Procrastination. We all do it, yes, even those who think they don’t. I’m not sure you’re completely human, if you don’t procrastinate at least sometimes in your life.

Isn’t procrastination just the same as being lazy?

Absolutely not!

Usually, I’m the only one who knows I’m procrastinating. To others, it’s like I’m busy all the time and never actually stop. If I’m not in my studio stitching something, I’m on the computer, or answering emails or Facebook comments, or baking bread or cooking dinner or going for a walk with my husband or putting the laundry on or writing a meal plan or sorting my sock drawer…

And while all of these might be important, they may not be important right now.

And that’s the key. Procrastination is doing all the other things, instead of the one thing we should actually be doing.

Why do we do it?

Here are my reasons:

I’m distracted

I’m just so easily distracted by the next shiny object…the next tempting thing to try. I see things on Instagram, or I hear about someone doing such and such and I think “Ooh, I want to try that!” and even though I know I really shouldn’t be investigating something else right now, I start to go down that rabbit hole, because…

I think I’m an invincible multitasker

Basically, I always think I can do it all and fit it all in. I’m not sure where I got this self-confidence, it seems very out of character. Maybe it’s because so many times I’ve actually been able to pull it off? That’s a dangerous discovery. But it doesn’t always work, because?

I’m a hopeless judge of time

In some situations, I’m uncanny: I can put on a pan of pasta, set a timer, and I will wander back into the kitchen at the precise moment the timer pings to tell me it’s had its time. I can wake up in the morning, and without even opening my eyes, I know what time it is. But when I’m trying to do all the things? Useless. I seriously underestimate how long things will take, and I have a completely distorted view of the time actually available to do things.

Take my Seascapes course, for example. I’ve known since the start of the year when I wanted to launch it, but with nearly six months stretching before me, I saw the time as one amorphous blob – broken up into slightly smaller blobs for doing things like recording the podcast – but overall, it had no structure. To be fair, this hasn’t been helped by the whole “worldwide pandemic” situation we find ourselves in.

Now I’m approaching a deadline, when I can see clearly how my available time is shrinking with every day that passes, do I wish I’d started earlier? Of course! But I never learn. Because I’m also a…

Busy bee

I’ve been busy doing all those other things – right now, when they’ve turned up. And I’ve been doing it all year. Everything that’s crossed my mind as a thing to do, I’ve done right now – with absolutely no thought given to whether it was the best thing to do right now. There’s a large amount of control freakery involved with this one too – I do find it very hard to delegate! Why ask someone else to do something, when I’ll only have to check up on it later anyway? I may as well do it myself, and I may as well do it now…and if someone asks me to do something?

I find it hard to say no

I find it difficult to say no, especially if it’s something that I know I’m good at, or something I’d enjoy. Even being asked if I’d like to go for a walk around the fields for 20 minutes. Yes! I’d love to come! But sometimes, I really should say “I’ll just finish this first, and then I’ll come”. Or maybe even “no, sorry”.

Overwhelmed

And sometimes, it does get a bit too much. There’s so much to do – all the important things, the really really important things, the time-critical things, the fun things, the practical things – so much to do, so many things I could do, I don’t know where to start. So I do the easiest thing instead.

Avoidance

And I avoid those difficult, uncomfortable feelings – the feelings of boredom doing an important but dreary task, like my accounts; the challenge of getting started on creating the first samples for a new course video, starting a blog post and not knowing where to start to get my thoughts in order…

And then of course, maybe the most pernicious reason

Fear

Whether it’s the fear of doing something awful (hello perfectionism) or the fear of exposure as a fraud (hello Imposter Syndrome) the fear is real, even if unacknowledged. Especially now I’ve got to the point where people have already taken courses, and are eagerly waiting for the next one: what if it’s useless? What if it’s boring? What if they don’t like it?

How can we stop procrastinating?

This is what’s worked for me (and there may be other things that work for other people):

Precise planning

It was a hard day when I learned that writing lists is not planning. The sort of planning I need to do is down to the tiniest detail. If I need to stitch, I need to get the threads, the fabric, the sewing machine – everything set up ready to go with absolutely no leeway for delay or distraction. I need it to be so obvious and clear exactly what it is I’m going to do first of all, there’s no way I can back out. And I need to be crystal clear on the things I’m NOT going to do instead.

For example, “I’m going to stitch the first sample for my course, and video it, get it downloading to my laptop, before I check emails or comments – it’s the first thing I’m going to do when I go into my room”.

It has to be down to that fine detail: any opportunity for delay or distraction, even something minor like “I’ll just find that piece of fabric that would be perfect” is fatal, so I have to eliminate them by precise planning.

One task at a time

It’s sad but true, we’re not good at multitasking – even if we think we are. It’s not an effective way to work, because every shift of focus means you’ve used up some of that creative energy, and time. There will always be a lag as you shift from task to task. So I’ve learned to choose one thing at a time, and just do that. It’s so hard to do, but so necessary.

Rewards

This is one I’m not so good at. It’s all very well working our socks off, but we need to be nice to ourselves too. By all means eat the frog, but remember to have ice cream after – or a glass of wine to wash it down.

Cheerleaders

Even if it’s just one person, having someone else give you a high five for doing the hard thing, a mini celebration – makes all the difference. My husband works at home, so when we go for our evening walk we compare notes, and pat each other on the back for the things we’ve done and all those frogs we’ve eaten. And then we always have a meal together, and maybe a glass of something.

Nobody cares

The person who cares the most about what we do or don’t do, and whether things we try work or don’t work, is us – ourselves. Other people are too busy with their own lives to notice if we stuff up or say something silly or make a typo on a course page or handout. We think everyone will laugh at us, but mostly they’re oblivious. And does it really matter? Does it have to be perfect?

Embrace imperfection

The Japanese notion of Wabi Sabi is “a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection”. We’re all going to die one day, will anyone care after I’m gone if the pictures on my blog don’t line up, or if I didn’t iron that bit of fabric before stitching on it?

I sincerely hope not!

6 Thoughts to “Should I write this or tidy my sock drawer first?”

  1. Anne-Marie Skinner says:

    This is such an uncanny coincidence! I have been doing just this (procrastination) for the last few weeks regarding my course work and really not looking forward to the 3 samples I have to do. A couple of days ago I received the normal email from the course team asking how I am doing. Oops! My reply was honest and said that I would be remedying the situation tonight.

    Many thanks for your article Izzy

  2. Carole says:

    Hi. I managed to read your enjoyable post, while listening to the radio and not looking up something else! Procrastination is what I have been doing, too! I’ve found a City & Guilds online art course, that offers a 4 hour taster exercise, that I haven’t finished! While almost completing 2 other mini online art courses I chose, to get the knowledge and experience of art compositions, to gain the confidence to enrole on a recognised art course!!
    I will start again tomorrow, now that I have shuffled the papers of completed tasks together and read through the course instructions. Thanks for reminding me, even professionals get distracted, but, the best thing about art, is that it is soooo distracting.😊

    1. Isobel says:

      Hi Carole, thank you for reading! And I’m really glad it’s helpful! I’ve just had another read through, which was useful (to remind myself of my wise words – who was that who wrote that?!) but mostly because as well as replying to you, I’m supposed to be here in my website sorting out a bit of code that needs updating, and I’m scared to try it because I really don’t know what I’m doing – so I’m procrastinating big time!! Good luck with all your courses – and enjoy them!

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