Three of the most common words in my life, it seems. As irony would have it, yesterday was “Be Late for Something Day.” (I promise this whole “national day” thing won’t become a theme for these blogs, it’s just fit in perfectly recently. Oh! “Ask A Stupid Question Day” is coming up at the end of the month…even though it may seem some people we know started celebrating early. I kid…I kid.)

I digress…

Being late is something I’ve always struggled with. Don’t get me wrong, I HATE being late. It’s just that I seem to always find myself exactly that. For me, the answer just always seemed obvious. Get up earlier. Manage my time better. Be more organized. Get a planner. Use google calendar. Use Outlook calendar. Sticky notes. iPhone reminders and alarms. I can keep going. I read books on “time management” and listened to seminars…nothing worked. One day, I was researching “procrastination” (I probably should have been doing something else) and it all began to make sense.

I have always believed, and internalized, Webster’s (and society’s for the most part) definition of procrastination: “to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.”

Okay…a couple things here real quick.

For starters – internalizing this is to consciously, or even subconsciously, accept that I’m intentionally doing something wrong. It’s also implying that I could easily just stop and get back on track…or maybe even get ahead (something I consistently tell myself I’m going to do but rarely ever actually accomplish). This is especially problematic once I finally find myself “late” because it gives me the ammunition I need to beat myself up and feel even worse because “dammit! I do this to myself all the time!”

Enter Mel Robbins. *trumpet fanfare plays*

Procrastination is a form of stress relief.

Mel Robbins

What?! Procrastinating isn’t just me being a lazy piece of shit that knows better…it’s actually a defense mechanism in my brain responding to stress?! Mel also revealed that she was well into her adult and professional life (very successful author, speaker, TV/Radio host, wife, mom…all of it) when she was diagnosed with ADD. I hear people talking all the time about how many kids are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD every year, but I think the bigger issue is the number of adults that NEVER get correctly diagnosed. Adult ADD/ADHD is a very real thing. Much like Mel, I was in my late 30’s when my doctor gave me the same news. (If you read enough of my blogs, you probably figured that out for yourself long ago. I tend to write like I think and talk, and sometimes I get sidetracked and overuse the parenthetical “inner dialogue”…like right now.)

Anyway, moving along…

There was another study done about 12 years ago by Dr. Fuschia Sirois and Dr. Tim Pychyl that shows “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.” We don’t procrastinate because we’re lazy; we do it because we’re stressed, overwhelmed, overworked, depressed, insecure, anxiety ridden, or in the midst of any number of other crippling emotional states. There’s a fantastic New York Times article that dives deeper into this, and I highly recommend checking it out.

For the purposes of this blog, and for the sake of time (assuming you’re reading this instead of doing something you should be doing) here’s a few things you can do to help minimize the stress and overwhelm of your daily life and hopefully stove off the desire to procrastinate.

  1. Make a shorter lists. Too often we overwhelm ourselves with our own lists. Start small. Make a list of the 2-3 most important things you want to get done. The fewer things you try to accomplish, the more you’ll get done.
  1. Focus on one task at a time. Multi-tasking is a myth. It’s physically impossible to think about two things at the exact same time. If something comes up that is truly more important than what you’re currently doing, find a natural stopping point and fully switch to the bigger priority and see it through.
  2. Re-prioritize a couple times a day. Take inventory of your priorities midway through your day and see if you need to make any adjustments to your 2-3 “most important things.” Often, something that might seem important at 8am may not be as big of a deal by lunch…hell, you might not even have to deal with it at all and you can totally remove it from your list. (There are few greater feelings in the world than scratching something off your list that you didn’t even have to mess with)
  1. Try to limit your emails to five sentences. If an email is five sentences, no one will complain that your email is too short or too long. You can maintain relationships without spending a lot of time typing a senseless email. Pick up the phone as the situation calls for it.
  2. Set rules for your email. This was a game changer for me. Most email platforms (Outlook, Gmail, etc) have rules you can set to help control what hits your inbox. These two are incredibly important.
    • CC: – any email that has you on CC: or BCC: goes into a separate folder. Rarely does a CC: email require your immediate attention or even a reply. I check this folder about twice a day.
    • Subscriptions – any email that contains the word “unsubscribe” goes into a folder of it’s own. It’s not necessarily “junk” but it’s definitely not something I need to be distracted by. You’ll also want to make sure these two folders don’t have notifications/alerts connected to them. This process is intended to eliminate distractions and if it dings (or a preview pops up) every time one of these comes it, it defeats the purpose.
  3. Meditate. There are a ton of great apps you can use to help you through this if you’ve never done it or “don’t know how.” (“Headspace” is my favorite) If you’re absolutely averse to meditation, do something to calm and clear your mind. Read a book (this is not where you pick up the newest Stephen King) or listen to a podcast. Commit this time to mindful or spiritual growth. This is the perfect time to practice gratitude and make a list of everything you’re grateful for at that moment.

You’ll also come up with your own “hacks” that work for you. If you’ve got great things that work for you, please share them with me! I’m always in search of new ideas and ways to be more productive.

The key to all of this is best described, again, by Mel Robbins. “YOU are not a procrastinator. You have a HABIT of procrastination” and it’s directly connected to your stress. When it shows up acknowledge the habit of procrastination creeping in, identify it for what it is, give yourself some grace, take a breath, and then take action. Take the first step toward the thing you were about to put off and just jump in. You got this.

Now get back to work.