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Why I’m better at sprints than marathons – some thoughts about procrastination

At least one of the reasons for my procrastination is that I need a sense of urgency to get motivated to do certain tasks. A deadline gets my adrenaline going. The pressure of having to get something done by a particular time is something that acts as a kick up my backside, it gets me going, it gets me focused on the task in hand, and quite often it gets the task done in time (usually just in time) – but once it’s over, I’m tired. I can’t operate on that level all the time. So this works well for short sprints, for a task that I can finish in one sitting, or at most in one week.

So when I take on something that can’t be done in a week, I have to break it into bits, and I have to somehow motivate myself to do another bit and another bit, even though I don’t have a looming deadline. Which is totally not what comes naturally to me.

I look at my life and think: I’d like to be more productive. I know there are people who do things differently, I even have friends like that – people who just get on with one task after the other, enjoying the satisfaction of getting things done. But it’s not how I’m wired, and at the age of 49 it’s not easy to get into new habits. Well, not just at the age of 49 – it never is easy to form new habits and maintain them. Look at all those new year resolutions people make, broken by February.

The thing is, “I’d like to” is not a strong enough motivator. Thinking “I’d like to lose weight” may be enough to get you to think about dieting, it might even get you as far as starting a diet, but will it be enough to get you to keep turning down cream cakes, or chips, or whatever it is that your weakness is? Thinking “I’d like to get fit” may be enough to get you to embark on an exercise regime, but will it be enough to get you out jogging when it’s raining and cold and miserable outside and there’s something really fun on TV? In the same way, me sitting here and thinking “I’d like to be more productive” is not enough to beat a lifelong habit of leaving things to the last minute.

So it seems this is just something I have to live with. It means trying to keep my tasks to sprints and not marathons, as far as possible. It means having to keep playing these tricks on myself to get me to get tasks done – like leaving whatever it is in full view, sometimes placing the stuff on top of my closed laptop so that when I come back to my desk it will be easier to deal with it than to ignore it, sometimes building artificial mini-deadlines into my life, like “I need to get an hour’s work done before going to the supermarket”, or promising myself a treat for afterwards, like mothers do with their unruly kids: do your homework and you can have an ice cream later. It’s not easy, but it seems that this is just the way it is for me.

Oh, and maybe I should look for less easy-going clients, who would scream at me if I was late… I used to work in an office where there was a report I had to provide once a month, and the boss would be breathing down my neck and asking how much longer – it was great! The adrenaline rush was wonderful! (and yes, of course this is also one of the reasons I procrastinate – the adrenaline rush is addictive, definitely. No, don’t try it – I don’t want that on my conscience. :))

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2 responses to “Why I’m better at sprints than marathons – some thoughts about procrastination

  1. For me it all hinges on mood. Some days I can’t get started on anything other than surfing the Net and checking my blog stats. Other days I get so much done I wonder if the shoemaker’s elves sneaked in and helped.

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