Procrastination Confession

I had a four day weekend because of the Christmas holiday and boy, did it ruin me. I got off my exercise schedule, then I got off my sleep schedule, and by the time Tuesday came around, I drug out of bed late, didn’t exercise, and went to work and accomplished next to nothing. Then I did the same thing Wednesday.

Disgusted with myself, I vowed to get back on the wagon Thursday

Regardless of what wagon you’ve fallen off, the first thing you need to do is identify why you fell off; that’s the only way you have any hope to change yourself for the better.

The long weekend and messed-up sleep schedule is not what made me procrastinate when I came to work. Breaking my rhythm certainly contributed to my decline, but it’s not what kept me there.

The number one cause of my procrastination? Temptation. Presented with a pleasant distraction versus a tedious task, the distraction will always win out for the procrastinator. My worse distraction? Oddly enough, not the internet (although that’s up there). Actually, my writing is my biggest distraction. So the first thing I did was leave the USB key at home (I carry my writing around on my USB key). That eliminated the temptation of writing and editing instead of doing work.

Secondly, I fell into the fallacy that because nothing on my list was terribly important or time-consuming (back to filing and billing), I could wait until the last hour of the day and get it all done. Remember, I confessed to being a person who gets a high from rushing to complete tasks; I was setting myself up to get a high.

Only it never came, because by the last hour of the day, I was not saying, “Let me run around like a chicken with my head cut off and get this stuff done.” Instead I was saying, “Eh, it’ll wait until tomorrow.”

I know, from long experience, that I am most productive shortly after waking up (studies show that the vast, vast majority of people are this way, regardless of what time they wake up). As the day goes on, my output drops exponentially. This is why I can’t exercise or clean house in the evenings after I get home from work; my energy is used up for the day.

So, when I came to work Thursday, I knocked several things off my list first thing. Accomplishment is like a snowball rolling downhill: if I make a big enough snowball early, it will continue to gather momentum as the day goes on.

And before I even got to work Thursday, I drug my ass out of bed and did some exercise. It was lame exercise–sitting on the couch, reading a book, peddling a mini stationary bike–but it was better than laying in bed and not moving at all. (Not to mention I’m reading non-fiction, so I’m being edified in the process… theoretically.) I did that for 15 minutes, then I got up and spent 15 minutes picking up the living room (which is also a form of exercise, believe me).

Everything combined, I was able to get my list done yesterday, plus I picked up 1/3rd of the living room. I did the same thing this morning and my to-do list was more than halfway done before lunch. And this morning consisted of purging old files and making new ones for 2012–not high on the excitement list, you know.

My boss asked me today what my New Year’s resolution was. I said, “The List.” 2012 is going to be about getting more crap done. All hail The List.

Getting Crap Done

I will admit it: I’m a procrastinator. And I’m married to a procrastinator. On the one hand, we’re very laid-back people. We don’t get uptight or stressed very often. This makes for a good marriage and, hopefully, a long life.

On the other hand, though, we can’t get shit done that needs to be done. We started to rebuild one of the doors on our barn a couple of years ago; it’s still propped up against the barn, about 70% completed. The vegetables I was going to grow last year? Empty pots and bags of dirt are still lying in our yard, waiting for utilization (every year, though, I take one step closer to planting, so this year I might actually plant something).

I have noticed something about myself: I hyper-focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. This is how I managed to write 3 novels in as many years but can’t make a simple container garden. All of my time is spent writing, writing, writing. Meanwhile I’m not exercising, the house is a disaster, and cedar trees are starting to grow out of my bags of dirt.

So one day I was doing something close to nothing, but different than the day before (to quote the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince, but who is now, once again, Prince), and I followed a link off a Facebook post, then another one off a blog, until I found this blog: Get More from Life.

Specifically I looked at Scott’s post on making lists. I like lists, but I seem to do them for a short period of time then give up. Then it dawned on me that I am crashing and burning.

Being that I’m always behind on something I wish was done, when I go to make a list, I make a list of EVERYTHING that needs doing. Of course I can’t get everything done in one day. And an endless list–one without a cut-off date–is not only depressing, but, being a procrastinator, I put off most or all of the list until tomorrow or next week or whenever. Without a deadline, I will procrastinate indefinitely. (With a deadline I will procrastinate until the last possible moment, then I will run around like a white tornado, getting everything done in one rush which leaves me with an endorphin rush.)

So, what’s different about Scott’s list? He looks at one day and one week increments. There is only what you need to do today and this week (although he will allow that there might be things you need to do monthly. E.g. wash the car, refill prescriptions, etc.)

So how does the list system work? Scott’s not quite clear about a few things (you can tell he’s a go-getter; I have to lazy his system down), so here’s my interpretation/system for me.

