How do you do the task that seems dreadful, which you don’t feel like doing and which isn’t as fun as binge-watching Netflix for hours? You have been postponing it for so long that it seems like an arrear of last year now (or even before that time), which is there in your balance sheet without bringing any value whatsoever. You have two options- either discard it from your mind, stop wasting resources (time and energy) on it and focus on the other important tasks, or if it is this indispensable, just do it.
Most people, if not all, who have ever inhabited this earth have been victims of procrastination (unknowingly), or have been procrastinators at their own will (knowingly).
There are many aspects to why people procrastinate. And hundreds of studies and millions of researched and unresearched articles have been written and published on this subject. Here, I will be adding one more to the tally and talk (write) about how perfectionism plays a role in it.
It reminds of my zodiac sign- Virgo. Virgos are said to be perfectionists, overcritical, analytical and exacting, among other things. Although these are some of the sought-after traits, they also lead to overthinking and delayed, piled up work most of the times.
Naturally, I have all the above traits. I do overthink and put off most of my work until “inspiration” knocks at my door and I feel I can put in all the perfectionism into my work without an inch of flaw. (That’s raw procrastination right there that is often overlooked.)
As a procrastinator, you start living in your own head. You keep thinking about doing the thing you had to do or wanted to do, but still, never got around to doing it.
Fun Fact: This kind of prolonged thinking about a task releases the same kind of chemicals in your brain which would have been released when you had actually done the said thing. The brain is so conniving that it gives you the gratification without actually having done the work, but by merely thinking about it.
It becomes a habit loop where you postpone one thing and overthink it, then something else adds to the list and now you are thinking about two things, but still not doing any of them.
Oh wait, there is also that laundry you didn’t do last week, the grocery you were feeling too lazy to buy, jobs you had to apply to, the book you were supposed to finish reading yesterday, language practice that you have been missing every so often, the projects you were supposed to start last month, and so on. Since you have been too ignorant in the past, it is now normal to not do important things.
You are now someone who procrastinates a lot and seeks perfection in everything you do. It leads to a situation where you haven’t even begun the work you are supposed to do or you leave it unfinished because it isn’t perfect enough (in the middle of the road, just like that, to rot). Even months down the line it is still somewhere on your to-do list (waiting for your attention or rejection).
When you stop this rigorous thinking and get out of yourself to pause for a bit, you find yourself in a state of despair and disappointment. All that gratification from procrastinating work and chilling was short-term and betraying. Now, it is just built-up stress and anxiety about your life that hasn’t progressed an inch because you were unwilling to put in the work and the work you did put in wasn’t up to the “standard”.
You begin thinking that you are just a lazy ass who is not serious enough about her/his life and would do anything but the thing which needs to be done.
Are there chances that you start thinking that you are not worthy enough to be who you want to be because you won’t be able to do justice to it or you are not the perfect fit? Guess what? You are not the only one. As it comes out, there have been so many talented people in the past who dropped their pursuits/passions because they thought they weren’t good enough. Maybe they were.
Perfectionism has such demeaning effects on your self-esteem that it leads you to a downward spiral of negative talk, self-doubt, and anger. You are now smoking, drinking and eating junk to feel better and to distract yourself from not facing your imperfect self. The search for the perfect takes you in the lanes of procrastination, where you drop down your weapons and submit. It becomes like a sickness that has swept inside every organ of your body and you feel disgusted with yourself for not being perfect, for not creating perfect work, for not doing all those tasks.
It may also happen because of the following reasons-
1. You do not have your priorities in order, or rather you don’t know what they are. You have scattered thoughts about what you should be doing and it overwhelms you which makes it hard for you to focus on one task at a given time.
2. You have created a mental picture of dreading everything even before you begin doing it (out of habit). And thus, convinced yourself of doing all the less urgent tasks or the things which give you the short term pleasure or short-term gratification, instead of doing what needs to be done.
3. You take a lot of time to start anything because you are in a habit of overthinking everything before deciding if you would keep thinking about it further or if you would actually do it. And when you do start it, you take an awful amount of time to finish it because you want it perfect. Alternatively, you leave it when you decide that it isn’t going to be flawless so why waste resources (time and energy) on it.
Is your head bursting with self-loathing talk right now? Can you actually picture how a few pending tasks lead you to procrastinate so many other aspects of your life? Can you imagine your life waiting for the perfect and not being able to do anything at all?
Below are 7 ways that can help you get your life together and bid procrastination adieu.
1. Take It One At A Time: There are plenty of things that are screaming for your attention at a given point in time. Instead of going crazy and getting overwhelmed, start with one thing. Just one is all I am saying.
(i) If it is the chores you have to do, write them down so you don’t feel cluttered in your head and have them in front of you. Then, pick what you think is the easiest and do it (“Eat That Frog” philosophy hasn’t worked for me, but if it works for you, you can pick the hardest or most time-consuming chore first and go in that order). Once you complete it, you will feel confident enough to do another task from the list and so on.
- Blare some music or dance around while spring cleaning your room, kitchen or sorting out those documents which have been piling up for so long.
- Call someone or have someone over while you are folding your laundry, cooking, or running an errand.
