I just finished a fabulous book called Taming the To Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day by Glynnis Whitwer. This book may be the best I have ever read on the topic of procrastination. Glynnis begins by gently but firmly explaining why procrastination is robbing many of us of our best life and then offers practical tips for understanding and changing our behavior. I would highly recommend this accessible, easy to read discussion of a topic with which many of us struggle. Glynnis writes from the perspective of someone who has personally fought this battle and has found some success.
Here are a few concepts I found particularly helpful:
Procrastination is a bad habit, not a character flaw.
For most of my life, I assumed my tendency to put off tasks until the last minute was just part of my DNA. I told myself I worked better under pressure. I rationalized procrastination as just being the way I am wired to function. Yes, it made things harder. Yes, it impacted my relationships. Yes, it made me feel guilty and ashamed and incompetent, but that is just who I am, so I guess I have to learn to work around it. After all, I’m good at plenty of other things, right?
Glynnis, however, offered me a much more hopeful outlook. Procrastination is a learned behavior and a bad habit. I have the ability to change behaviors and habits. I might need to do some work to figure out why I have a tendency to procrastinate, but I absolutely do have the ability to learn new skills around how I choose which tasks to do and how I manage my time. I have changed my behavior in the past. I have developed healthier habits before. I can do so again in this area.
Procrastination is not worth the cost.
We make choices every day. Every yes to one choice is a no to something else. There is always a trade-off. Glynnis reminds us our habit of procrastination comes at a cost.
- Cost to our character; justifying, rationalizing, lying, blame
- Cost to our calling; delays, excuses, fears, doubts
- Cost of unmet potential
- Cost to our health; exercise, healthy eating, chronic stress
- Cost to our relationships
- Cost to our finances
Change in life most often happens when we weigh the consequences of maintaining the status quo and determine it is no longer worth the cost. As we say in the 12 step program, we finally get sick and tired of being sick and tired.
My feelings are not my friends when it comes to procrastination.
Procrastinators like me put way too much thought into finding the “perfect” time to do a task. We convince ourselves:
- I will feel more like doing it tomorrow
- I will have more time to spend on it tomorrow
- I will do a better job next week
- It will be better if I do a little more planning or organizing before I get started
Glynnis reminds us that successful people know motivation often comes AFTER we start the project. It is self-defeating to believe we always need our emotions in alignment with our goals. Sometimes I spend more time dreading a task than it takes to actually do the task and check it off the list. Case in point, the front hall closet mocked me for weeks, perhaps months. Every time I opened the door and saw the cascading, disorganized mess, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. Shame for not having done it before, dread of tackling it, rationalizations for why now was not the time. One day, after reading this book, I jumped up and did it right that minute. It took about 45 minutes to achieve my goal. 45 MINUTES! Hours and hours of wasted time worrying, dreading, rationalizing and feeling bad about myself could have been avoided if I had taken care of it when it first came to my attention.
Perfectionism is my enemy.
Perfectionism is one of those vices we like to turn into a virtue. The job interview “pretend” answer to the question about our biggest weakness. Glynnis tells us “perfectionism is the enemy of learning and growing and enjoying areas of our lives where we have not achieved mastery.” Abandoning perfectionism does not mean we give up on doing our best work. I love the contrasts she points out between excellence and perfection:
- Perfectionism isn’t the pursuit of excellence. It is the pursuit of perfection.
- Excellence is possible in some things; perfection is possible in nothing.
- Excellence pushes us to do our best; perfectionism pushes us to BE the best.
A drive to be perfect can cause us to base our self-esteem on external approval and leaves us vulnerable and over-sensitive to the opinions of others. Perfectionism leads to comparison and competition in all the worst ways and interferes with our ability to connect with others. Perfectionism makes me overly critical of myself and unnecessarily judgmental of others. Perfectionism makes us inordinately afraid of failure and leads to the paralysis of procrastination. When we begin to see ourselves as learning, growing, changing, works in progress instead of seeing anything less than perfection as failure, we are set free to take risks, make mistakes and truly pursue the adventure God has in store for us.
Doing our best work is a spiritual practice.
I particularly appreciated how Glynnis was able to remind us God is on our side in this and every other struggle we face. God doesn’t want us living apart from Him. He wants to be actively involved in our lives, giving us wisdom for decisions and power to face our challenges. Our faith is not a magic wand which will instantly heal us from our tendency to procrastinate, yet understanding our fears, our weaknesses and our capacity for growth within the context of God’s love and acceptance is key to making any needed changes in our life. It matters to God that we do our best work. Making choices about how we spend our time and allocate our emotional, physical and spiritual resources is not something separate from our walk with God. When we are willing to do the work it takes to make changes, the Holy Spirit is willing to meet us more than halfway with a little supernatural kick in the pants. God is, after all, in the transformation business.
In addition to these more general concepts about the nature of procrastination, I also really appreciated Glynnis’ practical tips for making measurable, achievable changes in how we manage our time. Because I am at my 1000 word self-imposed limit, I will stop here and encourage you to order the book if this is a topic which resonates with you. Also, feel free to click on the word PROCRASTINATION under the title of this post to see some of my other musings on this topic.
Do YOU struggle with procrastination? How have you successfully battled procrastination? Leave some encouragement in the comments below for your fellow procrastinators!!