When I decided to revive this blog recently, I mentioned that being more conscious about how I direct my attention and spend my time was one of my aims for 2017. At the start of the year I felt that I was making real progress, and had started thinking about a blog post to celebrate this positive direction, but then my focus shifted because… we have decided to move to Seattle! This has meant a few weeks of intense discussions and decision-making, followed by a sudden increase in admin and logistical tasks, as the next couple of months will be focused on winding down our life here in Luxembourg and making plans to start over in the US… So have I been using my new-found time management skills to rise to the occasion magnificently? Hmmm, not quite! If anything, I’ve been backsliding slightly, due to the frustrating paradox that (until the urgent deadlines approach, anyway) I tend to procrastinate more when there’s a lot to get done… So here I am to kick-start my newly energised recommitment to conscious use of time, by reminding myself what I’d learned at the start of the year, and most importantly, what works for me when I’m trying to stay focused:
I’ve realised that I tend to procrastinate when…
- I’m overwhelmed or daunted by my next tasks: This can be as simple as putting off starting the housework because it starts with carrying the vacuum cleaner up several flights of stairs (& research suggests that I’m not alone here), but it gets more challenging when facing such a large & complex to-do list that I struggle to pick an obvious next action (such as when the number and variety of tasks involved in preparing for a transatlantic move seem all too much).
- Anxiety or perfectionism kicks in: Sometimes I catch myself operating under the assumption that I have to get things Exactly Right (although there is in reality no obvious life-shattering consequence to making an appointment to get the car fixed at the “wrong” garage, or putting a teeshirt in the wrong pile when choosing which to keep/donate/bin…). If left unchecked, this tendency makes every task seem more daunting & time-consuming than it should, and so more likely to get put off.
- Bad habits take over: In my case this would be wasting time on my phone (yes, I’m still on Facebook), then feeling guilty about it, then spending a few more minutes browsing to help me ignore those bad feelings… At least I’ve got better at noticing when I’m doing this since reading a description of “why procrastinators procrastinate” & encountering the concept of the ‘Dark Playground’: the author’s label for the “bizarre purgatory of weird activities” that people engage in when avoiding a demanding task but not doing anything genuinely relaxing or fun because we’re telling ourselves that we’re about to start doing something productive…
& that I focus better by…
- Concentrating on using my time positively: When the amount that needs to be done seems overwhelming, I find that I need to switch my focus away from the impossible task of trying to achieve it ALL, and concentrate instead on taking one positive action, whatever it may be. (It helps me to keep the phrase “just do the next right thing” – which I first heard through Glennon Doyle Melton – in mind.) I also find that sometimes it’s more helpful to accept that I’m overtired, or need to unwind, and consciously choose a pleasurable activity that will genuinely relax and energise me (like phoning a friend or reading a book) rather than get into the negative loop described above of procrastinating and feeling bad about it.
- Being clear about my commitments, priorities, and goals: Focusing on the desired outcome (and when it needs to happen by) often helps me to bypass the perfectionism-induced stalling: during this preparing-to-move stage, it’s easier to do a quick general tidy-up when I concentrate on the knowledge that the estate agents could bring potential new tenants round at any time, and visualising the way I want things to be when the packing process starts is helping me to be decisive about clearing out some clutter. Reflecting on my personal priorities rather than just getting swept along with the move’s momentum is helping me to plan time to say proper goodbyes to people here (& help our children to do the same!), and write at least one more Luxembourg-related blog post that’s been taking shape in my mind for a while.
- Creating good habits: I find that concentrating on the habit I’m trying to quit is far less effective than creating a new one to put in its place. At the start of this year I noticed that I tend to waste time on the internet when I sit down to catch my breath after the morning school run, so I developed the replacement habit of grabbing a notebook and pen and writing about whatever’s on my mind. I find this relaxing – even therapeutic! – and rather than distracting me from real life, it typically leads to me deciding on an approach to tackle a problem, often springing into action to take a first step straight away. The things that I do consistently get done are the ones that are habitual (such as putting on a load of laundry at the start of the day) & I find that adding new routine habits (such as asking my daughter to read in English every breakfast time, something we’d stopped doing while she’s been learning German at school) can be effective remarkably quickly.
Right, that’s enough of sitting here typing, I’m going to resist the urge to spend further time editing and re-writing this, and get up to tackle the next thing on my to-do list…!