Modern*Simplicity

Creating a Life Free From Chaos

How to Stop Procrastinating and Get Your Act Together

How to Stop Procrastinating and Get Your Act TogetherAre you a procrastinator? I’ve got a gold medal in procrastination. I’ve been known to make huge, aggressive task lists encompassing every little detail of a project, complete with color coding and due dates, and then do absolutely nothing with them. Douglas Adams, one of my favorite fiction writers, is quoted as saying, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by.” Well, that was me.

I wasn’t always a procrastinator. Years ago, as a journalist and graphic designer, I lived and died by deadlines. My anxiety would skyrocket as deadlines approached, and I felt like a failure if a deadline was missed, no matter the reason.

Something changed. I’m not sure what, maybe it was having kids, but I became a procrastinator. I was still diligent about client work, but my own projects, especially writing, would sit stagnant. I would set deadlines but rarely hit them. Why was that? Since I was the one setting my own deadlines, why did I feel like they were less important? Why was it easier to put off tasks I knew were important, but no one was waiting on? There were several underlying reasons, and once I recognized them, I was able to overcome them. Do any of these reasons resonate with you?

Why Do We Procrastinate?

  • Fear: These were my own projects, and my personal brand was reflected there. But what was my brand? What if I didn’t do it right? What if I DID do everything but I wasn’t good enough? Fear kept me from even starting many projects, including books I wanted to write. And it wasn’t just work. I’d delay joining a group or making plans with friends because I was anxious about how it would go. Would I say something stupid? What if they didn’t like me? Fear was speaking to me, and listening allowed me to procrastinate stuff I really wanted to do.
  • Perfectionism: I’m a recovering perfectionist. Procrastination is perfectionism in action. Why start when you think you’ll never do it good enough? How can I finish that project and put it out into the world if it’s not perfect? What if I make mistakes? Will people think less of me, laugh at me? For many people, it is psychologically better to never tackle a task than to face the possibility of falling short. Because perfectionists fear being unable to complete a task perfectly, we put it off as long as possible.
  • Comparison: Thanks to social media, we can play the comparison game all day long. We compare our shortcomings to other people’s highlight reel. How many times have you started a project, only to see someone else’s “after” online and suddenly feel like you’re behind? I’ve found this to be particularly true in simplifying and minimalism groups on Facebook, with members posting gorgeous photos of their cleaned up spaces, and instead of being inspired by them, we can get jealous and start telling ourselves that they did it better than we ever could, so why bother? The urge to compare ourselves to others is so deeply ingrained, we often don’t realize we’re doing it.
  • Believing tomorrow will be different: Tomorrow, I’ll have more energy. I’ll have more free time. I’ll be inspired. We tend to think the future will be different than our now, and the default reaction is to think, “I’ll do it later,” especially if the task seems big and daunting. We overestimate how much free time and extra energy we’ll have, so when “tomorrow” comes, we’re surprised and a little anxious finding that we don’t have that extra we expected.

What to Do:

Procrastination isn’t usually a time management problem. It’s an emotional response, one we often train ourselves to make. If we recognize those responses, we have a much better chance to confront them and work through them so we can confidently move forward.

Putting off a task can make us feel anxious, even guilty. Those negative feelings defeat any energy we have to do the task. Then we feel even more anxious and more guilty. It’s a never-ending cycle. When we say, “I’ll start decluttering my closet next week,” or “I’ll start exercising next month,” what we’re really saying is “I hope that after an arbitrary amount of time, I will be in a better mood to attack this task.”

Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James Click To Tweet

  • Break down the fear: What are you actually afraid of? Is it that you won’t be able to complete the task as well as someone else? Are you afraid it will take too long, and you won’t be able to get it finished? Write down your fears, then look at each one and imagine your best friend telling you these things about her goals. How would you respond to her? We’re much harder on ourselves than we are on our closest friends and family.
  • Done is better than perfect: We often procrastinate because we think we won’t be able to do the task perfectly. But think about it like this: Do you live in a magazine? Is your home going to be on HGTV? Are you going to publish that book without editing? No, of course not! It’s hard to perfect something that isn’t there, so how do you plan to make your project good enough when you don’t have a place to start from? Sculptors make art from lumps of clay. Think of your project as clay, and start molding it, a little bit at a time until your art is done.
  • Kill comparison: Stop and ask yourself how good that incomplete project really is. Thoughts like, “my kitchen will never look like that magazine,” can steal your energy and leave the project undone. Is that what you really want, to stare at your undone project every day waiting for a future time that may never come? Kill the comparison. You don’t have to post everything on Facebook or Instagram, waiting for likes and hearts, so why worry what others will think? Any headway you make on a task will give you energy and a sense of direction. Get started anyway.
  • Do it now: Whenever possible, start the task right away. Don’t put it off. Recognize that you won’t have more energy, or more time, or more inspiration, tomorrow. Make it as easy as possible to start now.

18 Ways to Simplify Your Life in 2018

It’s a new year, and I bet you have some goals or resolutions that you’d like to achieve. Getting organized, decluttering, or revamping your schedule may be on that list. (They’re on mine.) Don’t think of these as big projects — breaking them down into smaller tasks or goals makes you much more likely to actually achieve those goals. I’ve pulled together 18 ways you can simplify easily this year, based on the areas readers tell me bug them the most. Some take just minutes, while others may take a few days, but they are all achievable!

