why is it so hard? you know you have stuff to do, you know you’ll be stressed until you get it done, you know getting it done will improve your wellbeing - and yet, it’s been an hour and a half and you’re still sitting in a towel after your morning shower. you’ve taken half an hour for lunch and suddenly you’re 8 episodes of parks & rec down and you’re not sure how it happened. you went to sleep telling yourself that TOMORROW WILL BE DIFFERENT - you’re gonna wake up and be a completely different person and suddenly be motivated to get everything on your to-do list finally ticked-off, and alas dear reader you somehow didn’t become a new person overnight and now you hate yourself times infinity.
but here is the first issue. your aforementioned to-do list almost definitely just exists in your head. you haven’t written it down. you haven’t organised it into a condensed logistical plan and therefore all you have is an overwhelming cloud of knowing-you-have-stuff-to-do, rumbling away threateningly inside your brain. how are you supposed to tackle any of it when your head resembles the safari app when you’ve accidentally ended up with 100 tabs open?
there are almost endless sources of our procrastination. being overwhelmed by the size of the task, being unable to rationalise the order in which to get everything done, anxiety about the task itself. i’m sure most of us are familiar with a lot of them. and, for those of us who experience generalised anxiety too, these feelings a very short stroll away from classic avoidant behaviours. going days without checking your emails or replying to texts or reading your DMs and, of course, the longer you leave them the less socially acceptable you feel it is to now reply, so you put it off even longer. this is procrastination 101.
what i’ve realised recently is that i spend so much time just abstractly thinking about all the stuff i need to do, that i start to feel like i’ve actually done them. i’ve dedicated so much time and energy to the idea of it, the worry about it, the concept of it getting done, that to me it’s almost as if i’ve checked it off my fictional to-do list. and, dear jesus, do i need to put a stop to it. i’m exhausting myself without actually getting anything done, i’m burning out without actually lighting any fires. i spend so much time going round and round in circles inside my own head, touching on things and making a mental note to come back to it without ever actually doing so in a constructive way, that i’m more stressed and tired than ever. i need to make a change - i need to take the stuff out of my head, and onto paper, or into some sort of lifehack app, of which i’ve listed some below.
the key issues in procrastination and organisation issues are simple, but what’s harder is learning how to tackle them. and, unfortunately, for the most part there’s no magical solution - it’s about creating new habits to replace our old ones, and forcing ourselves into a healthy routine - as unpleasant and uncomfortable as it may be - until it starts to come naturally to us. the internet is awash with guides on how to improve executive function, and i’ve condensed a few of them into the following list.
- make a schedule every morning for the day ahead. every single task you need to achieve today - even showering, eating, drinking water - goes onto the list. and then you have to force yourself to stick to it.
- assign a time frame to every task you need to complete. one of the hallmarks of executive dysfunction is being unable to forward plan in terms of time required to get stuff done. i underestimate every single thing. i think i can get ready in the morning in 15 minutes, including breakfast & showering. i think it’ll take me 30 seconds to walk to the train station so - in my mind - i only need to leave 30 seconds before the train is due. over-estimate all timings to be safe, if you think it’ll take 15 mins, leave 30.
- assign a day every week to sort through your life clutter - physical or virtual. this might be emails or it might be your desk, but try to do it. no-one’s saying keep your desk tidy at all times, for a lot of us it’s not that easy. but try to have a set time once a week, or every couple of weeks, where you can bin everything that you don’t need (on my desk currently i can see 3 cut-off lengths of string from when i wrapped a present for my mum’s birthday on april 20th, a wrapper from some embroidery thread, a tube of concealer that’s been empty for approx 3 weeks, the plastic backs off a pair of earrings i bought last week that i thought “i might need eventually” - you get the point). you’ll feel better for setting aside time to get rid of the stuff you’re drowning in.
- break down big tasks into small chunks, milestones, or stages. every big thing you have to do starts with doing one aspect of it. if you need to do your emails and the number looming is a Big One, try searching for senders you know are more urgent and deal with them first, then begin to go through the rest afterwards.
- don’t try to form some logical plan for which order to complete your tasks in. if there’s an obvious deadline for one of them then start with that - but if it’s arbitrary then treat it as such. just pick one of them and get started. i’ve sat staring into space for hours because i can’t rationalise which task is most important or urgent - sometimes none of them are, and there’s no correct starting place. overthinking it doesn’t do you any favours, all it’ll do is stress you out more.
- pick ONE thing to try to do differently tomorrow. if you attempt them all, and try to change all your habits of a lifetime over the course of a day, you’ll fail, and then you’ll feel worse. pick one new strategy and test-run it for a day.
these are not groundbreaking, innovative ideas - but sometimes a reality check is needed. almost all of us are guilty of this stuff, but when getting started on literally anything feels genuinely impossible, it does help to be reminded that you’re not alone. and it’s important to remember that the shame cycle of procrastinating - you were meant to get up at 7 but you slept til 9.30 so now there’s no point in starting because you’re a failure so you may as well just watch tv for a few hours - is self-created, and it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy. we’re making excuses because we want to do things perfectly and, in our eyes, we’ve fallen at the first hurdle. i say this as someone who did exactly that today. i’m no expert and i would never claim to be. but hearing that someone else is torturing themselves in exactly the same way as you can only ever be encouraging, right?
don’t be too hard on yourselves - try not to fill the void with this notion that life is passing us by, we’re not achieving our potential, everyone else is doing better than us, we were once so smart and efficient and look at us now - i know them all, but they don’t help. try and do something without analysing it tomorrow. pick one thing that needs done - making lunch, showering, replying to your best friend's text - and write it down, and then do it, and then check it off the list. baby steps freaks xoxoxoxoxox