Full disclosure…it has been 3 months since my last blog post. The procrastination monster, and its infinite, ever-ready excuse of “I have been so busy” or “I will get to it tomorrow” has reared its ugly head into my life.   We all struggle, at one time or another, with the inability to simply get started on something.   But why?  As some sort of karmic punishment,  I have assigned myself this topic to try to understand why and learn how to power through the problem.

According to Wilson, B. A., & Nguyen, T. D. (2012),  procrastination an “ancient nemesis,” saying that it parallels human civilization and may have originated 2.5 million years ago. ” The origin of the word procrastination itself derives from the late 16th century Latin procrastinat- “deferred until tomorrow”, from the verb procrastinare, from pro- “forward” plus crastinus “belonging to tomorrow.  Numerous researchers found that two top-rated reasons for procrastinating were that the task was unpleasant, or that it was boring and uninteresting (Anderson, 2001; Briody, 1980; Froehlich, 1987; Haycock, 1993, as cited in Steel, 2007). ”  (Well…duh).  It was also noted that the “hunter-gatherer” brain was more focused on immediate needs rather than needs that were to be experienced in the future.  Our ancestors “triaged’ surviving today rather than survival for tomorrow.

This answers the most obvious reasons why we put off until tomorrow what we should be doing today but why do we procrastinate things we want to do, things that will, in the end, give us a bigger payoff and satisfaction?  According to Dr. Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., “procrastination is a decision not to act.” Why do we not want to act on something that we enjoy doing or feel is a valuable use of our time?

Blog author of Wait but Why and Ted Talk presenter Tim Urban explains the phenomenon in his witty video “Inside the Mind of the Master Procrastinator”. Tim’s witty illustrations and explanations as to what it is like inside of the mind of a procrastinator resonates with any of us who have ever delayed necessary work in favor of spending time in what he calls “The Dark Playground” of time wasting.

I personally have spent some time in Tim Urban’s Dark Playground.  Whether it is  Facebook scrolling, Instagram cataloging, training my Alexa Amazon Echo to do “new cool funny things,” somehow the lure of the mindless, safe, easy Dark Playground eats up precious hours that I intended to use for a more productive intent. Becoming aware of my present state of procrastination, according to Tim, is the first step.  Turning on the light in the Dark Playground is bound to help me find my way out.  Subsequently, I have developed my own pattern of moving from a state of inertia into a state of flow.

  1.  I do a “Brain Dump” – I list everything that is on my mental to-do list.  By everything, I mean EVERYTHING that is taking up space and demanding my flittering attention. This can include personal, professional, social, and daydreaming thoughts.  I find pleasure in writing it physically in my notebook.  I then assign each item into one of the 4 quadrants below.
  2.  I Pick Three Must Do’s:  I identify the top three tasks that based on The Eisenhower Matrix (see illustration below) that are both urgent and important.

3.  I  Go to my  Work Space:  Each of us has a place at home or work that signifies where the work is done. For some,  it is the kitchen table, spread out on the family room floor, or a desk in an office.  I established mine four years ago when I was completing my double masters while working full time.  My chaise lounge in my family room, next to a beautiful picture window, is my workspace. I put on my earphones, turn on the Jack Johnson playlist, and grab my laptop.  Add a cup of my favorite coffee and Pottery Barn fuzzy throw and I am good to go. The physical sensations elicit a pavlovian response for both my body and mind that I am set to work.

4.  I  make the 15-minute Commitment: I learned this trick when training for a marathon. I tell myself I will just work (in that case run) for 15 minutes. If I want to stop after the 15 minutes I can.  90% of the time I will continue and will have achieved a state of flow and time begins to pass without me ever questioning if I should stop.  On the rare occasion that I just am not “feeling it” after 15 minutes I allow myself to quit but not without identifying a time later in the day that I will make the 15-minute commitment again.  At the very least I have moved the Task #1 closer to completion that is the most urgent and most important. That in of itself can be reward enough to keep going to #2.

5.  I pick one  Want-To: In addition to your Three  Must- Do’s I always plan for (at least) One Want- To.   The Want-To is something that refills my bucket. It might be going to Yoga class, reading a chapter of my favorite novel, or watching my favorite show with my husband after dinner. The Must-Do’s will move you closer to your goals the Want-To will keep you balanced and sane.

Try following the pattern above the next time you feel the procrastination monster keeping you from doing something you know you should be doing.  This published blog is proof it can work! Chances are if you are reading this post you may just be in the Dark Playground yourself.