I Need a Deadline
If you procrastinate...does that make you a procrastinator?
Also can you be just a bit of a procrastinator?
We could talk about this later...OR you could join us today and see where this rabbit trail takes us. Listen in as Jenny shares almost all of her thoughts about procrastination, and what needs we may be meeting by procrastinating.
Tune in to today's message as we move forward with the new changes to Life's Seasons Speaks!
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It’s so great to be back in this space- thanks for joining with us! If you’re tuning in and wondering where Tina is, take a listen to last week’s episode, “Wounds to Weapons”- not only is it another amazing episode, it explains the new changes. Tina will be back in a few weeks, next week is Chris, and the following week is Bob. We’ve made the shift so you can hear a bit of each of our experiences and as Tina mentioned, testimonies, because we each have our own set of strengths and experiences we bring- we’re really looking forward to this next season and all that it will bring!
I’m so excited to be able to verbally process and just throw around some of the things I’ve had bouncing around in my head in this space with you all. In this next little chunk of time I want to talk about something that on one hand has been a bit of a joke around the office and in my life, and on the other hand, it’s something that I need to do not only to succeed, but frankly to survive. And let me note that I’m going to be transparent from the start- it’s one of the things I’m still figuring out all of my thoughts about and in no way have ‘completely figured this out’- I think you’ll get a better understanding of what I mean as I start to really get into it.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a procrastinator. It really became evident when I got to be of school age. And even more so when I started getting homework, big assignments, and papers. And I can’t sit here and tell you I had a couple ‘close calls’ and ‘stressful assignments’ and then started getting stuff done ahead of time. I have vivid memories of crying at 9pm because it was already a half hour past my bedtime and I had a project due the next morning and I wasn’t done. Then I’d be up at 6am and panicking because I had to get it ALL done. One memory I have in particular is of me sitting at our computer chair in ‘the office’, printing out pictures and paragraphs, and my mom cutting and gluing the paper to a fancy colour piece of paper that I would cut afterwards and tell her where I wanted it placed on my poster board. Or the time…okay multiple times, that I would get up and forget that I had said I would bring cupcakes and mom would have to stop doing whatever she was doing and either make them for me because I had something else to do or help me do it. Read: do it for me. Somehow…I managed to get it done. Now let me clarify something- other than a castle I needed a lot of help making when I was in grade 4, my parents never did my work for me. For 1- they refused to do it for me- so gluing and cutting was about as much as they would do. For 2- they couldn’t. I was in French immersion and neither one of them speak French.
Highschool was much the same. Writing papers last minute, throwing together a bunch of things that didn’t really make sense because I was forced to have rough drafts- and hating every second of putting that draft together because I would end up re-writing the whole thing by the time it came to the paper being due anyway.
University was an interesting as a procrastinator. Yes, by this time I had been called this many times by then. I think it’s finally when I realized how my brain really works. And it’s probably the first time I remember actually using it to my advantage instead of letting it be this shameful thing of ‘being a procrastinator’…when I would write papers, I did it the way you are told not to. I would have an introduction and conclusion already thought out in my head…typically knowing ahead of time what I wanted to say. Apparently that’s not the way you’re supposed to do things. Then I would do the research to figure out what my ‘points’ or what the different sections of the body should be. Afterwards, I would highlight those ‘points’ in different colours throughout the articles, and then group them together making sure to cite them properly, but by that point the paper was essentially ‘put together’ and all I had to worry about was the wording. And that requires pressure. So I could have all of the pre-work done well in advance, but the night before a paper was due is typically when I would sit down and write. If I sat down any earlier I would get so frustrated because the words ‘done come that way’. And maybe that makes zero sense to you as I explain it like that- but all to say, this is the process it works for me and my brain.
What I didn’t realize is that I spend quite a bit of time mulling thoughts over in my head that by the time I actually sit down to write the paper, it’s just a matter of finding the right words for what I want to say. So….was I really actually procrastinating? My mom likes to compare my brain to a coffee percolator. For those of you who don’t know, it’s probably the longest way to make coffee. It takes time, and the one we had growing up looked like it was bubbling. Also just a quick tangent- when I googled ‘is a percolator the longest way to make coffee’ I literally typed ‘is a percolator the’ and google finished my sentence for me with ‘the least efficient way to make coffee’. That’s hilarious. I have been told I do things in the least efficient way possible on more than one occasion. I’m okay with that.
The point is that I think about things a lot before I create what I would consider a finished product. And I’m choosing my words carefully here. What I would consider a finished product- because there is a big part of me that would saying nothing is really ever ‘done’ or ‘good enough’- that could be my green personality colour, or the enneagram 1 perfectionist/reformer in my, or just how my brain works?
