I have to do this thing. Any thing. A thing that gives me a bad feeling in whatever way. I have to do it anyway, whether I do it now or in a year. So a logical thing to do would be to do it as soon as possible, so it’s done. Seems simple right? IT’S NOT! Why do I prefer the comfort of postponing it, while the comfort of having it done it so much bigger?? I am… a procrastinator. I’m definitely not the worst case but I am one. Me, and about 20% of the world population.
Are we born as procrastinators? I think we are all born procrastinators, but most of us can deal with it. Everyone procrastinates something once in a while, but that’s not a problem. It becomes a problem when it bothers you in your daily life.
Before I continue, I would like to share the following TED talk. This is Tim Urban, an extremely funny guy who explains this topic in a hilarious way, but he also gets to the real core of the problem. It’s 14 minutes long, but so worth it!
The all nighters, OMG yes. I did this for every paper or thesis I wrote in college and uni. I could come up with the best ideas and conclusions, and work the fastest and the most efficient at these nights. It wasn’t as bad as Tim described, but I was never able to finish it even one day before the deadline. But there is more to life than papers and theses. Everything that is boring or tedious or not easy is procrastinable.
Just not now
Like cleaning up my house. Or returning something to a shop. Or taking care of financial things or health care. Blog things, like finishing a blog post that’s not where I want it to be. Or fixing broken stuff, or do paint jobs. Or think about kids. I don’t have to do large projects anymore, so these are all things without a hard deadline. But, I hate to have people over if it’s not perfectly tidy, and my blog posts need to be posted, and I have to start to think about kids now. So I feel pressure for all of these things.
A Delayed Misery Monkey
I’m a different kind of procrastinator than Tim is. I don’t have an instant gratification monkey. I have a delayed misery monkey. Of course, my monkey likes to have instant gratification too sometimes, but it mostly hates the negative feeling of doing something that takes mental space. So, my monkey aims to postpone the negativity by doing other stuff first. This can be something useful, but it will always be something that is easier than the concerning thing.
Let’s take a closer look at what my brain would look like under Tim’s brain scan. (Copied and edited from Tim’s blog: Why Procrastinators Procrastinate)
Avoiding the task
So yes; whenever my monkey thinks my mental slots are full, it will not happen, or take ten times as long. I can walk into a messy room, literally feel my energy drain, and walk out again. I will do my laundry instead, sort everything, sort everything again, hang my clean laundry to dry ordered by color, with matching clothespins (2 of the same pins for every piece of clothing of course). Then, I will make a list of how I’ll clean up the concerning room. I will separate the tasks into subtasks, order them, estimate how much time every task will take, and write down a time schedule. And then I will probably not do it. I do work, just not the work I need to do.
The long term tasks
That was a very simple example. Another more complicated example is my blog. This is more like the things Tim talks about at the end: the long term things that don’t really have a deadline. The things that keep us from being really happy if we don’t do them. I had planned everything for my website, and according to this plan, I would have my blog set up in less than a month, including a webshop. But no. Really very much no. Because everything that is hard, I postpone. Every art project gets labeled as practice, because I’m afraid I will never be able to make something that is good enough to offer online. I really need to profile, but I’m afraid it will fail. So I just don’t do it. I do all kinds of other things, like spending 2 days on a post or 6 hours on a painting. But not the things I really need to do.
This weekend was still full of things I needed to do for school. But tomorrow will be my first official day off. I will have two weeks off and I have planned 100 things for my website. But, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. But it will. At this very moment I swear that it will happen. Because I started this blog for a reason and I will not let it go to waste. Also, one of the reasons I started this was to do scary things and things that really make me happy. This is both.
Is it possible for procrastinators to change? In a way, I think. But not to the full extent. Once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator. But I have to say, I made a lot of progress in the last few years. There is one crucial ingredient needed for change: mental space. I could make changes in my life because there was room for things that cost mental energy. And when there is a lot going on, I easily fall back into old habits. Now that I know this, I can allow myself more time when I have a lot on my mind. Knowing this really helps me to be realistic and to not be hard on myself.
Mental space is the key people.
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