This Article First Appeared in Forbes
You know that feeling when there’s something important you need to do. And you just aren’t doing it.
You sit down to work, and suddenly remember you’re out of chicken stock, or your child needs a dental cleaning appointment. Before you know it, you’re on your Facebook feed and it’s been a couple of hours. So you decide to have lunch instead, even though it’s only 11 a.m.
Your important task stays untouched.
The longer you avoid it, the more it haunts you. At some point, the pain of inaction becomes worse than the pain you’re trying to avoid. Or deadlines jolt you out of your quasi misery, and you actually get down to the work you need to do.
Welcome to the world of procrastinators. A wonderful world where some of us dilly dally around important tasks by doing useless things (like watching cat videos on YouTube), while others actually get quite a bit of work done. They clean the house, walk the dog, cook lunch, tick items off their to-do lists.
But never the work they actually need to do. The important work.
If there are no deadlines, we can sit on it for months. Maybe years. At some point, it stops showing up on our birthday intentions or New Year’s resolutions. We numb the pain of our unmet dreams. We do more busy work. Or distract ourselves in a world where there’s no shortage of distractions.
If you relate, here’s what you need to know. You’re not lazy, bad or a loser. You’re just a little child who gives in to their emotions. So stop feeling guilty, because it won’t get you anywhere. Negative feelings are the reason you procrastinate in the first place. When you forgive yourself, you step away from the messy soup of emotions, and can actually plan for the important work you need to do. You become the adult in your life.
Here’s a trick I’ve found particularly helpful to stay away from the emotional tug of war altogether. Or as best as possible. When you need to do important work, assess how much time you need on it, and give yourself ONLY that much time to do it. If it needs four hours and is due next week, give yourself a mental deadline of tomorrow. Or today, depending on how the rest of your day is planned.
Or else, you’ll spend between now and next week thinking about it, worrying about it, avoiding it with endless visits to the kitchen or scrolling through food feeds on your phone.
Maybe you’re thinking it won’t work for you. “I’m a chronic procrastinator” you say. “I just can’t control it”. Well, then think of time like your garage—the bigger it is, the more you fill it with things you don’t need. When I lived in the suburbs, our double garage had so much stuff we couldn’t fit our cars in. They stood out in the driveway even in the peak of winter. Every morning I would spend a good fifteen minutes scraping the ice off the window shield, and then drive to work in a freezing car.
When we moved to a condominium downtown, and got teeny little lockers to store all our stuff, we realized that almost everything in our garage was useless. Even though it had felt so important at the time.
Think of your work as your car, your time as your garage, and you as the driver.
In fact, do the same with your life. After all, it’s the greatest work you’ll ever get to do. And it’s easy to forget that there’s a deadline. By thinking about death every day, just for a minute or two, you limit your time you think you have. Instead of leaving important things in the “one day” basket, you get to them now. It’s also why most people who go through a life threatening or near-death experience become far more committed to making the most of their lives.
Remember, dear procrastinator, you don’t have a time management problem, or any other problem at all. You just need to remember there’s an adult inside of you who knows the importance of the work that your emotional inner child refuses to do. Get her in the driver’s seat of your car. Not out in the bitter cold scraping the ice off the window shield…