A good first step in beating procrastination…

is a calendar.  When I say calendar I really mean planner.  I use “calendar” because I wondered if some people would take the word “planner” to mean hiring someone who will plan for them.  I know it sounds ridiculous but that was the 10 minute debate that went on in my head.  I mean, this is about procrastination, isn’t it?

Procrastination is something we all joke about but it can be a crippling feature of depression and anxiety.  It can affect finances, relationships, careers and work to reinforce the lack of control and failure many with mental health issues already struggle with.

Folks who consistently procrastinate can go from thinking that a task will take a lot less time than is actually needed (leads to pushing the task away to do something more desirable) to the reality that they do not have enough time once they feel they have no choice but to work on it (leads to giving up as the task, at that point, seems impossible).

A calendar can help you feel in control of your life and is a reminder that time is a finite resource.  Many people who struggle with procrastination anticipate that a calendar will be a prison of sorts and nothing can be further from the truth.  Many clients who work on procrastination as part of their treatment have this fear but when they begin to use a calendar they actually feel liberated. The things they need to do and the time they have available begins to make sense.

A calendar can help you implement many of the strategies that are used to defeat procrastination.

Partializing tasks- The 13 hour marathon you think you’re going to do the day before your term paper needs to be in, is probably not realistic. The good news is you can still make time to beat Bioshock  (for the 300th time) and get that paper done.   You see, beating Bioshock (for the 300th time) and getting your paper done are not mutually exclusive goals. A calendar allows you to schedule one big project in small bite size pieces over a longer period of time.  This allows you to still indulge in the distractions while doing what is necessary.

By partializing tasks in a calendar, the cost/benefit analysis of actually doing the task shifts.  The cost seems/feels less (1 hour vs. 13 hours), so even if the benefit remains constant you can close the gap when it comes to motivation and expectancy. You are creating a greater value to the thing that needs to get done while reducing the burden of trying to get it done all at once.

Prioritizing- A calendar is essentially a prioritized to do list; the time frame is the value you are assigning to the task.  It is difficult to manage all of our priorities in our head, particularly if we live and work in environments that tend to present with a high demand for flexibility.  Procrastinators can view a calendar like a contract; once it’s on paper there is no going back.  Thinking about it in this way defeats the purpose of a calendar; a calendar is nothing more than a realistic account of what’s important.  Sometimes our priorities change and our calendars can change with them.  A calendar doesn’t dictate how you should live your life; it’s a tool you can use to take control of it.

Boundaries- If a widget isn’t claimed, the next person who wants it can take it.  The same can be said about time that is not accounted for. Many times we make commitments or set ourselves up with obligations we really don’t have time for. A calendar makes it very easy to understand what your limitations are while providing a very comfortable way to say no.  If it’s in your calendar the time is already taken.  The onus is no longer on you to explain why you can’t do something.  It’s now up to the other person to provide you with a reason why you should re-prioritize; something many people won’t bother with because they don’t want to seem pushy.

A calendar can help in other ways.  It can help the person whose procrastination is driven by guilt and hopelessness, be able to see a realistic pathway to getting the things that need to get done accomplished.  It can also help the person who feels their life is constantly about work and bills see that connecting with friends and family is something that can realistically fit into their lives.

I typically recommend that clients purchase a daily calendar that breaks a day up into 15 minute increments or a web-based solution like Google.  I like web based calendars because re-occuring appointments are a breeze and they are accessible by phone.  Don’t try to sit down and schedule your whole life.  If you go into it with that goal, you probably know what’s bound to happen.  Shoot for scheduling your re-occurring commitments for the month first and then flesh out the next two weeks.  Then just add appointments and tasks a little at a time each day until you’re caught up.

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