work that was very self-directed. I had a lot of choice in what projects I chose to take on, and the freedom to structure my work-time as I chose, as long as the work got done. For the most part, I thrived with this much independence. But the downside of all that freedom was that procrastination could strike, and there was no one to tell me what to do and make sure I did it. I remember some projects that "fell off the side of the desk," and I regret to this day that I procrastinated and never finished them (or sometimes, never even started them).
Of course, now that I'm retired, there's way less stress. But I still find there are certain things in life that I procrastinate on. One of the good things about my lifelong struggle with procrastination is that I've learned some strategies to address it. Here are some of them.
Am I procrastinating?
The first thing to do is to notice that I am procrastinating in the first place.
I am a master of convincing myself that the reason I am not doing the project is because I am too busy, or because something else urgent has to be done first. I have to go out to get my daily exercise, or I have to clean the kitchen, or today is a perfect day to re-pot all the houseplants, or, etc., etc. If I keep myself in a whirl of busyness, I can justify to myself why I can't possibly start the project right now.
A variation on this is, I am so tired or overworked (because I've been so busy!) that I need to rest or do something fun and rejuvenating first. And the days go by.
|I Distract Myself by Going for Walks|
If I stop and think about it, I realize I've been procrastinating.
What is the nature of the project?
Once I notice I've been procrastinating, it's time to figure out why. It turns out that I procrastinate on different things for different reasons.
There are things I have to do and things I want to do. There are things that are important, and things that are not very important.
For example, I belong to a lot of different community groups. Often, in the excitement of the moment, I volunteer to do something, and then later find myself procrastinating and not wanting to do the thing I said I'd do. I feel as though I "have" to do it because I said I would.
Strategies: Sometimes, the task is ill-defined or not super important, and just by having a conversation with someone, we decide to go a different route, and I'm off the hook. Sometimes it can be delegated. Sometimes, I simply buckle down and do it while making a promise to myself to not say "yes" so quickly next time when a volunteer is needed for that type of task. Externally imposed deadlines can be really helpful (e.g., it needs to be done by the next meeting). Often, once I make myself do it the first time, it becomes much easier subsequently. Little regular tasks are more likely to get done if I put them into a routine.
There are some things that are unpleasant but very important. These are things you HAVE to do, but really don't want to. An example is having a medical procedure that is necessary for quality of life. Helpful friends who have had a similar procedure can take some of the uncertainty away by talking you through it, making it easier to take action. Support groups or websites or fellow bloggers can be great resources, providing information and encouragement.
When I discover myself procrastinating about things that I WANT to do, figuring out why I am procrastinating can be a lot more perplexing.
Do I know how to do it?
Sometimes, I procrastinate because I don't know how to do something. The project can feel too big and overwhelming. The two most helpful strategies for me, in this case, are to research the topic area and to make a plan. Once I gather information about what needs to be done, and ways other people have done it, the project becomes less intimidating. With the information about what needs to be done, I can then sit down and make a plan.
For a big project, I like to write my plan out. I break it down into specific goals and sub-goals, and list a number of very small, easy steps under each goal. Once I've broken it down into extremely small steps, it is much easier to begin. The whole project might be big, but I know I can figure out how to do each tiny step, one by one.
What is the fear that keeps me from starting?
Very often, the root of procrastination is psychological. There is a deep-seated fear that your intended project, for some reason, triggers. Perhaps you're terrified of public speaking, and you know that once you've completed your project, you'll have to present it to others. So you don't even start, as a way of avoiding that scary future situation.
In my case, very often my fears are related to perfectionism and fear of failure. Maybe my project won't be successful. Maybe what I produce won't be "good enough." It will fall short of perfect and reveal that I am a flawed human being.
When I finally zero in on the underlying fear, I can take some of the power out of that fear. Recognizing the nature of the fear helps to get me unstuck.
I can give myself a pep talk, reminding myself of other things I accomplished in spite of being afraid.
I can remind myself that no one really cares about my project but me, or how "perfect" it is. I can remind myself that it's not either/or: fail vs. perfect. There are a lot of gradations in-between. It is the journey that counts, not only the product at the end.
|Nature's Glory puts Fears in Perspective|
Ultimately, personal projects and goals we set for ourselves (as opposed to those things we say we'll do to please others) are deeply important to who we are as people and what's important in our lives. If we wiggle out of doing things that are essential to our core values or stepping stones toward our life purpose(s), it is a sad personal loss, and sad for others, too, who'll never benefit from our gifts.
Examining the causes of procrastination can get us unstuck and help us learn about ourselves. The things that seem hardest are often our best learning opportunities, and procrastination can be a signal that we are approaching one of those moments of transformation.
So, what kind of project is it, you ask, that leads me to reflect on procrastination? I have needed a procrastination kickstart because I am seeking to publish my novel, and am starting to embark on that publication process.