As I think about this too, I think about priorities, and how easily distracted I can get with new and fun things to learn…especially doing research on something I am interested in or learn about and want to know more about. And that’s a tool I’ve learned to use- knowing I need to ‘call’ something as ‘good enough’ or ‘done’ so that I can move on to the next thing I want to learn about, research, etc. If you were to ask me if I did my best, the answer is always going to be yes, but if you’re asking if I’m happy with it- the answer will always be I could improve it or add to it. So, it depends.
Okay so I want to move into chatting a bit more about my relationship with procrastinating. Actually, the word procrastinating specifically. I came across a couple different definitions and it got me thinking about the connotations behind the word, and how the word itself is often used. Is it fair to say that we don’t typically use the word procrastinating in a positive context, or as a strength? The definitions I found talk about ‘putting off intentionally or habitually” or “to keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring”. Okay, fine, I get it, yep. But this one. Ooh. “Delaying and wasting time”. That feels loaded. And maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s just me getting my back up a little bit because it feels like an attack. Fair enough. There have been times I’ve done all of those things. But that brings me to asking WHY do I procrastinate? Specifically…I’m talking about work I have to do. And let me be clear, I enjoy the work I’m doing. So then why am I procrastinating? Maybe you can relate, and maybe you’re just along for the ride with me to see where I take this crazy train. Either way, buckle up for safety as my dad says. You can’t stop me and Tina isn’t here to wrangle me in.
What is the root of procrastination? That’s what I want to know. So. Surprise, surprise. I did some research so I can get some other people’s thoughts and see what I think. A lot of people think procrastination is because people are seeking perfection or are fearful of doing badly at a task. There is a thought too that people procrastinate because they are disorganized with their time and resources. Sometimes too people might overestimate how much they can achieve in a certain timeframe. Sounds like a common theme is avoidance and what is often labelled as ‘poor organization’. Sure. This is probably true. But I want to go deeper.
If there is a ‘why’ people are procrastinating, and we look at it as a ‘behaviour’ or ‘something someone does’, then it’s just communication. Communication of an unmet need. So okay, if it is because you have a lot going on, and it feels overwhelming, maybe you do need to take a break and rest. That isn’t necessarily doing nothing either. How do you rest? With your hands? With your head? And then complete the task or whatever it is. Maybe it is that you’re “so busy”. It’s probably true. It’s also true that busy people accomplish a lot too. So maybe you make a list or prioritize what needs to be done first. Or you realize in thinking this through you are avoiding something and need to face that so you can get what you need to get done completed. Or maybe you’re someone who gets easily excited about things and half completes things. Maybe you have really good ideas and you just need to complete one task before you move on to the next. Or maybe, you’re like me and tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. Also can you be just a bit of a perfectionist? For me, the challenge for completing a task involves actually getting started on it and not just thinking about it, and then creating a deadline. And please don’t think I’ve got this figured out. I’m still in process. I create deadlines and miss them. BUT. Now that I’m using this information I’ve discovered about myself to my advantage, it is so much more helpful knowing the deadline is there because it gives me permission to move on to other things I want to do. Sometimes, when I don’t have a ‘next thing I want to do’, I even dangle a carrot in front of my face. You know, like they do with stubborn donkeys to get them to go. I’m going to skip by any and all comments and jokes you can make here. I’m self aware haha. It’s my way of giving myself an incentive to complete the task. At this point in my life, it’s what I need. I don’t know if I’ll always need it, but it works for now, and that’s really what I’m looking for.
Did you know there are people whose job is an accountability coach? You can sign up and pay to have someone do weekly accountability calls. I’m sure it works for some people, and becomes a crutch for others. Just some extra info for you.
I think one of the most interesting things I found was an article that said “procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, and to make unexpected leaps”.
This is super interesting to me. Yes, me. Taking this specific podcast for example. When Tina originally approached us with shifting how the podcast is done, I had absolutely zero idea what to talk about. I carved out some time and just sat and wrote some things I’ve been thinking about. Like I mentioned earlier, I like to take awhile to think about things. What began as a couple lines about ‘perfection, procrastination, starting to set deadlines for myself and learning how I think and learn’ turned into this. And a lot more research than I care to bore you all with right now.
My brain likes to think about things. Honestly, my brain needs to be thinking about things. It will find things to think about. And maybe it’s my green personality or the Enneagram 1 part of me, but I love learning about why I do what I do. I also think that’s a really hard piece with the procrastination. That I’m self-aware to know that I do it, when I’m doing it, but somehow…it’s not enough to get me to stop. Is willpower simply enough? Because if yes is the answer, I’ve failed miserably. A lot.