18 Ways to Simplify Your Life in 2018

  1. Organize yourself with a planner — either a premade planner, a digital organizer, or a simple notebook bullet journal. This year, I’m using the Nomadic planner. A paper planner is the perfect place to take notes and set up reminders and lists — much handier than loose scraps of paper or a computer monitor covered in sticky notes. Use your planner to schedule tasks too — if you don’t plan time for it, there will never be time for it!
  2. Update your calendar or planner with your kids’ school activities, extracurriculars, and other family details. Add in any work commitments outside normal working hours, or where you’ll need special gear (such as when I host webinars!) Put your spouse’s or significant other’s commitments in there too. Pencil in vacations and travel plans. Keep all this information in one central place for the whole family to access, such as a shared Google calendar, in addition to any planner you’re using personally. I live and die by the calendar — if it’s not there, it probably won’t get done. 
  3. Clear off all the counters in your kitchen. Put away rarely used appliances, clean the dust and food bits away, and keep it clean so you can enjoy the serenity of clear countertops and have food prep space. I promise you it’s an amazing feeling to see those shiny, clear counters.
  4. Once a week, set a timer and spend 25 minutes (the Pomodoro Technique) decluttering or doing those dreaded deep cleaning tasks. Dust off all your lampshades. Clean the baseboards. Declutter your linen closet. Clean the windows. Purge your paper pile. Keep a list in your planner of tasks you want to do during your weekly Pomodoro session.
  5. Clear off the counters in your bathroom. Store frequently used toiletries or cosmetics in a basket, and keep the counter clear with just hand soap by the sink. Hang up your towels, and keep some spare toilet paper handy. A clean bathroom is a welcome sanctuary to start and end your day.
  6. Clean out your wallet of any unused credit cards, store loyalty cards, and business cards. Consider paying off and canceling rarely used credit cards. Carry only what you need.
  7. Create a budget. Even just a simple list of bills, income, and regular expenses can help you get a handle on your finances. Create a debt snowball by listing out your credit card balances, student loans, car loans, and anyone else you owe, and arrange them smallest to largest. Tackle paying off the smallest one first, and work your way down the snowball, until you’re debt-free. Yes, this may take more than a year, but it’s vital to simplifying your home finances and purging financial stress.
  8. Clear your mobile phone of unneeded and unused apps. Consider deleting any “time waster” apps that you find yourself killing time with. If you have a smartphone, organize your apps in folders by subject, such as Travel, Finances, Games, Shopping.
  9. Organize your email folders. Your inbox is not meant for storage. Create folders for your most used subjects, and sort or delete email as you read it. Take action right away, and don’t let the email pile up! This is an area I’m still working on — I spend some much time in work email that my own email gets neglected and stacks up!
  10. Create a gratitude journal and write down five things each day you’re grateful for. Gratitude helps satisfy that need for “enough.” If you don’t want a separate journal for this, you can keep this list in your planner too.
  11. Clean out your fridge and freezer of old food. Fill it with fresh foods you’ll actually eat. Create a meal plan for the next week, and try shopping according to your meal plan to save time and money.
  12. Turn all your hangers in your closet backwards. As you wear and wash items, turn the hanger back the right direction. Each season, clear out any clothes you haven’t worn. They’ll be easy to identify, since they are the ones that still have their hangers backwards!
  13. Clear your computer’s desktop. Toss the outdated files you’ve downloaded, and plunk the rest in a “sort me” folder to deal with as you have time. The clear desktop will be a welcome sight, and you’ll be able to find the files you need much faster.
  14. Get in the habit of finishing your laundry loads. Start a load of laundry, and actually finish to completion — it’s not done until it’s put away! It’s true that the laundry never ends, but it shouldn’t be lying all over the house either.
  15. With your calendar or planner handy, make your next doctor’s appointment for a check-up. Schedule your kids too. While you’re at it, make any needed dentist or eye doctor appointments. Most medical professionals book months in advance, so getting on their schedule early means you’re more likely to get the date and time you want. When you have an appointment, whether visiting the doctor or getting a haircut, make the next appointment before you leave their office so you don’t forget. If I don’t make the appointment right then, I know I won’t, because I hate making phone calls. If I don’t make the appointment in person or have the option of online scheduling, I will procrastinate for months before making that call.
  16. Declutter your linens. You only need 2-3 sets of sheets per bed, and 2 sets of towels per person. Pare down the number of blankets you have. Get rid of the old, holey stuff, and keep the best. Donate old linens to animal shelters for use as bedding for dogs and cats. Your linen closet will thank you.
  17. Set up a “blessing box” by the door or in a closet. This is the spot to place items you want to declutter as you decide to get rid of them. Decluttering doesn’t have to be a big event — you can identify items daily that you no longer need. Put them in the box right away so they don’t get swept back into your home. Donate the box whenever it gets full, and start a new box.
  18. Theme your days, both at work and at home. For example, at home you could theme your house cleaning with Monday as bathroom cleaning, Tuesday as kitchen deep clean, Wednesday as changing and washing sheets and towels, etc. Workwise, you can theme your work days with administrative tasks, deep work, training, and planning. For your family, you can designate days for Scouting Monday, Taco Tuesday, Friday board game night. You can also theme specific weeks or months for larger projects, such as cleaning out the garage or organizing your finances.

I’m going to work my way down this entire list, and I encourage you to choose a few to try too! Let me know in the comments which tasks you want to tackle.