Twiddling Thumbs

Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.

~Robert Benchley

Why is it that when we are supposed to be cleaning the house, we are compelled to write, when we are supposed to be writing,  we are compelled to work in the garden, when we are supposed to be working in the garden, we wish to be indoors, when we are supposed to be working indoors, our noses are pressed against the glass, gazing at the garden?

We don’t even need to get into email, Facebook or the other social media time-sucks, do we?

Procrastination.

It happens to the best of us once in awhile. It happens to the rest of us now and then. It happens to a few of us all the time. And that’s when the big trouble starts.

Procrastination sucks the life out of dreams, hopes, goals and plans. It is a monster that ruins marriages, friendships, businesses  and any other type of relationship you can have. It can get you fired. It can ruin your reputation. It can leave you broke and miserable.

HOW TO STOP PROCRASTINATING

The first key to stop procrastinating is to determine what type of procrastinator you are.

The experts have their opinions but for us simpler folk, I’ve narrowed it down to these categories.

  • The Rebel   This is mine so I’ll go first. I rebel against everything, even lists I made myself. As SOON as I make something my first priority on the list, there is a nasty little excuse monster that starts up in my head that has a reason—and dang if it isn’t a GOOD reason—that I really should be doing something else first instead. I work hard, I just am doing something else other than what I was supposed to get done. I don’t like to follow orders. I want to be free to wander about unstructured. I…am…a…brat. You would think a person would grow out of this. Not happening. Though I am learning to spot the signs of the excuse monster before too much damage occurs.
  • The Thumb Twiddler This poor guy’s got it bad. It is the “In a minute” syndrome. “I’m just going to sit here and twiddle my thumbs and read one more e-mail, watch one more minute of soaps, check out Facebook…Twitter…Pinterest…and whatever comes after that.  This person’s behind never leaves the chair. There is no time management because there is no sense of time. Time is twiddled away and at the end of the day, they are shocked to find out that the day has left and they don’t know where it went.
  • The Adrenaline Junkie It takes a strong shot of the “juice” to motivate this one. Just looking at the “To do” list doesn’t quite do it. Somewhere along the line they lost their ability to move without a swift kick in the rear. (Or as we say at Creative Clarity Coaching—A kick in the patootie!) All the other categories default to this eventually, the difference is, that while most of us hate it when we find ourselves here, the junkie lives for it.
  • The Cowardly Lion This fellow would love to get things done—if only he could decide what to do.If only he could be assured he wouldn’t fail.  The last thing he wants to do is procrastinate. He is just waiting until he gets the job done perfectly. Fear of failure is paralyzing the Lion and keeping him tied up in ropes.

HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS

Once you have identified which type of procrastinator you are you can take steps to work  to undo it. Procrastinators aren’t born. It is a learned behavior. It can be unlearned. It is based on habits and conscious and unconscious beliefs that we have about ourselves that keep us circling in destructive patterns. By becoming proactive, we can fight procrastination and reach our goals.

You may have felt like you have identified with more than one or that you thought of more. That’s okay. Whatever the list sparked for you, write it down and see what insight you received. The important thing is recognizing the key patterns of behavior so that we can begin to take charge of it.

Here are tips to beat the four basic types of procrastinators.

