How Procrastination Saved The Day

Does your life feel like a never ending to-do list? Are you constantly putting off tasks because new priorities arise? I can promise you: a) you are not alone, b) you are in the right place.  

The tale of a failed spring cleaning

We’ve all procrastinated. Like when I delayed cleaning my closet. It goes like this: I marked it on my calendar “Cleaning Day” . I listed the supplies to buy: gloves, a duster and bags for donations. I even got extra Lysol. That bottle of Lysol was the proof of my commitment for cleaning. So, when the “Cleaning Day” arrived I was ready!! 

Let’s the tidying begin! My first task was taking out of the closet all clothes, shoes, and stuff. Then, classified it into keepers or donations. Minutes past slowly. I wondered, where did all this stuff come from? I was feeling so tired. 

“PING”, I heard a notification on my phone

Time for a break! I decided to rest while checking out my instagram to clarify the Konmari cleaning techniques. 

Of course, I spent the next hours scrolling down my phone. By that moment I stopped, I was hungry so I ordered pizza for dinner.  When I finished eating, it was too late and my drive for cleaning was gone! So, I delayed for the next day.

I woke up the next morning to a sunny day. It was too nice outside to be indoors. I went for a hike because I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun. But I was feeling a light pinch on my stomach, guilt caused by thinking on that messy closet that was waiting for me back at home. 

And that my friend is procrastinating!

Even though I liked the idea of cleaning my closet, I quickly discovered it was a tedious task with not immediate reward. So, without paying attention I found myself an easier alternative eating pizza and scrolling down on Instagram. 

But procrastination stinks, as in it smells bad even if you are doing something else.  That’s what happened to me when I wasn’t fully able to enjoy my hike. That pinch of guilt I felt in my stomach. 

Procrastination happens when you try to complete an activity that causes you short-term discomfort or distress. Procrastination is simply the act of delaying or avoiding an activity (cleaning) in favour of other less important stuff (Instagram) without considering long term impact (guilty for a clutter closet).

Why do we procrastinate? What do we get from it? 

Your brain is making you choose the easier path! YASS, we all love easy so does our brain! And what is easier than instant gratification?

Our brain is wired to compare and choose by default the easiest and happiest path every time. Our body is all about maximizing energy storage (eating) and minimizing energy consumption (being lazy) while surviving the wild (don’t die) .

In the analogy above, putting off cleaning made me temporarily happier (pizza & Instagram) while delaying pain and discomfort (boring cleaning task). Procrastination was saving the day, at least from my body’s point of view.

Am I suggesting procrastination is the pathway to happiness?

Well obviously it isn’t. If anything is the opposite. Most of the time you will feel pain twice. First because you put off the task. And second, because laziness make you feel guilty. 

Now let me be clear here: Procrastination is not about laziness

It is neither about better time management or getting an agenda. It is more complex than that.  Imagine you know the Humongous Report (talk about cool names) is due in three days, but you can’t get yourself to work on it.

That’s what happened to me. The other day I needed to concentrate. However, my brain was busy with keeping up with the world news. 

Things were pretty rough for many of my friends. My mind was raising. What if I got laid off ? I felt my heart pounding fast and my breathing accelerating. And just like that, my fight and flight system was activated. 

I had a ton of student loans debts to pay. Student loans! That reminded me I needed to finish that Humongous Report. 

I tried ignore my thoughts and focus. I said to myself: “Just let it go, you can’t do anything else right now”. But I couldn’t let go of my worries. I got upset with myself and felt guilty. It was late, I was tired but I wasn’t able to sleep. 

Fortunately, by then I knew how to manage anxiety

I knew exactly what to do. I needed to turn OFF my “fight or flight” system. So I did yoga for stretching, avoided judgmental phrases (e.g. I am so lazy) replacing it with kinder phrases (e.g. This is an scary and difficult situation).  Took a long bath with candles and I meditated to allow my body and mind to relax into sleep. 

Next day I woke up early. During my morning meditation I reflected on my fear of the pandemic. How fear derailed my attention. I forgave myself for delaying the task.

I did feel better. That day I finished the Humongous Report. The world was the same mess but I felt productive. 

That’s why anxiety management practices are helpful, they empower us to pay attention when we need it the most. I used practices like mindfulness, self-compassion, self-care and yoga to manage anxiety. 

Aim for progress no perfection

It turns out perfection and fear of failure are big causes of procrastination. Planning that much for a perfect cleaning day wasn’t a good strategy. Aim for progress, not perfection is more effective. If you feel the task is too complex to tackle it, that’s okay. Choose something smaller instead. 

If you want to know more about how to manage your anxiety and get over “that thing” stopping your ideal life, you are in the right place. Stay tuned for future articles where I’ll describe the foundations of anxiety management to help you uncover life beyond anxiety.

Now, I’ll love to hear from you:

Procrastination is nothing but an anxious habit loop. Our brain wants to make us happy with the wrong strategy: favoring instant gratification and delaying challenging tasks.

What are those sources of instant gratification (e.g. Instagram) that distract you? What do you do to stay focus? 

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