Procrastination has famously been dubbed the thief of time. Not only is it a thief, but also a more serious villain; a merciless vampire bloating itself on the purpose and fulfilment of a human life and leaving behind a stultifying legacy of regret and frustration.
Rosicrucians are urged early in their studies to “…defer not till the evening what the morning may accomplish”.
It’s wise advice, but procrastination is an expert in diverting good intentions into a whole other direction. Yes, procrastination and I are old friends.
Note that I say old friends, not good friends, because this is the kind of friend who satisfies his own need for diversionary activities at the expense of his companion’s need to get things done, and creates a richly original agenda of ways and means to distract them even when they are starting to feel desperate for a positive result.
And having been a long-term victim of the invisible time thief, I can tell you that the major symptom of its presence is faffing.
Faffing is the art of not getting done the things you want to get done while studiously accomplishing endless other things that maybe you did want to get done but didn’t need to, at least not urgently. For example:
- Endlessly scrolling through your social media feeds or watching random YouTube video
- Positively welcoming unexpected invites to go out when you know you have things to do
- Calling a friend or texting someone you haven’t spoken to in a while
Procrastination is a diverse activity which takes many forms depending on the person doing it. But the underlying theme is the same:
Like the immovable object meeting an irresistible force, my wish to do something meets my reluctance to make the effort and they cancel each other out so comprehensively that nothing happens, sometimes for months on end.
The key to telling a faff from a fruitful pursuit lies in recognising that you are choosing an ‘any time’ task over a priority.
Addicts of procrastination may engross themselves in re-evaluating their priorities in the form of new resolutions, whatever the time of year. My own have been studiously reworked on or around the first of each month, not to mention at the autumn equinox, Christmas, traditional New Year, Rosicrucian New Year and my birthday…, with very little progress being achieved towards any of them.
Procrastination certainly makes for pleasant company and interesting activity but he also leaves unmistakable hallmarks where he has sunk his fangs, in the form of gut wrenching feelings of despair, panic and worthlessness; and, of course, the sense of time inevitably and irretrievably running out.
He is not the friend he pretends but the enemy of all who would attain self-mastery and spiritual evolution.
Motivational writer Paul McGee offers some straightforward advice to help put the vampire back in his coffin.
1. Make a start
That means on that priority task that you have identified and not whatever pastime you have started to avoid it. The act of starting something frequently does release a surge of purposefulness and maybe actual enthusiasm for the task in hand. It can be quite invigorating! Don’t get hung up on how long the overall task might take but to make progress with it, however slender.
2. Imagine vividly how it will feel to finish.
The satisfaction of a job well done has few equals. Even the satisfaction of a job done at all feels pretty good to someone who has habitually succumbed to the thief of time, as I have found. Visualisation techniques may be put to excellent use in picturing, with movement and full colour, the sensations of completing the allotted task and especially lingering on the positive emotions to be experienced from the achievement, no matter whether it is a magazine article, a full scale educational course or writing that best-selling book.
3. Tackle the worst activities, the most frightening and difficult first.
So many of us put off the tasks that feel uncomfortable, unpleasant or downright scary. The fact is, the longer we put them off, the longer we feel the horrible inner effects. Taking action to deal with those items first has the merit that at least it puts them out of the way so you can move on. Seriously, it is a no brainer.
4. Reward progress.
Do not reward lack of progress. In the past when procrastination has had less of a hold on me I have thwarted him by telling myself I will not eat until I have finished such-and-such a job and cannot uncork the wine until a certain milestone has been reached. Make sure you genuinely feel you merit a reward and that the reward is proportionate. One sentence in the writing task does not earn you a trip abroad.
5. Find a companion to share your experience of procrastination and success in fighting him off.
Just like Alcoholics Anonymous assigning members a ‘buddy’ to help combat the demon drink, an ally can be a formidable asset in getting your life back on a purposeful track.
It may also be helpful to identify the factors which feed your procrastination.
What stops you from doing what you want to do?
There are many factors which procrastination uses as barriers, from fear of failure to the idea that there is plenty of time when really there isn’t.
Many people feel they are always too busy to do what they intend, but that is invariably a myth. If you were purposefully busy you would be meeting your priorities.
Does the task feel too big? Break it down into bite-sized pieces.
Do you need new skills? Go on then, learn them!
Are you worried about looking inadequate or failing to deliver what was expected? You certainly will if you don’t do anything!
The fact is that even if you fall short of your aspirations, if you have produced something then other people will have that something to work with, a starting point, and if you have produced nothing, they won’t.
Another tip is to take responsibility for your own actions, or inactions.
Recognise that you are the one and only author of your life and that whatever other people or duties appear to detract from your priorities you have the power and ability to stay on purpose, if that’s what you decide to do.
Set aside the time and guard it against all intruders, procrastination included. Switch off your phone, ask visitors to call another time and clear your diary, your desk and your clutter to make way for the work about to be in progress.
People’s real desires are for emotions, not things; for the feeling of belonging, of being loved, worthy, purposeful and at peace.
Procrastination brings none of these feelings to fruition.
It stands in the way of them all, beckoning us to a miserable end.
Don’t give in to it!
Fight the villain with positive steps…even if they’re baby steps.