  1. I started by *gasp* making a list. My list is just hand-written on a legal pad, with one side divided off for the weekly list, and the other side for each day’s list.You will only make a list for one day at a time and one week at a time. Do NOT make up days in advance. If you know you need to take books back to the library Wednesday, then list that on your weekly list.
  2. Friday evening, before I left work, I looked through my in-box and made a list of things I wanted to get done Monday.The trick is being careful not to overload yourself. This is where my previous lists have all failed. You only write down enough work for one day. As part of my day consists of things I can’t budget time for–such as answering the phone, making appointments, and handling emergency tasks from my attorney–I didn’t put too much on my to-do list, knowing I’d need the rest of my day to do unscheduled work.
  3. As to what I need to do weekly, I looked at things that need to be done, but which I’ve been putting off–namely billing and filing. These things are tedious, so it’s easy to put them off indefinitely.But rather than making a huge, blanket assignment such as “catch up the filing” (which means taking a large pile of papers and incorporating them into the files in 37 boxes!), I set myself the weekly task of filing papers into 3 boxes and processing one claim form.
  4. When making up your daily to-do list, incorporate a weekly item where you otherwise have light work days.
  5. What happens when you can’t accomplish everything on your list?  (Yes, it’s been two full days of list making and I’ve already blown a list.) First off, I recognized the fact that I put too much on my Sunday list. I didn’t get started on my day until noon, but I loaded up my list like I had all day. I KNEW when I was making my list that I was over-extending myself, but I did it anyways because that’s my habit (which I need to break). As the day went on, I saw that there’s no way in hell I’m going to accomplish two of those tasks that I added on against my better judgment. So I wiped them off (yea whiteboard!). I still had two tasks that I didn’t get done, even after redoing my list. Which means I still bit off more than I could chew. I have been contemplating how to handle these two orphan tasks. Normally housecleaning is a weekend chore because I’m tired when I come home and I know, realistically, housecleaning is not going to happen in the evenings. If I can be preventative–meaning cleaning up the supper dishes and putting away what I got out–that’s something.So I’ve decided that those two tasks (laundry) will just get rolled over to next Sunday. I think that’s the answer for the work week too: if I don’t get something done (for whatever reason; some days are crazier than others), then, when I make out my list for the next day, I put it on the list. At worst, this is no different than any other day of my life, so I’m not really foreseeing a huge drawback here.
  6. Here’s the difference though: before, I would have punished myself by adding my incomplete tasks to the next day’s full list, expecting that I will, for some reason, have more energy and motivation tomorrow than I have today, and I will white tornado through that list and do a full day, plus some. Guess what? That never happens. So, going forward, each day is a new day, and I will never, ever, play catch up. If I have to roll-over something, okay (although I need to keep in mind that I might need to aim lower going forward; the goal is to be like The Price is Right, close without going over), but I will treat it as if it’s on my list for the first time–meaning that tomorrow’s list will allow adequate time to accommodate it. No more having a full list, plus catch-up work. There is only today.
  7. I will, however, be doing my weekly chore over the course of my weekday evenings. What’s my weekly chore? I have a nifty book (bought in one of those gung-ho moments when I was ready to motivate, but didn’t quite follow through) called Organize Now! It has organizational assignments broken down by week, so it makes it perfect to pick one task (this week: organize my sewing table and craft shelf) and complete the various steps slowly, over the course of one week. 5-15 minutes per night is all I need.

If you still have trouble procrastinating with the list (meaning you leave everything until the last half hour of the day), you might need to break your daily list up into morning and afternoon. If you don’t get something done in the morning, ask yourself if you need to move it to the afternoon (at the expense of deleting an afternoon task), or if you will move it until tomorrow morning.

If you need more motivation (or you want to procrastinate by reading instead of making a list), here are some additional websites I’ve  come across:

FlyLady  – How to clean your house and organize yourself and your family. Makes a good point that a lot of procrastination is about perfectionism. To paraphrase her response, “Doing a half-assed job is better than doing nothing at all.” And “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” This is how I chunk up unpleasant tasks, like cleaning the kitchen.

Twenty Ways to Stay Productive if You’re Working from Home  – Some good tips, even if you don’t work from home.

Big Rocks First: Double Your Productivity – If you still struggle with accomplishing things, make sure one thing on your list, each day, is something that HAS to be done and do it first. That way, even if you end up having to roll some things over to tomorrow, you’ve at least gotten the most important thing done. This will make you feel more accomplished than doing a dozen tiny tasks but having to roll over the big, important one.

And if your task is so big that it will take more than 15 minutes to complete, you may want to divide it into more than one tasks on your list so that 1) it doesn’t seem so big, 2) you at least make a start on it, even if you don’t get all of it done (remember, a half-assed job is better than nothing at all).

Now, it’s time to get back on my list before I run out of work day.