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How to Break through Procrastination…by Procrastinating

Woman cleaning mirror

Need to clean up your to-do list?

Never in my life has my living space been neater than it was during college finals.

Truth be told, I have never been the naturally neatest person.

(Somewhere out there, my parents are laughing and thinking, “That’s the understatement of the year!”)

But you would not have guessed that to see my room in college.

For four years, everything had a place.

My bed was always made, my desk always organized, with nary a paper clip astray.

How?

How did I maintain such a neat and tidy space when my room at home was always a disaster area?

I attribute it to papers and exams.

Sitting down to get writing, I’d think, “I just have to clean up my room…” and that’s what I’d do.

The papers got written; the exams got studied for—but not before I’d lined up my shoes in perfect rows and organized my books in alphabetical order.

I didn’t do this consciously.

It was only upon reflection as an adult that I looked back on this time and did a little detective work as to what was going on.

And that’s when I realized I could use a “bad” thing (procrastination) to trick myself into doing a “good” thing (cleaning).

With my college days long behind me, I experimented with this idea and found that when I am really stuck in one area, other nagging tasks—ones I normally can’t stand!—can suddenly seem downright appealing.

Even when one particular area (work-work, housework, correspondence) must be the priority for my attention, I’ve learned to make this method work for me.

For example, if I have 5 critical work tasks to accomplish, allowing myself to jump from one task to a different task on that list keeps me productive and stops me from slipping into a less effective form of procrastination.

Similarly, embracing this type of procrastination transformed my approach to work around the house. I decided that whenever I am cleaning, decluttering, or organizing (CDO), I am “allowed” to switch to another CDO activity at any time. Since taking this approach, it’s much easier for me to get going—and keep going—with housework.

(No, Mom and Dad. It still doesn’t come naturally.)

Of COURSE there are times when it’s important to stick to one particular activity—which is why it’s helpful to learn how to break through procrastination.

But this trick can work incredibly well when you have several tasks to do and the order of operations is unimportant.

Ready to use your procrastination impulse to stay in action and get things done? Here are three approaches to try:

1. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by creative or desk work, try this: set a timer to work on your task for 30 minutes; when the timer goes off, you “get” to take a 15 minute cleaning/organizing “break”! (Read my post about my dear friend the timer.) You will be amazed at how your soul sings with joy at “getting” to do the shredding or do the dishes. Such is the power of tricking your own brain.

2. When you have several high-priority tasks in a particular area weighing on you, and you don’t want to stick to any of them, put them down on paper. Then set a timer to do anything on that focused list for 30 minutes. You are allowed to switch at any time—as long as you switch to something else on the list. That way you’re not sacrificing one life/work category for another—but you’re still using the procrastination impulse to get things done.

3. For small, mundane, nagging tasks, use the “some # of things” approach. Keep a running list of all the quick, low-urgency, but necessary tasks, and each day, make it your commitment to do ANY 3, or 5, or some number, of the tasks on the list. So procrastinating one item means accomplishing another one. Always.

——

What normally disliked, but productive, activity do you use to procrastinate with? What are your favorite tricks to break through procrastination? Share in the comments below.

P.S. Shortly after I drafted this article, this article came out and 3 different people sent it to me! Many minds thinking about the same ideas…

Photo by Cea

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