Q: I am a chronic procrastinator. I always put off handling the "stuff" of life, and when I set goals, I never seem to take the necessary actions to achieve them. As a result, I have so many incomplete projects and tasks that I don't know where to begin. How can I get moving?
A: Let's start by removing the label "chronic procrastinator". Words have power, and referring to yourself this way helps keep the problem in place. Your inability to get things done probably has more to do with the amount of "stuff" on your plate than who you are as a person.
Before we look at how to help you get moving, it makes sense for you to make a couple of basic changes. First, make a commitment to put any new projects on hold for the next six months. The goal is to clear your plate, not add to it. Next, consider completely eliminating some of your existing projects - the ones that no longer invoke a strong sense of commitment and excitement. Removing tasks and projects is the quickest way to reclaim the energy you'll need to get the important things done.
Once you've eliminated some existing projects and put a moratorium on any new ones, it's time to get moving. When we're the most overwhelmed, we're the least resourceful. Instead of trying to dive in and get everything done, the first order of business is to get centered and mentally organized. Start by scheduling an hour of uninterrupted time one morning this week. During this time, sit quietly and consider what needs to be done. You might ask yourself, "What's draining my energy?" Then, as you identify the answers, make a list of 10 specific, realistic tasks - no more than 10! Once you've put your list in writing, you're ready to start clearing your plate.
To ensure your success, find a partner who will engage in this process with you. Ask a friend or family member to make a similar list of 10 items, and both agree to tackle your lists within 30 days. Dedicating 30 days to this process may mean that you'll need to cancel some plans, but the peace of mind that comes from releasing the burden of procrastination is well worth it.
As you consider your list, ask yourself these questions: "Which of these tasks absolutely have to be done by me? Could I use some help? Can I simply hire someone to handle a task? Generally, there are three ways to tackle most projects:
- Do it! These are tasks or projects that only you can do, such as visiting the dentist for a check-up or writing a letter to a friend. Once you figure out which projects or tasks can be completed only by you, concentrate on them one at a time. Thinking about everything that needs to be done can be paralyzing. Forget all the rest and get started on the most important project. You'll probably find that the completion of one task sparks the motivation to start the next.
- Hire it! Find someone else to organize your garage, paint the fence, or do your housecleaning. Many tasks that drain us would be a joy, or at least profitable, for someone else. Hire a neighborhood teen to mow your lawn or an unemployed friend to organize your files. And if you feel as though you can't afford to hire people, try bartering. I have a friend, a massage therapist, who barters with another friend who does bookkeeping. One gets a great massage, the other gets her checkbook balanced and her bills paid. Not a bad arrangement.
- Chuck it! Many projects would be completed easily if we could bring ourselves to simply let go of things. For example, you don't need to flip through every catalog before recycling it. Instead of "go through catalogs and throw out ones I don't want," change your task to "throw out the stack of catalogs." Don't worry about remembering an item you wanted to order, today technology allows us to retrieve just about any information we need from the Internet. All will not be lost. Chuck your old magazines and newspapers, too. If it's been sitting around for more than a month, it's old news anyway. Donate them to a local gym, hospital or nursing home.
For many clients, the idea of letting go of things feels too scary. What if you need to refer to the papers in that pile on the floor someday? Or use information from a magazine? To put this concern to the test, box up the piles and store them away. Pick a date six months from now and write the word "box" on your calendar. If after six months you have not opened the box, throw it away without looking inside. This will help you see it's much better to discard things sooner rather than later.
As you complete the items on your list, be sure to reward yourself. Pleasure can be a far more effective motivator than pain. When you finally get your checkbook balanced, take yourself to the movies. Or, when you and a friend get the piles organized and eliminated, enjoy a special dinner together. Learning to celebrate your success after completing tasks and projects will motivate you to handle things before they become a burden. Good luck!