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  • Jodi Blake

Coping With a Double Dose of Procrastination Genes

Woman siting with crossed arms on a table and holding a pen between her lips and nose

Every morning, I run through what’s on that day's agenda. Since I’m retired, the work-related tasks are now my own projects, typical household tasks, a few social engagements, and maybe a favor for my husband or our kids. I have great intentions to get things done, but many days I’m disappointed at the end of the day because I didn’t accomplish much. I know it’s because I’m a procrastinator, and it’s been a life-long challenge to avoid this part of my behavior.

Of the many great qualities, lessons, and idiosyncrasies I’ve acquired from my parents, I wish I had taken a pass on the procrastination genes! OK, I’m not a scientist (much less a geneticist), so I’m not certain whether the genes are the culprit, if it was learned behavior, or maybe a bit of both. But it was a running joke with my mom that I inherited these “delay tactic” tendencies from both of my parents.

Dad loved to dream up wonderful projects – home improvements, woodworking projects, or his Native American regalia. Unfortunately, he often had trouble getting going; sometimes they were never started and other times he worked like crazy to complete them by a quickly approaching deadline. I do the same thing, especially with quilting projects, organization and decluttering tasks around the house, and errands. Case in point: I wrote this post the day before its publication date. I appreciate the ability to dream up possible ideas and mull them over; I just wish I could stop the design paralysis and move on more quickly to the “doing” part.

For Mom, I think her procrastination probably came from being a busy family caregiver who worked a full-time job. So, she was usually tired in the evenings. The day-to-day things got done, but she would rather opt for sitting down with a book (reading was a favorite pastime for hers) whenever she could find some quiet moments. She also loved to sew, but she didn’t have a dedicated space to set up her sewing machine until one of us kids moved out and there was a spare bedroom to use. It was too much trouble to get the sewing machine out each time and then pack it all back up after each work session. Somehow, she still managed to make me a dress here and there, but Mom would often have to work a couple late nights to finish them. I do the same thing. Ask my daughter, who lamented one autumn that she didn’t want me to sew her Halloween costume because I never finished them until just before the day of the school party. Ouch! I loved sewing costumes for my kids, but that comment really made me think about the effect my procrastination had on others, too!

My parents aren’t really to blame for my procrastination issues. I’m an adult who understands what needs to be done and how long it will take (well, usually). For me, it’s more about being motivated to do things and trying to guard against my “I’ll-do-it-tomorrow” mentality. After a little thought (but not overthinking it!), I have recognized a few coping strategies I use to get started on tasks and keep working at them to score that completion win! If you suffer from procrastination, maybe some of them will work for you, too.

Create a Plan 

Mature woman walking on a treadmill and giving a thumbs up

During my career, many of my roles allowed me to hone my project management skills, which come in handy as I try to combat procrastination.

  • Set deadlines for tasks and projects. I know I work well under deadline pressure, and setting real and even arbitrary due dates helps me complete tasks and keep projects moving along. For example, this weekend I’m attending a quilt retreat where I will work on various quilting projects. I want to complete specific quilt tops to hand off to a couple fellow quilters who do machine quilting. I have set deadlines to have specific parts of each quilting project complete before I leave for the retreat. 

  • Break down larger tasks into smaller ones. Facing a large project is one of the quickest ways for procrastination to take over! Instead, I like to focus on completing one or two smaller parts of the project. Often after that completion, I’m more motivated to keep going with the rest of the project. Currently, I need to take down the outside holiday lights (they are more wintery in color, so it’s not too obvious to the neighborhood that I’ve been avoiding this task). So, yesterday I started by unplugging the lights from the timers and coiling up one of the electrical cords near the base of a tree. Today I removed the snowflake lights from the back deck, and tomorrow I plan to remove the lights from the front of the house. (I’ll report in the comments below if I complete this last task by day’s end.) 

  • Keep different lists. If you read my earlier post about to-do lists, you’ll know how much I love crossing off completed tasks! I use that boost of endorphins to motivate me to get tasks done on my daily, weekly, and monthly to-do lists.  