  • The Rebel    Be prepared! Awareness is the biggest part of the cure. As soon as you hear that little voice, you’ve already won because you are not caught off guard. Plan your list carefully and  ahead of time. Make sure that your list is prioritized so that it truly has the A+ priorities in the right order so you aren’t second guessing yourself in the moment. Remind yourself  that you have a choice, and you are choosing to keep your eyes on the goal, and that you want to be the best you can be. Give yourself rewards for sticking to the list. After each one is checked off, tell yourself what a great job you did. You earned it and you love being your own boss! 
  • The Thumb Twiddler    Look, here is the bad news. You have to go cold turkey. You need to identify your time wasters and put them aside until after you get some work done. Do not touch them even for one second. Remember when your Mom told you to eat your vegetables first and then you can eat your dessert? Well she was right. But it doesn’t have to be quite as bad as all that. You do have to eat your veggies first, but you don’t have to eat everything on your plate all in one sitting. Part of your trouble is you feel so overwhelmed by the big picture that you never start. We are going to break it up. This is the FLyLady fifteen minute rule and it’s brilliant. You just can’t sit down on your Bum until you’ve started, OK? Good. Go get a Timer. Set it for Fifteen Minutes. NOW START Your Project and don’t stop until the timer goes off. Now you can take a timed break and then set it for a new fifteen minutes and work again. Honestly, I think you should go to the FlyLady website right now. You need her if you are a Thumb Twiddler.
  • The Adrenaline Junkie    First realize your addiction is to the thrill, not the procrastination. Take up bungee jumping and get your work done! Make a deal with yourself. Give yourself something to look forward to. Barter yourself. Say- “Self- here’s the deal. We are going to set up a new deadline on that project for one week early and the next day after we finish it, we are going to do something exciting!  Keep yourself inspired with excitement not related to your work! Also, you might want to examine why it is that your work isn’t exciting to you. Are you avoiding doing it because it is the wrong work for you altogether? Does your personality need something else? We weren’t all put here to sit at a desk. Take a good look inside. Don’t avoid the big questions.
  • The Cowardly Lion You, my friend, are a perfectionist. I know that you are looking all around you at your stacks of unfinished work and mess and clutter and you are shaking your head no and thinking….oh, she is talking about somebody else. No…I am talking about you. Yes, Felix from The Odd Couple was a perfectionist, and that is who we tend to think of when we use that term, but there is another perfectionist and that is the one who so wants to be perfect and so fears messing up and that the world will see our flaws that we freeze like a deer in headlights and don’t get anything done. So do this one thing. Pick one tiny action step and just start. Know that you are going to fail at it a little bit anyway so it won’t matter. Just say to yourself…good enough is better than not doing it at all. Pick just one thing-set the timer for fifteen minutes and Get started. 

This isn’t an exhaustive list. There are a lot more. This is a drop in the bucket. There are posts and posts to be written on each one of these. What are some of the things that you do to fight procrastination? Which ones do you identify with? How do you manage time?

Speaking of time…I have to go, my timer is about to ring!

Comments

  1. I used to be the girl who wrote papers the night before. But as I have gotten older, I have drifted away from procrastination and I can say from experience that life without procrastination is much better!

  2. wendikelly says:

    Melissa,

    which one of the procrastinators were you? how did you change?

    I never liked the pressure of doing things at the last minute. It gives me a migrane.
    yuck!

  3. I am the Rebel. You can beat it, using the techniques you described. Although, sometimes I think it a gift for creativity. It seems to me the spirit of a child, before an institutional school system dampens it.

    I’m learning to let that part of me out again, at the proper times… but it’s hard to keep it under control at work… :)

  4. wendikelly says:

    Brett,

    Yes, I think you are right about the creative part. Also, I think it was that controlling dad part..although time to stop blaming him and just deal with it…I just don’t like to be told what to do…even from myself.

  5. Wendi- Wanted to stop by and say hi. I was thinking I really don’t fit into one of these categories. Then stopped and laughed, there’s a huge canvas mocking me as I write these words, Next layer please ma’am…yes, just a minute… Sometimes when I find myself “putting something off”, it’s a conflict between the two sides of my bicameral brain…it wants all of the left brained stuff nailed down, quiet…so the right brain can freely play. Then that right brain who wants no clock in the room will run freely until ,something says, hey shouldn’t you check to see if you put on your socks, or shopped for dinner, or mailed off that check, or planned out some posts?
    Now I must go push some more paint around…I’m coming..pushy damn canvas..
    All best, Jan

  6. wendikelly says:

    YEAH, Jan…I know EXACTLY what you mean. That business side of me fighting with the artist. What do you think, Is that covered by the rebel catagory or do we need to make a whole new catagory?

  7. I am the Classic Rebel, I admit.

    I recently went through a couple of bad years (we all get those) and I got totally burned out. I needed a time-out. So I stopped doing things that weren’t essential. Just for a while.

    But I felt my procrastination was more out of the need to heal and recharge my batteries. Obviously there was stuff I “hadda” do (like go to work, buy food and keep my house clean). But all the other non-essential stuff got put on hold for a few months.

    But I found that by “allowing myself” to slack off like this, I got back on track a lot quicker than I would have if I had forced myself with “shoulda’s” and “coulda’s”

  8. wendikelly says:

    Friar, How very wonderful to see you here!
    I love how the gang is showing up!

