Anyone who knows me will be sure to say that I am not a procrastinator. In fact, I thrive on my ability to get things done in the most efficient manner as possible – hence, all my writing inspiration for this column.
However, I am not immune to the phenomenon of pushing off a task from day to day, hoping that something more important will come up so that I’ll have a good excuse for why I didn’t accomplish what I kept saying I would do tomorrow.
Procrastination is a big deal, and it’s a major time problem for lots of people. There are some people who tout the benefits of procrastination, but I assure you, killing time is not all that it’s cut out to be. In one major study, done by Sage Journal, researchers proved that although procrastinators reported lower stress and less illness than non-procrastinators at some times, overall, they were more stressed and sicker that non-procrastinators. This is probably because they needed to cut out other healthy and beneficial activities like exercise, shopping for healthy food, and sleep to finish their tasks in time. How many people barely sleep before Pesach, existing on coffee and pizza, so that they can finish their preparations in time? Procrastinators also reported lower performance on their activities.
Thus, procrastination seems to be a self-defeating behavior pattern marked by short-term benefits and long-term costs.
Keep in mind that this report was done in 1997. Now that we have an entire world of entertainment, 24-hour news channels, and very important people to be in touch with at all hours, our procrastination has gotten even worse.
So how to stop this endless cycle?
Do your most dreaded task first, whether it needs to be done at work or at home. Make a list of all the things you must do today, number them in order of how much you detest them, and then do the first one on the list first. Once that job is done, it’s downhill from there.
If your excuse when you get to work is that you need to drink a coffee or use the bathroom to freshen up to recover from your horrendous commute before you get to actual work, then do that. But avoid going online to check out the latest news and updates because, once you start, it’s hard to stop. Same thing for a household task. You might need a transition to decompress from work before you tackle a hated household activity, so change your clothes, take a shower, or eat dinner, but without any electronic distractions. This will allow your mind to change directions without making it difficult for you to restart your motivation to get work done.
Japanese companies instituted callisthenics in the work place to get their employees’ creative juices moving. When I am pregnant, and the pile of laundry or paperwork seems insurmountable, I do a quick workout to get more energy and get my blood moving. If you can’t do that, a few jumping jacks should do the trick. Believe me, it will wake you up and give you more energy.
The biggest problem procrastinators have once they decide to buckle down is that they get distracted. To make sure this doesn’t happen, shut off your Internet, turn off your phone, have a drink ready, make sure you’ve gone to the bathroom, and set a timer for twenty minutes. Commit to doing the task at hand without moving at all unless your office is on fire.
To help you tune out background music, listen to soothing music. This way you are less likely to hear other people moving around.
Don’t forget rewards! I love chewing gum, but I know it’s a bad habit. However, for tasks that I need a little extra motivation, I allow myself to chew a piece. I once heard someone say that when studying for exams in law school, he would allow himself to eat junk food as long as he was studying. This could work with allowing yourself to watch reality TV while doing laundry or exercising. And then of course, don’t forget rewards after you do the dreadful task.
Enjoy these tips and let me know how things go as you start preparing for Pesach on the most practical deadline of all, Tu B’shvat!