I feel like it’s deeper than that. It makes zero logical sense. I know it’s going to lead to frustration or not feeling good later, I can’t even fully enjoy what I’m currently doing while I’m procrastinating because I know I have something else to do…but that’s not enough to make me do it. And if you really pull back the layers, it is very likely that I want what I’m doing to be perfect. I can logically tell you using that part of my brain that I know it won’t be perfect, but it’s like every other part of my being is trying so hard to achieve that thing that I KNOW is impossible.
I will acknowledge there is a temporary feel good when I avoid something that I know will be unpleasant, hard, or that I’m worried won’t be perfect. But it’s exactly that. Temporary. Not long lasting. And I can’t even really think about it because that feeling is gone shortly after it comes, because I know there is a task or something that I’m avoiding.
In trauma work, we have a term called the “amygdala highjack”. So the amygdala is a part of your brain that is geared for survival. It is the piece specifically that triggers your fight, flight or freeze response. Your body then releases a ton of hormones (namely adrenaline and cortisol) to fight off the threat or run from whatever it perceives as dangerous. The amygdala hijack is our way to say the amygdala activates the fight or flight response when there is currently no life or death threat to a person’s safety. When we say life or death threat, in the past it would have been things like hunting animals…in today’s world we’re more so talking about things that make us feel stress and anxiety. So using my example of a job I have to get done for work…I might feel stress about having to complete it. My amygdala kicks on because it perceives this as a threat, and it has me do whatever I need to do to avoid the threat. Oooh. Procrastinate. Don’t do it right now. It isn’t able to think about me having to do it later. It doesn’t understand that and misses that it might even create more stress for me in the future- it’s only able to be concerned about right here and right now. And right now it knows that this is threatening and wants me to ‘survive’ the stress it is currently causing me- so procrastinate. Then I get that payoff. I feel good for a moment. It really isn’t enough to tell someone…or yourself, to stop procrastinating. Because you really can’t use the logical part of your brain in that moment, you’re in the amygdala hijack space.
So what do I do now knowing that I procrastinate? And it’s not like it’s a logical thing that I can just tell myself to stop doing it. Can I use this space to ask a potentially personal question? I’m asking myself too. So you aren’t alone. And don’t feel like you have to answer it, there’s honestly no pressure. But it’s also just what I do…so I’m going to ask it. What do I do…what do you do, when you catch yourself procrastinating? What’s your inner dialogue like? What’s my inner dialogue like?
If you’re familiar with the Enneagram you’ll know where I’m going with this because I’ve already outed myself as a Type One. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a really helpful tool to get to know yourself and others you are in relationship with- not to say you’re only that number, you are an individual within that number- but it really gets at the why you do what you do…the motivations behind your behaviour. So as a Type One, we’re kind of known for our really loud inner critics. You know, that inner voice you sometimes hear, or if you’re like me the inner voice that never stops, and in all honesty the voice that I’ve done a lot of work on to challenge the constant criticism and critical thoughts I’ve been barraged with. So you can imagine all the different types of things that go through my head when I procrastinate. And because this is something I have been and am still currently working on, it’s something that I am working to be more self aware of- knowing when I am procrastinating doing something, as well as setting things up in my life so that I don’t end up procrastinating.
So back to that question. What do I do when I realize I’m doing it? Well. I’m working on it. And right now, it’s like a little experiment I have going on with myself. I’m trying to be compassionate to that part of my self. Around our office, we’re pretty big fans of Gabor Mate. He’s a Canadian physician, author, and expert on addiction and trauma. Gabor is a big proponent of self-compassion. He talks about “compassionate inquiry”- an actual psychotherapeutic approach he developed that talks about what lies beneath the appearance we present to the world. It’s basically asking yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing- in a compassionate way. Exploring your thoughts, beliefs, experiences, where they come from, understanding how what has happened to you has impacted you- consciously and unconsciously. No judgment. Being curious.
So, for me right now, it looks like not judging myself when I realize I’m procrastinating. It looks like asking myself what I need in this moment. It’s realizing I care about what I’m doing. It’s also reminding myself that this is something that I’m currently okay with not changing too much. I know what I need. I need a deadline. I need a big, juicy carrot in front of me that once I get that job or project done, I get to have the next thing. Usually it’s being able to research the next thing I want to learn, or keep doing what I was doing that I had to pause while completing this specific task. It’s in this process of being curious about why I do what I do that I’m able to learn about myself and what works, what I want to change, and how I learn and work best.
So…the space I’m left in is basically this. It’s not something I’m currently working at changing or want to change about myself. I’ve learned how to work with it and I’m at peace with it for now. Thanks for joining with me today as I explored my thoughts, and if you could follow along my thought process- congrats! Tune in next week to hear from Chris, and until we meet again, this is Jenny saying good bye for now and we’ll speak again soon!