This week a lot of my thinking time has been done whilst weeding our very overgrown verge garden. I find weeding to be an exceptionally tedious task, with virtually no redeeming features. The only upsides I’ve come up with are: (a) the outcome = tidy garden = satisfaction, and (b) my mind is free to wander around and trawl through ideas that have been lurking just out of sight.
So far (a) has not been achieved – but I’ve spent a good many hours working towards that goal and am past the halfway mark. Satisfaction is within sight. Meantime various items under (b) have received a good deal of my (spare) attention. The issue that’s surfaced to the top of the contemplation pile is… procrastination… probably because the seemingly endless weeding I’m ‘enjoying’ is a direct result of just that.
The following questions have been buzzing around in my head as I weed:
- Why do we procrastinate? (…and don’t kid yourself, we all do it!)
- How do we resolve it?
- What motivates, inspires or drives individuals to get going on a project or task in the first place, i.e. what kicks people into getting stuck in and doing things?
- And what makes them see it through to completion?
No doubt there are many and varied answers to all these questions – and no doubt those answers are slightly different for each individual. My starting point (in the hunt for some answers) was to try to categorise people into groups. I came up with three broad categories:
- Self-starters: people who seem to walk to the beat of their own drum, a neat little rat-a-tat-tat that (to an onlooker) just seems to keep on going.
- Pleasers: respond actively to motivation in the form of outside encouragement, rewards, etc. – or to a combination of reward/punishment.
- Resistors: seem not to be swayed by any form of persuasion, from any source.
Once I had all that clear in my head, I boldly put myself into the self-starter category. Then I realised that I actually fall into each of the categories at different times or for different types of tasks. Sometimes I just get cracking and get something done – but other times I do things to please others or to avoid negative outcomes. I confess that there have also been times when I’ve actively (and stubbornly) resisted some tasks completely.
Reflecting on this I see that my own procrastination isn’t just because I don’t want to do things. Sometimes it’s because the task is tedious (weeding), or overwhelming (a lot of weeding!), or I feel uncertain (perhaps because I don’t have the skill to effectively complete a particular task). There are some things I have procrastinated over starting because not starting seems less stressful than doing it ‘wrong’, or because other things take priority, or when I simply fall into the trap of watching TV / social media browsing / email.
Plodding through all this – particularly whilst doing something I don’t really want to do (but do want done) – has made me realise that the first step to getting things done is to consciously acknowledge that I’m procrastinating. I had a think about what I do with my time instead of getting on with whatever it is that I’m avoiding (weeding!), then tried to figure out how much time I do actually fritter away on time-fillers (rather than on things I’ve theoretically actively decided to do). It turns out to that I manage to fill rather a lot of time with useful, but essentially directionless activities.
Later on I did some reading (yes, internet browsing…) and found that there are numerous websites that provide suggestions on how to manage procrastination. The tips that make the most sense to me are:
- Motivation. Finding something that will get you going is often a tough ask, but you could consider giving some thought to Future-You. Or, as with the weeding, sometimes you might need to simply accept that you’re doomed and just need to get started in order to produce sufficient motivation to complete the task.
- Chunk the task into bite-sized portions. This helps to make even the most overwhelming task less implausible. The verge garden as whole seemed insurmountable last week, so I decided to chunk it. 1 – 2 hours of weeding every morning this week left my arms and back aching, my nails broken and provided me with no enjoyment it at all. But… rather to my surprise, it’s almost done…
- Beat your own drum. Fear of failure / being judged by others is a fact of life – so acknowledge it and then set your own standard. In this example, the garden will really only be mostly weed free when I’m done – and I’m okay with that. Progress = success, even if it’s not perfect.
- Reward yourself. My reward was that I set a time limit for each session (more than an hour, less than two) and stuck to it. Tottering away from the garden was such a relief each day that I actually didn’t need more reward than that – although I did indulge in a very nice cup of coffee and a cookie afterwards anyway.
I reckon two more sessions in the garden will see the weeding conquered. My reward at that point will be to go to the garden centre to choose some new plants. Perhaps a fig tree… or some pumpkin seedlings… Meantime, a surprise harvest of one perfectly ripe pumpkin this morning. Win!