Motivation Articles

Confessions of a Reformed Procrastinator

Break the Energy-Sapping Cycle

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This article has been a long time coming. In fact, it’s probably several years overdue. Why? Because… I’m a closet procrastinator.

I’ve been too aware for too long that I’ve suffered this affliction. In college, 73% of my studying (I checked) was done between the hours of 11pm and 4am the night before exams, fueled by Cheetos and Mountain Dew. My car always stayed dirty, my fridge was always cluttered, and the malls always stayed open an extra hour for me on Christmas Eve. I once didn’t eat breakfast because making toast seemed like work. True story.

Over the years, I’ve learned to cope with this burden and even overcome it in many significant ways. I can’t tell you what a HUGE difference just a few simple goal-setting techniques have made. Being accountable to something written on paper compels me to act. It may be true that thinking before you act is a virtue. But too much thinking leads to very little action. And action is everything when it comes to reaching meaningful goals and leading a meaningful life.

But I learned a valuable lesson the other day that may help me even more. I learned that I’m still procrastinating in a lot of small, unseen ways that can add up to frustrating days.

Here’s what happened: On the way to work, I stopped at the intersection at the end of our street. On that corner is a mailbox, and I had three letters in the car to mail. Being late for work, though, my first thought – as it has been for years – was "I’m in a hurry, I’ll just mail them at lunchtime." But instead of driving on, I stopped my procrastinating self. I realized that I was actually prepared to take 5-10 minutes out of my lunch hour, get back in my car, slog through traffic, and run to the post office – just for the sake of not having to do it right now. Such is the irrational nature of a procrastinator.

I scolded myself for being so stupid, got out of the car, dropped the mail, and was on my way. Cost: 10 seconds. Payoff: No more brain space wasted on mail, and a traffic-free lunch. Lesson learned.

I know there are a lot of closet procrastinators like me out there, people who have goals or things to do (big or small), but put off acting on them for one reason or another.

We’re stressed when we procrastinate. But then we also procrastinate when we’re stressed. Procrastination is a nasty beast. It’s a mean, energy-sapping, time-chewing cycle. But you can break out of it. If I can do it, anyone can.

It’s really a mindset and a habit. It’s a matter of deciding to just get something out of the way while you have the chance. Here are my rules for breaking the procrastination habit:
  1. When in doubt, act.
  2. Erase your To-Do List every day or week and start over. Running lists end up with items that stick around too long, sink to the bottom and end up as invisible as Lincoln’s ghost.
  3. Hang around action-oriented people. People with energy often have a thrill for life, and it’s easy to pick up some of that spirit.
  4. Get plenty of exercise and sleep. Nothing makes you want to put things off more than feeling groggy or drained.
  5. Filter down and simplify. Does everything on your To-Do List belong there? As lists get longer, we procrastinators can freeze up and not know which way to turn first.
  6. Right now – before you read the next paragraph – go do something you put off earlier today…There, doesn’t that feel better? Remember and cherish that feeling.
I’m not always successful at not procrastinating. I have my share of setbacks. But with goal setting and the personal leadership I’ve learned with SparkPeople, as well as the rules above, I’m getting a lot better. I find that the more action I put in my day, the more fun it is, and the more time I have to do the stuff I really want to do – with a clear mind, a clear conscience, and a cleared-off To-Do List.

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Member Comments

  • Procrastinator,I believe that is my middle name since I have retired. I make lists of things to do but seem to procrastinate and then can't find the lists. Remember the sock monster in the washing machine? Well, I must have a list monster in my house. Some day I'm going to find a whole stack of lists when I stop procrastinatIng.
  • ROCKS8ROX
    I must admit that sometimes the list gets carried over to the next day, the next, and the next. Maybe my list is to long is what I'm thinking. I will have to reevaluate my lists.
  • I'm a recovering procrastinator and work on it every day. I've even admitted it during a job interview and got the offer. I feel so much better knowing that I should go on and get her done instead of causing myself undue stress.
  • I'm a procrastinator as well and I curb it by counting the cost of not doing things. As the author said the cost of mailing the letters at lunch was higher than doing it right now. But if we don't think there's a price, then we'll delay. I'm procrastinating cleaning right now but it's been worth it to update sparks. :-)
  • It has helped me to NOT hit the snooze alarm . . to get the best start for the day.
  • ROCKS8ROX
  • I am going to start working on my procrastination, first thing tomorrow! LOL
  • I am a procastinator as well. I started to say "awful" procastinator, but that doesn't help by putting myself down. I am glad to read this- it sounds like me too. I do write lists but then many times don't do my list.I guess we need to encourage ourselves for each time we do the tasks..
  • I procrastinate all the time. I just get overwhelmed and so I put things off. This was a good article.
  • Thank you, I so needed this today
  • I'm a procrastinator I still find myself dragging but every now & again I straighten up & fly right in my moments of clarity. It's ok sometimes but I am as driven as I'd like to be but I enjoy life better.....
  • This sounds just like me I will set myself a goal today and achieve it before bed. Thanks for the spark!
  • AZURE-SKY
    Good article, except I don't agree with erasing your TO DO list every week and starting over. I attended several Time Management seminars over my working career and they all agree on one point.

    PRIORITIZE your TO DO list. It's simple, and only takes a few minutes. Decide the following for each task on your list. A, B, C, D - A is top priority, then B, C, D.

    These items rate an A:

    Does it have to be done today?
    Does it have a deadline? (monthly report, paying bills, baking cookies for tomorrow's bake sale, etc.)

    Then you can number them - 1 has to be done first (monthly report - because it's due at the end of the workday. 2 - cookies (I can bake the cookies when I get home after dinner). 3 - paying bills (I can do that while the cookies are baking).

    Look at your list to see what can be delegated - to the spouse, kids, coworkers. You don't have to do everything, and it's good for the kids to pick up after themselves, learn how to load the dishwasher, do the laundry, etc.

    Look at the list to see what can be postponed - do I really have to go to the cleaners today, or can I include it in my weekend errands - or ask my spouse to do it?

About The Author

Mike Kramer Mike Kramer
As a writer and artist, Mike has witnessed countless motivational stories and techniques. See all of Mike's articles.