Growing up, I was always that super eager kid who loved school. My mom says I used to cry if there was a holiday and we didn’t have school. But somewhere around middle school, that eagerness faded a bit. I still did well in school, but I found myself far less interested in performing tasks like projects and homework in a timely manner. By high school, I was the queen of scribbling down answers on the bus ride to school. I spent lunches catching up on assignments. Deadlines for the newspaper were always met—but literally moments before they needed to be handed in. My last-minute-ness had become a way of life.
The summer before my sophomore year of high school, I was supposed to read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and write a report to turn in on the first day of school. When our entire city flooded and the first day of school was delayed by two weeks, I just knew it was Jesus looking out for me. I thanked him by procrastinating just a few more days.
Planner or Procrastinator?
There are so many different types of people in this world, but I think when it comes to timeliness, there are just two: those who plan, and those who procrastinate. For most of my life, I’ve fallen into the second camp. I’ve blamed it on many different things over the years (“I’m a writer, that’s just what we do” being among my favorites). As I’ve grown over the past year, I’ve had to take a sober look at this little habit of mine and do something about it, because it just was not serving me well.
I titled this post “Lessons from a Recovering Procrastinator” and not “Lessons from a Former Procrastinator,” because this is an ongoing journey for me. I didn’t become a procrastinator overnight, so unsurprisingly, I didn’t undo that habit overnight either. But I have taken significant steps to improve, so I wanted to share a little bit of that in case it might help some of my fellow recovering procrastinators.
Don’t Plan Alone
One of the first major steps I took to become a better planner was to join a planning community. The support I’ve received from The Quarterly Planning Circle has been invaluable. Not only do we plan out our months together, but we’re given tons of incredible resources and tools to succeed. I took it a step further this year and joined the Quarterly Mastermind, which has added a layer of accountability and feedback I desperately needed. I truly believe I’d still be floundering with many of my business ideas if it weren’t for this group. I’m sure there are people out there who can plan on their own just fine. I am not one of those people. So a community of people working toward their goals together has really been crucial in helping me overcome procrastination.
Utilize Planning Tools
Equally important to having a planning community is utilizing a good planning tool. Trello has been my tool of choice, supplemented by my Passion Planner. Trello is a planning app that allows you to organize your to-do’s and set deadlines for yourself. So I use Trello to plan my projects and set my deadlines, and then I write out my daily tasks in my physical planner. Again, I’m sure there are people who don’t need to write down their tasks in two places. And again, I am not one of them. When it comes to planning, you really need to find what works for you. That might require experimenting with some different tools till you find something that keeps you on track. Invest the time to do that, because creating a good system for yourself absolutely pays dividends.
Try the One-Minute Rule
I heard about the one-minute rule when Gretchen Rubin shared about it on Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love podcast. It’s super simple, but it can make a huge difference in productivity. The rule is that if something takes one minute or less to do, you do it. You don’t walk by a coat hanging on the back of a chair—you grab it and hang it up. You don’t throw your single dish in the sink—you take 30 seconds to wash it or put it in the dishwasher. If a one-minute task presents itself, you just do it.
I’m loving this because it really cuts back on the accumulation of mundane tasks. It helps you keep up with your space and with your people better. Need to take 20 seconds to reply to someone? Just do it now while you’re thinking about it, instead of putting it off until you abruptly remember 10 days later that you never replied (oh, come on, you’ve never done that?). Need one minute to bring in your junk from the car, instead of letting it pile up till it looks like you’re living out of said car? Just do it as soon as you pull into the driveway. (If my husband is reading this, I’m not saying I do this well ALL THE TIME, so no snarky comments when you get home.)
I think these types of baby step ideas are great for those of us who generally procrastinate, because they don’t require a monumental change in behavior. You just have to be willing to make minor changes, and the result can be a profoundly different way of doing life.
Life as a Recovering Procrastinator
So, what’s the result of these changes I’ve made? One of the most significant changes is just in how I feel when I approach my tasks for the day. I have a sense of calm about it, and in the past that feeling was usually closer to panic. Additionally, I’ve experienced the totally strange phenomenon of being ahead of schedule. What? Who am I? Look out, world.
The other great thing about these changes is that I’m actually in control of my schedule. I always said that I was in control in the past—seeing as how I’m a freelancer, and the word “free” is in my title. But I wasn’t really in control. Deadlines catching up to me faster than I could seem to work actually left me feeling trapped and completely out of control—and certainly not free. Planning out my schedule and accounting for those deadlines has given me room to breathe. And I finally feel as “in control” of my schedule as I’ve claimed to be.
Having this control and sense of inner calm about my work and personal tasks is worth every second of time I’ve put into planning my schedule and practicing good habits. I strongly encourage anyone who might be feeling stuck or unable to keep up with their to-do list to put some of these ideas into practice. The up-front cost and time investment is absolutely worth it for long-term peace and success.