Procrastination is a useful tool

As I was sitting in my office practicing the fine art of procrastination, I began thinking about why people (me included) procrastinate. I came up with two basic reasons:

1. It is something that you just don’t like to do (or there is something you would rather be doing)

2. It is something someone else told you to do

I can DEFINITELY think of examples of these from my life! In fact, I have left this blog post several times to send emails and make myself a cup of hot chocolate. What I began realizing during this thinking session is that procrastination can actually be a really useful tool, if examined. Sounds crazy, but stay with me for a minute. First, make a list (or just look at your current to do list) of all the things you procrastinate about. Next, break them into two categories: things you don’t like to do OR things someone else told you to do.

Now, let’s look at the second list first. If it is something that someone else told you to do then it probably means that a boss or co-worker (or husband/wife/partner) is involved. This could mean it is a really important item and it really needs to get done, but you have been putting it off because you don’t like being told what to do. Well, that is just your ego talking, so let’s move it to the first list. If it is not really important or someone was just dumping their unwanted stuff on your plate, then you need to decide if you want to fight this battle or not. Maybe you have been a doormat and allowed them to dump tasks on you for awhile and you need to stand up for yourself and have a sit down with them to work it out. Or maybe, it is something small and not worth the fight which means you need to move it to the first list. This list should now be empty because everything was either given back to the giver to deal with or moved to the first list.

The fist list is now full of things that we just don’t like to do or just seem to always find something more interesting to do. We are now down to a problem of motivation, not living by your priorities or time management. There will always be things that we don’t want to do but since they are important to us so we need to find a way to motivate ourselves to get them done. I like to set a timer and say to myself that I will sit down for 30 minutes and work on X. After my 30 minutes, I can leave it alone until tomorrow and that makes the task less painful. I also use my favorite shows as rewards for completing dreadful tasks. If I finish X, then I get to watch Survivor or Top Chef.

Some items on this list may be there because you said ‘yes’ to something that you really shouldn’t have. You weren’t living by your priorities and being real with yourself about the time you could devote to another task or activity. My advice is to ‘suck it up’, finish the task and put it down as a lesson learned. If you are a ‘yes’ person by nature, I HIGHLY recommend that you never say yes on the spot. Create a patent line that you use when asked to commit to something like, “I don’t have my calendar with me, so let me check my availability when I get home and get back to you”. If you are at work and your calendar is right in front of you try, “I have several projects working right now, but let me take a look at things and see if I can fit it in. I will get back to you later today”. This will give you time to really think about whether you WANT to put this on your to do list.

These last few items on your procrastination list may still be sitting there due to poor time management. My excuse for leaving this blog post several times before its completion was that I “needed” to send a quick email (that turned into 4 emails). I was “really” thirsty and wanted something to drink. That it would only take a second to answer the phone, check my facebook, see if I got any new emails, etc. If I had just sat down and only opened my blog and written this post in one sitting, it would have been done in 15 minutes (or so, with editing). Instead, it took me an hour and 15 minutes. I know I am probably not the only person around that has suffered from this time management affliction, but if I had just done it, then I would have already moved on to a more enjoyable task and I would have stopped moaning and groaning over an hour ago.

So, the moral of the story is that you can learn a lot about what you enjoy doing and what you are really passionate about from looking at your procrastination patterns. Next time you are saying ‘yes’ or signing up for something, take a good hard look about where they are going to end up on your list. Are they going to be at the top of your to do list? Or are they going to be at the bottom of your to do list for the next 3 months?

If you liked today’s article, you’re welcome to use it in your own ezine or blog as long as you include the following blurb: Certified Professional Organizer, Tara Donohue Rudo, CPO, helps families, solopreneurs and mompreneurs focus on what is important. Get her FREE weekly tips and advice at . Photo is courtesy of

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