A procrastinator’s guide to getting stuff done

Raise your hand if you can identify: as soon as I wrote that title, my instinct was to save the draft and come back to writing this some other day.

What would stop me from doing it now?  I’ll list three of the stumbling blocks I deal with, along with hacks I’ve found for getting over them. What’s worked for you?

Perfectionism

“If I think about this longer, I’ll be able to do a better job.” It’s better to finish something imperfectly than to never finish it at all. And in much of what I do, I can improve on something even after it is done. See this essay by Matt, the founder of WordPress. WordPress is still not perfect. But it’s been out there for more than 13 years now, affecting billions of people. It will keep getting better.

Am I holding back on things that could help others, or even just help my little family, if I were to put it out there today?

The good news is, most things can be improved upon, even after they’re “done” the first time. So I’m aiming to spend a few minutes daily on that task instead of waiting til I’ll have a five hour block. And I’m publishing stuff like this, even if it isn’t perfect yet.  My pro tip on this one: schedule the publish date at the same time you type up that title. 😉

Backlogs and the Daily Grind

This one is tricky for all of us, and I especially feel it as a single mom: full time work, errands, parenting, meal prep, gardening, cleaning, church and community responsibilities… who needs sleep? What about grooming, exercise, hobbies, friends, and all of those projects I’d like to do?

First, I have to recognize I really cannot do it all. I need to focus on doing what’s important. I love what Oprah says here: be still, and ask, “What is the right move now?” .. and then do it.  That said, unless I’m feeling particularly centered / spiritually aligned, I tend to not finish things. I sometimes miss out on the self-care items that would help me be healthier, too.

So what’s helped a bit? You’ve heard of the Eisenhower urgent/important matrix, right? To that I would add a finite/infinite spectrum of things that can be completed once vs. things that have to be done continually.

I have recognized that I run into trouble because I spend almost all of my time on things that are fairly important, somewhat urgent, and I can basically go on indefinitely without doing anything else. The do-once tasks, even if they are pretty important and borderline urgent, get lost in the mix. And the things that require daily work but aren’t as urgent are even more neglected.

And yet, there’s this never ending pile of stuff to do, especially as a single mom. I can’t just ignore that stuff. So the trick, then, is figuring how to balance those finite tasks into my day to day habits, and knowing when to let go.

I’m now practicing a routine: I ask myself each morning about a finite task. “What is one thing I wish were done already?” — and I spend half an hour working on it. Not thinking, planning, etc. because I’ve already overthought and planned.  I spend a half hour doing. If it takes more than half an hour, I save the rest for the next day.  If it’s less, I do another finite task. And let me tell you, it’s good for the soul to get these things done.

Next, the repeating non-urgent but important tasks: “What is the one thing I should have been doing all along?”  Again, spending a half hour here makes a difference.

Also, I’m making a concerted effort to combine helpful activities. For example, I need to relax, I need to exercise, and I need to be social. So I go dancing fairly regularly, because it fits all of those needs at once.  Or, I need to weed the garden, and I want to learn something new.  So I can listen to a podcast while do some of the more mindless tasks on my list. I want to get to know a friend better, and I need to prep a meal. Why not invite them over?

Finally, I’m trying to notice all of the habits I keep vs the ones I want.  If I find myself turning to a habit that isn’t super helpful, I can trigger a reminder of the habit I want to have instead.

On letting go: some things I’ve just stopped doing. I seriously spend no more than 10 minutes per year decorating for holidays, for example. I don’t re-wash the towels every day. I’m just choosing to spend my time differently.  And I’ve also stopped reading / watching when I feel like I’ve got what I need.  And, when I find myself overwhelmed with important tasks in spite of all of these efforts, I outsource some help. I hire an hour or two of help per month instead of going out to eat, for example. It’s totally worth it.

Low Confidence

If this isn’t your struggle, rock on, my lucky friend. If it is your struggle, I’m feeling it with you. This one comes with some of the riskier things I want to do: that class I’ve wanted to start.  The program I’ve always wanted to write. Saying hello to someone I want to get to know. What if, after every effort I could invest, I’m just not good enough?  Isn’t it safer to do nothing?

As harsh as it sounds, I realize I will fail at things that matter to me. But so what if it doesn’t work out? What’s the worst that could happen? What am I so afraid of? By avoiding these tasks, am I really avoiding that outcome or just stalling it? On the other hand, what happens if I succeed? Would it be worth the risk?

Thinking about that can be pretty inspiring. But actually doing something because of it? Now that’s exhilarating. Until it’s not, because it’s turned into hard work. But again, isn’t it something you’ve wanted to do all along? Stay determined! ❤

Yes, we have to all stay sane and healthy and wise. But I think the key to building confidence is to identify the risk you’re comfortable with… and then go for it.

Accountability

This one isn’t a stumbling block actually. The concept of returning to your commitment and doing a quick self assessment really helps a bunch. Use the tool of your choice: Simplenote + my Fitbit works for me.  I’m the praying type, so I pray about my goals.  And I talk with my kids and my friends, too.

So in that spirit, as I was writing this, I realized I had exactly 101 drafts saved on this site from the past 13 years of blogging. But now I have one less. Here’s to tiny victories. 🙂 (Oh yeah, and remember to keep a DONE list by that to-do list, it helps, too!)

PS: If you need other confidence boosters, I just now googled and found this list that may help. Bonus: it seems some of the actions we’ve talked about also help. Also, if you haven’t seen this essay on Procrastination, it may be pretty helpful for you, too. I started reading it once but didn’t finish, but that’s OK. 🙂

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