Cindy Caldwell is a consultant for Randstad Creative and a freelance writer residing in Atlanta, GA. Cindy assists graphic designers, web designers and other creative professionals in finding work as well as clients searching for these professionals in the Atlanta area. She is also working on her first young adult novel. Before joining Randstad Creative in 2004, Cindy’s career included marketing, web project management and event planning.
Procrastination - A Four-Letter Word
By Cindy Caldwell
What is procrastination and how does it become such an ingrained habit? We get into a horrible cycle of not doing what we are supposed to be doing, then feeling guilty about not doing it, so we go to our computers to play on our MYSPACE page in complete denial and self-depreciation because we don’t want to deal with it at all.
For freelancers working from home or out of an office, sometimes we have to go through the Five Stages of Procrastination before the creative juices start flowing:
Denial – “I have nothing better to do tonight…maybe I can sway a couple of my colleagues to go have a couple of drinks and hang out – besides, it is soooo nice out.” Anger – “You want me to write how many pages in an hour? Isn’t it enough that I got my daughter to school, showed up on time for the staff meeting, got caught up on my emails, and actually organized my desk before 11am?” Bargaining – “If I spend 45 minutes working on the article, then I deserve to play Tetris for 15 minutes.” Depression – “There’s too much to do, it is so overwhelming, where do I start, I’ll be up all nite…..gosh, I’m so tired - I think I’ll take a nap.” Acceptance – “Why didn’t I start this article sooner? A paycheck would be nice right about now, so I guess I’ll do it.”
Leah Henderson, a life and business coach with Henderson & Associates here in Atlanta, provided some insight to this dirty little secret. She says that procrastination keeps us from doing the things that we want to accomplish and steals opportunities.
Why do we procrastinate? Let us count the ways:
1. Lack of vision. If you don’t know where you really want to end up, then it’s difficult to get started on a journey. Set a goal or a “vision” and then plan the “baby steps” to get you there. Start with a general outline or checklist--it doesn’t have to be rocket science; keeping it simple is key.
2. Distractions. We wake up in the morning, get to the office and get preoccupied with “Gotta make coffee. Gotta check my messages. Oh look! More email!” We look at what is right in front of us instead of thinking intentionally, “This is what I want to accomplish today.” Having a list of things that need to be accomplished and doing them in some sort of order helps put order in our lives. Label them “H” for high-priority (must be done first, “M” for medium-priority (must be done before end of business), and “L” for low or “can be done another day”.
But be aware of making lists to put off what you really need to be doing, like filling up your Outlook with the things you need to be doing. Before you know it it’s time for lunch. People have a tendency to get in the rut of writing “lists” FOR lists.
3. Fear of Getting It Wrong and Lack of Confidence. Often times people will have the ambition to get the task done, but they don’t know how. If you don’t have the skills that you need, then acquire those skills. If you allow fear of not being adequate get in your way, your imagination can take over and before you know it, you can talk yourself out of being competent in any area of your life.
Say you’re looking for a new job. You have a portfolio with all your marketing brochures and catalogs you’ve helped put together throughout the years, but employers are asking you to email your samples as PDFs. You’re not a designer, you don’t have a scanner or Acrobat, so you just keep putting the task off rather than go ask someone for help or go to Kinko’s and have them put your things on disc. If you need help, just ask and get the ball rolling.
4. Indecision. It is a cousin of “getting it wrong”. Most of the time when people can’t decide how to get something accomplished, it is often because they haven’t tested their ability to make a good decision or remember making a wrong decision and don’t want to repeat it. Most decisions are not life and death. We seem to handle life and death decisions just fine. It is the “should this logo be red or purple?” that occupies the space in our minds.
5. Boring tasks. Some tasks are boring. Period. Get over it. If you put off a boring task, it grows when you go to sleep. The next day you have “Boring Task X 2”. Remember why the boring tasks need to be done. You don’t want to ruin your credit, so you have to pay your bills on a certain day. Your company likes to know you’re out visiting clients, so you have to document things in your database.
6. This task is overwhelming! I just don’t have the time! When a task is overwhelming or you feel that it will take too much time “right now”, then you need to break the task into smaller chunks. If you wanted to design your own website, you could break it down into time chunks. “I’ll work on this every Wednesday from 3 – 5 in the afternoon and Friday morning from 9 – 11 am” until it’s accomplished. You don’t have to do it all in one shot. If you don’t have 2 hours like that, then make it even more doable for yourself by putting it into 15 – 20 minute chunks.
7. I don’t have a “real” deadline, so I should get something else done. Many people procrastinate because they may have their own personal deadline, but no one to answer to or be accountable to. Fiction writers who do not have a publisher yet fall into this category. Set your own deadlines, block out time in your calendar and make an appointment with yourself. Ask a friend or colleague to do weekly checks with you to make sure you’re staying on task. Or join a writer’s group or graphic design association so you have to show off new pieces on a regular basis.
Henderson says, “Procrastination both drives us to those places where there are tasks to accomplish and at the same time keeps us from doing the tasks that we put off until tomorrow.” Time is precious. If we are lucky enough to be getting paid for doing the work we love, embrace all the tasks, large and small. Don’t put off projects because of feeling overwhelmed—just jump in!
About the Author
Cindy Caldwell is a consultant for Randstad Creative and a freelance writer residing in Atlanta, GA. Cindy assists graphic designers, web designers and other creative professionals in finding work as well as clients searching for these professionals in the Atlanta area. She is also working on her first young adult novel. Before joining Randstad Creative in 2004, Cindy’s career included marketing, web project management and event planning. You can contact Cindy via email.