Pro-cras-ti-na-a-tion!

There is this Carly Simon song called “Anticipation” and I somehow borrowed it years ago and replaced the refrain with “Procrastination”. It actually works. Seriously, listen…”Procrastination, Pro-cras-ti-na-a-tion…is making me late…is keeping me wa-a-aiting.” The only problem is, I now I have a theme song rolling through my head when I’m dragging me feet to get something done.

I will tell you straight up that I procrastinated getting this article written. In fact, as excited as I am about this site and everything it represents, it didn’t take me long to start procrastinating with the articles. It took me a bit to figure out why, but after some digging I realized that these articles are difficult for me to do. Every time I write an article, I have to dig into the details of mental illness and in those details I have to face my own demons and inadequacies. It’s a mirror into the struggles I face and it’s tough.

Procrastination, in and of itself, is a normal part of being human. We don’t want to do tasks that we find boring, repetitive, or stressful. It’s natural, but it can be a major problem when it interferes with our daily lives, like skipping work or missing classes.

Procrastination and Mental Illness

Unfortunately, mental health conditions like anxiety and depression easily lend themselves to procrastination.

Anxiety

The main coping mechanism for anxiety is avoidance, which makes procrastination practically a foregone conclusion. Any task that conjures up any anxiety will be the hapless victim of neglect. Maybe we’re afraid we won’t do the task correctly or well enough or it is drudgery and the task will never end (laundry, anyone?). Perhaps the task involves other people and dealing with people makes us nervous. It could be that we are concerned about what other people will think about the work we have done. Add a splash of perfectionism in there and you have a perfect storm of reasons to avoid doing something.

Depression

Depression is known for having symptoms like lack of motivation and low enthusiasm and energy. It is hard enough just to get out of bed, let alone attack a task or project. For those of us with depression or even bouts of depression, starting or finishing a task is a monumental undertaking.

Bi-Polar

For someone with bi-polar, if they are like me, they will have these short manic bursts of production, which is great for getting started. The problem lies in the scope of the projects we take on. We shoot for these enormous projects or sets of tasks and, when we inevitably crash, those projects never get completed. I have a lifetime of unfinished projects cluttering corners of my home.

The Hammer

And all of this procrastination comes with a mental hammer. We beat ourselves up for not starting something early enough and we are in a panic to get it done at the last minute. We beat ourselves up for not even starting. We beat ourselves up for not finishing. We tell ourselves that we are a failure, a horrible person, useless and can’t do anything right…when the only thing we really need to do is put down the hammer.

How do we overcome procrastination?

Oh, how I wish I could give you a golden elixir that you could take to motivate yourself on command! But, since I don’t, I will give you some bits of advice I have gleaned over the years. Granted, I fall through on these quite frequently, but they have helped me move forward on an upward trajectory. I am better than I was and get better all of the time. Hey, I am working on this article, so that’s a win!

  • Ask for help or talk to someone about how frustrated you are about not starting a task. It is surprising how getting it out in the open is just the bit of motivation you need to start.
  • Make a list. Ok, I am a late night list maker and often these lists will increase my anxiety, primarily because I write a month’s worth of tasks and get overwhelmed. I have had to learn how to pare down my lists into small pieces that are relatively quick and easy to accomplish. I.e. – Do one load of laundry today as opposed to doing all of it in one day. Along the same lines, if you have a big project that you know will take a while to complete, make a list breaking the project down into small steps. There is something very validating about checking things off your list, regardless of how small.
  • Give yourself time. I frequently get panicked because I set up unrealistic time tables for myself. Everything has to be done ASAP, but not everything can be a priority. In a sense, I am procrastinating against myself. Yeah, that’s an existential mind warp, isn’t it? Try to set up your tasks by priority so you don’t feel like everything is weighing you down all at once. One caveat: I am bad at putting some of the fun stuff higher on my priority list. Self-care and doing things you enjoy is so important! Don’t forget to take that into account when you set your priorities.
  • Try to be Spock. In this case, it pays to be logical. Use mindfulness and self-talk to help you figure out what it is about a task that you don’t like or don’t want to do. Once you have that nailed down, give a logical run down of the real consequences of what would happen if you don’t finish the task. I’m not talking about the runaway train of what-ifs, but real world, likely consequences. This can be tough. If you find yourself panicking, back off and approach it again when you have calmed down.
  • Let it go. There are going to be those times when you have to let go of a project because it is not good for you or your mental health. Taking on favors for family and friends when you are over-extended is a good example. The key is to acknowledge that it is something you need to let go. Then, do your best not to use that guilt hammer to destroy the good thing you did for yourself.

In many situations, unless you are pondering big things like your health, your job or your family, the world won’t come to a screeching halt if you don’t complete a project. However, it slowly erodes away at our self-worth if we  consistently put off things that we want to see completed. This is especially true for those things we think we would enjoy working on. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth trying to get rid of that procrastination theme song in our heads.

Have any suggestions on how to counter procrastination in our lives? Please leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

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While the articles are written to inform, entertain and support those who visit the site, the Anxious Artist is not a licensed medical professional and the information on these pages is not intended to replace regular medical care. Research and testimonials may show promising results with alternative treatments for mental illness, but these should always be discussed with a qualified medical practitioner before being implemented.

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