(ii) If it is the habits you want to develop, make another list titled ‘Habits To Develop’ or whatever you want to name it and make three columns- bad habits, good habits, and habits to develop. Otherwise, you can also name the columns as- stop doing, keep doing, and start doing. Jot down all the habits/things in their respective categories and review the list. You now have a self-assessed report card of your being in front of you. Decide what you want to do with it. You can either throw it in the bin and forget about it or change what you don’t like about this list.
2. Make A To-Do List Every Morning: Going on about the day with no set intention could be fun and who doesn’t like impromptu and random things in their life? Having to slog at the job for over 10 hours is enough trouble than making a list that you probably aren’t going to follow anyway, seeing how unpredictable and hectic your life is (what with the hours of social media scrolling and getting updated with the latest shows).
With a list, you will at least know what you are supposed to be doing instead of having vague ideas about your own life. And maybe by making those lists every day, you would end up following them eventually. There is no harm in trying, is there?
3. Cut Out Distractions: If it is an important task, make sure you don’t take any calls or reply to any texts until you have completed that task or it is time for a break. You don’t want to break your flow of ideas or work just because someone else is bored.
Put that phone away from you. It is the real devil.
4. Set Time Chunks: Set time chunks of 1 hour to work and15 minutes break (depending on your work, you can change it). It keeps you engaged enough and allows you to refresh and be productive.
You can set alarms and label them, like – drink water, look up from your phone, review your to-do list or make a to-do list, call mum or whoever you were supposed to get back to, watch the news, take a walk, go to the gym, etc. It will help you keep track of time and you would end up doing a lot more, instead of thinking at the end of your day that you didn’t do enough.
It is also important that you allot time chunks to each task so that you don’t feel overwhelmed and don’t end up spending too much time on one particular thing.
5. Go With The Good: Just because there are people better looking and more successful than you are, would you stop existing? No, right? Then why can’t your “just-good-enough” work exist in this world too? It can endure all the harsh criticisms and judgments of the world or better yet, no one would even notice the flaws that you are obsessing so much about. So, why not go with the good and bring forth whatever is inside of you?
While writing something, I go through every line and each paragraph like a hundred of times to make sure it makes sense to the message that I want to convey. A way of looking at it would be that I am new at it and still need time to become better at writing and to understand my own style. In a way, I am refining my own art.
But, I have to draw a line between refining and making hundreds of edits to get the perfect article. Because as I learn and understand more, there is always going to be something that needs to be changed or shifted about my life, my writing, my cooking, basically whatever it is that I am doing. I can’t keep going back and thinking about everything- what if I had done it differently? ‘What ifs’ are a figment of our imagination that we often indulge in to escape the reality.
I am still working on being good enough and I know it is a long road ahead for that. But, I am up for the ride. Are you?
Don’t leave if the road isn’t perfect, there isn’t ever going to be a journey which won’t be uncomfortable. There will be sleepless nights, and a few delays and potholes too. Hold on tight, it is going to be worth it in the end. It always is when you look back.
6. Set Serious Targets And Deadlines: The present and future you aren’t going to take your past self seriously, so make sure you have enough contingency plans in place in case you don’t abide by the deadlines and goals set by your past self.
Know that you have to clear that exam this year, have to become a doctor or a lawyer or an author by a set year, buy that car by 2020, have your own house by 2023. Set a target of going to the gym 5 times a week, reading 2 books and writing 4 articles a month, studying 2 chapters a day, meditating every day, or whatever it is that you want. Be as specific and detailed as you can.
Set rewards for accomplishing the tasks and penalties for not even starting.
Now make sure you have the exigency plans in order in case you are too moody, too lazy or “too busy” to follow your deadlines and targets. Example- If you don’t end up reading two books a month, you will have to make up for it next month, or if you didn’t workout on weekdays, you will have to do it on weekends.
7. Just begin: Would you rather waste time flying imaginary planes waiting for the streak of perfectionism to arrive or sit down to get that thing that you most desire, giving it all that you have and willing to go the extra mile if need be? Don’t wait for the big mighty bugle to call upon you because there isn’t one.
Start enjoying the process of doing. Remember, it is about the journey and not about the destination. Or screw everything, just do the task in front of you and get done with it.
You don’t have to be a published author to be able to write, you don’t have to die for your paintings to sell in millions of dollars, you don’t have to go on drugs to get inspiration to make music and be a cool musician. You can give yourself a break from studying and no, that wouldn’t be procrastination, that would just be a break, and you probably deserve it. You are allowed that travel and it wouldn’t be neglecting your job. And you don’t have to wait till you fall sick to take those leaves to rejuvenate, to start working on your side gig, and to reconnect with yourself, and with your family and friends.
The fact that no one likes procrastination was well established maybe centuries ago, what about perfectionism?
Can we come midway with perfection and shake hands with it when we are sure we have given it all? There would always be people who wouldn’t like your work or what you have created, but that’s okay, you can’t wait for the approval of 7.6 billion people. And since we are not perfect, procrastination will always be there in our lives, it is up to us to give power to it or to throw it away in some remote deserted island and never look back again.
(All right, we are allowed a few peeks at the rare times of need.)