  • Use challenges as friendly competition. I don’t consider myself competitive, except with myself. So, that’s why I love participating in challenges to help me overcome procrastination. This year I’m participating in challenges to complete cross stitch WIPs (works in progress). It’s only February, but I’m already seeing some great progress, including a finish for one project that I started in 2022. Trying to become more physically active is always a goal, but one that is easy for me to put off. So, co-blogger Heather and I have a monthly challenge going to walk at least 30 minutes each day. Having a partner with the same goal provides extra motivation for me to not procrastinate…although some days I’ve completed my 30 minutes at 10 pm.

Embrace Flexibility 

Woman holding a wicker laundry basket with a folded white towel on top of the basket

Sometimes the best laid plans don’t work out as I thought, so that’s when I rely on flexibility.

  • Reprioritize and drop less important tasks. Since many of my tasks have arbitrary due dates, it’s easy to shift priorities if I don’t finish a task when I planned to. Of course, if I use this strategy too often, I will rarely accomplish anything. Instead, I usually just move a few tasks around on my to-do list to try to accomplish my goals by the end of the week or within the month. That’s what is happening with my goal to share my quilt fabric stash management challenge status. Due to unexpected family obligations, I reprioritized posting my status from last December to this month, February. This task was not important in December and January, but now I have time to attend to it. 

  • Stay up late to meet commitments. To me, it’s a trade-off to be able to postpone working on a task but still get things done, especially by a deadline. I think I perfected this strategy back in high school when I started my homework too late in the evening. During my college days when I had a busy class schedule and worked many hours each week on the school newspaper staff, I often stayed up late to finish assignments – not an easy (or smart?) plan for an English major who needed to read lots of literature and write papers. True confession: I still procrastinate when it comes to doing my homework, so I’m usually finishing my Italian exercises past midnight before my Friday morning lessons with my tutor.  

  • Take advantage of times of higher motivation. Over the years, I’ve noticed that there are times when I’m very productive, crossing off a lot more tasks on my to-do list than usual. I feel more energized somehow, but not because I’m getting more sleep or taking vitamins. I really can’t explain why. So instead of puzzling over why it happens, I lean into it and add a couple more tasks to my daily to-do list. Maybe during my next spurt of super motivation, I’ll finally get my closet decluttered and reorganized!

Accept My Procrastination Trait 

Woman sitting on the floor while repotting a plant

I fully accept that I’ll always have to contend with procrastination, but that doesn’t mean I won’t get tasks done or meet my goals. I just don’t need to beat myself up about it!

  • Realize my limitations. No one is perfect, and I’m no exception. So, I’ve learned that I won’t always complete everything I need or want to by a specific or desired deadline. Sometimes I may need to abandon plans entirely or at least for a while – like starting a cut flower garden because my husband and I need to finalize landscaping plans for the backyard first. It could be a 2025 goal instead. The new tree skirt that I wanted to finish for last Christmas is still waiting to get started – maybe it can be a Christmas in July project. 

  • Try to manage distractions. It doesn’t take much to distract me when I’m not feeling motivated to work on something. Scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, playing games on my phone, or watching just one more YouTube video – I’m guilty of doing all these things instead of the tasks and goals I still want to complete. So, I often turn my phone over to hide the screen and don’t turn on the TV for the morning, and then I can get busy with other things that I need and want to accomplish. It’s a great time to pick up the clutter around the house, go outside and water the flower containers, or work on Friendsville Square social media posts for the next week. 

  • Reward myself for not procrastinating. Ever play this game with yourself? I might tell myself that I can drive to Michaels to buy embroidery floss for my new cross stitch project after I finish cleaning up the dirty dishes in the kitchen and putting away the folded laundry. I get two tasks done before I let myself do something I want to do.

I’d like to think I’ve learned to co-exist with my procrastination with the help of these strategies. I admire people who are productive, and I’ll keep striving to be more like them. What strategies do you use to overcome procrastination? Let me know in the comments.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the treadmill is calling my name for today’s 30-minute walk! 

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