I have a confession to make.
We all have demons. Some of us have several of them. Nasty little things that sit on your shoulder and whisper evil little temptations into your ear.
I have one demon that is bigger and more cunning than all the rest. His name is procrastination.
Procrastination. It’s a weirdly long and medical name for something that is short and nasty and human. The word feels dry and cold. The demon itself is hot and slimy and vicious as hell.
For those lucky ones who don’t suffer from procrastination, this is how it goes…
It starts when you are given a job to do. It might be something that you have always wanted to do, like writing a novel. It might be something that you need to do, such as going to the dentist. Phoning a long-lost friend. It could be a work project. Anything.
You decide not to do the job straight away. Maybe you haven’t got everything that you need. The time isn’t right. There is something unpleasant that you have to overcome. You are afraid of failing. You’ve never done it before.
But you’re not really worried. There are lots of other things that need doing first. You’ll get around to it. It’s on the list. All is well.
This is when the procrastination demon goes into stealth mode. He keeps quiet, pulls a hood over his horned head, lurks in the shadows. You forget that he is there. And if you do notice him, he will whisper sweet reassurances….
“The deadline is still ages away.”
“You’re still not ready.”
“Go do something else.”
Time slithers by. You forget about the job. Eventually you realise that it is getting (or has got) way overdue. And this is when the demon plays his cleverest trick. The very fact that the job is late becomes a barrier to doing it.
You can’t do that project for your boss because you would have to apologise to him for being late.
You can’t start that novel because you have been trying to write it for years. Surely that means that you are never going to be a writer? A real writer would be on to the fourth book in the series by now.
You can’t go to the dentist because you would have to explain where you have been for the past few years.
The job becomes impossible to do. And now the demon comes out of stealth mode. Instead of lurking, he starts to tease you. He makes you feel guilty for failing. And all the while the undone job sits there, like a malevolent blob of bacteria, slowly festering.
Procrastination is a bit like putting food into the fridge. No, really, it is. It will make sense in a minute. Promise.
When you first put food into the fridge, you have the best of intentions. You’re going to eat it soon. Those leftover beans will go well with tomorrow’s supper. That cheese will make a fabulous omelette.
But if you leave the beans or cheese a little too long, it will start to look tired. Then it will grow “vile with green and livid spot” (as Keats once said). Then you can become afraid to look at it. Eventually you have to throw it out.
That is when the demon does a devilish high five with himself. What he really wants you to do is to give up. That novel never gets finished. Your project becomes so out of date that it isn’t worth finishing.
I have suffered from procrastination all my life. Don’t get me wrong – I am very good at getting a job done when I’m in the right mood. I’ve written seven novels, published two and I am close to publishing a third. I can write you a technical report in a weekend.
But I’ve also got a long list of shame. That sports car in the garage that I bought to tinker with. The decade I went without going to the dentist. The boring “easy” work jobs that I put to one side while I enjoy doing the difficult and thinking jobs.
If you don’t suffer from the P-demon, you won’t understand. It’s easy. Just get off your lazy arse and do it. But those of us who do have this demon know it is not as easy as that.
It’s time to fight back.
The first thing we have to realise is that it’s okay to suffer from procrastination. You are not the first and you most certainly won’t be the last. One day, it might have a medical explanation. It could be all to do with chemicals in the brain. DNA. Psychology. Oh, I don’t know. Insert some technobabble here and season to taste.
Don’t beat yourself up for procrastinating. Guilt is one of the demon’s main weapons. Let that guilt go. We are where we are.
Next, we need to write off any guilt for past or current procrastinations. Yesterday is a land that we can never revisit, my friends. Let it go. No point in worrying about what you didn’t do.
Then we need to clear out the fridge. Make a list of all the jobs that are lurking in the darker recesses of your to do list. Every last one. It will probably be a horrible shameful list, but write it down all the same.
Because I’ve got some good news for you. You almost certainly have a hidden superpower that you didn’t know about.
You see, many procrastinators are also very good at doing things in a hurry. Because they often find themselves in time pressure, they can be very good in dealing with time pressure.
You’re going to unleash that superpower now. Go through the list and pick one back-of-the-fridge job that has been hanging around. Your task now is to move that job on, even by a tiny fraction. If you don’t know how to do something, contact someone who does. If you are ashamed by its lateness, tell yourself that it would be even more shameful if it gets later. Phone the dentist and make an appointment.
Imagine that this is the last day before you go on holiday/ vacation. You have just got to finish this one job and then you are free to party. Hmm … shall we say a month in Venice, at the Grand Hotel, all expenses paid?
Blitz through this job as ruthlessly and efficiently as you can. Not tomorrow. Not next week. NOW.
You can do it. You’ve done it before. You are good at this. And, besides, Venice is waiting. All the ice creams and gondola rides that you can eat.
If you don’t know how to deal with something, look through your address book for a friend who can help. Or Google the question. Buy a “how to” book. Anything to get you started.
Finish the job off. 100%. Every last little bit. If you can’t finish it in one go, do as much as you can today. Even if it is just to pick up the phone to make an appointment. And then finish it as soon as possible.
Now … doesn’t that feel good? It was almost certainly not as difficult as you thought it would be.
That is one demon that is not on your shoulder any more. You can’t see these demons because they have mastered the art of invisibility. But if you could see him, he would be slinking off into the distance, shoulders hunched, head bowed and pointed tail dragging between his legs. He’s muttering and grumbling to himself. We can’t hear what he is saying, but he doesn’t seem happy.
You did that. Be proud – be very proud.
Now go and do the rest. Work your way through the list and either do it or ditch it. Those demons will only get bigger and uglier if you leave them untouched.
If it gets sticky … and it will … think back to the jobs that you have crossed off the list. Think forward to the Grand Hotel in Venice. What shall we have for supper tonight? I am thinking seafood risotto, a glass of Prosecco, with tiramisu to finish. On a terrace restaurant overlooking the Grand Canal.
But first we’ve got at least one of those jobs to do….
Next time, we’ll talk about how we can stop ourselves from getting into that mess in future. For now, we should just focus on clearing out the fridge.