    Yes, I have done the same at different times..when I have hit survival mode..

    That’s when moderate procrastination has its place. Procrastination is absolutly a sign you may be heading for burn-out. That is a very good point!

    Thanks.

  9. I just keep dozens of different projects all going at once and randomly work on them, sure it might be a week before I do my dishes but I really enjoy washing them as I find listening to the radio most enjoyable while washing dishes as I seem to be able to visualize the show much better while washing dishes, and I can clean up my apartment in the time before my favorite tv show without it being a chore, you just gotta figure out the best case scenario to do the things you do I guess!

  10. Wendi,

    Oh, dear, I am the rebel. Maybe a little of Brett’s creativity theory, a little of your authoritarian upbringing theory, and a bit (?) of my own perfectionism thrown in. I make great lists, then I rebel against me!

    I have done a lot of talking to myself about this over the years, and I’ve come to an agreement with me about which regions of life this can and can not take place in, which has helped.

    I think I have to agree with Friar… “by ‘allowing myself’ to slack off like this, I got back on track a lot quicker than I would have if I had forced myself with ‘shoulda’s’ and ‘coulda’s.'” It sort of helps if I know there are areas I don’t have to be superhuman in. I get to feel naughty, but not let anyone down, either.

    Great post!

    Regards,

    Kelly

  11. Rebel here! No doubt about it. Speaking of which, I must tear myself away from your blog and go write some. :)

  12. wendikelly says:

    Hi Vimoh!

    I am seeing a trend of Rebels here! But maybe we are self-actualized rebels. We seem to be all managing our rebellions for the most part ok….by this point in our lives anywhay. :)

  13. The one good thing about procrastination is that by avoiding the one hated task, all the other tasks seem that much more attractive, It stimulates creativity.

    For example, I find I do my best blog writing when I’m supposed to be vacuuming or cleaning the toilets.

  14. Wendi, I have been all these different types of procrastinators. No, I don’t have MPD, I’m just a Gemini ;) I’m not really sure how I grew out of it, but I think it had something to do with not wanting to pull all nighters anymore and realizing that if I gave myself a little more time, my work would be of much higher quality.

  15. OOH OOH!!! I’m good at procrastination!! I think Iactually have been all 4 different procrastinators!!! I am much better than I used to be, I think procrastination actually cost me 2 jobs, which is ok now because I like my HR job much better!!

  16. Hi Wendi- I think we get a whole ‘nuther category. Although I am sure there is a rebel in me too. Ironically the thing that helps the most with me is routines, and zones. I have a hybrid system created over time that helps me tag the bases so that no one area gets neglected , for long at least. Usually once a week I refer to my “admin. checklist”… I kind of have a reputation for being very organized…organized chaos more like.. :)
    I ‘m with Friar though, you have to cut yourself some slack. Necessary downtime is so essential. Creatives are almost always working, even when we’re not. We are our work… so we need to know our rhythms. Chop wood carry water….do what is essential at the time. Which right now is having a slice of freshly delivered pizza…:)
    Best, Jan

  17. wendikelly says:

    Jan,

    Yes, the zones and rythems…habits are what keep me going.The creative disipline. Kind of a paradox.

    Stay tuned, That post is up next. If it comes out right.. it is circling right now, all day..round and round…boiling frogs and lack of discipline, bad habits and structure..and creativity and all….
    ah the insanity that lives in my head…you should seeeee what it looks lik in there before it turns in to words….

  18. Hi Wendi, this is a brilliant read. Rebels R Us, I chuckled when I read the description as it fits to the T. My (not so) special ability is making lists in my head and on paper of what I am to do, then the final thought, when the list is created is to start tomorrow. Of course because I need a break. I am going to try your suggestion and see whether rapid improvement can be made.

  19. I’m not going to jump on the band wagon and say I’m a Rebel, because I’m a rebel. I like the fire engine metaphors. Very nice, Wendi.

    We eventually get back on track. Hopefully? I always think about this when I see homeless people.

  20. This post made me laugh out loud. I am absolutely a rebel. When I’m wise enough to recognize her in the moment I can let her rebel at the same time I’m actually DOING the thing on my list. For example, “Yes, you can write that sales page copy in you pajamas, lying on the couch, sipping tea!” Couldn’t do THAT in the corporate cubicle!

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