Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Procrastination vs. Priorities

I know this statement is going to incite hate mail, but here goes anyway: I can’t procrastinate.

In college, I turned in my honors thesis a month early, while many of my friends stayed up the entire night before the deadline to get theirs done. I also got all my homework done before it was due, and never crammed for tests – I studied during the semester instead and got the normal eight hours of sleep the nights before finals. When I did an internship at a newspaper in Guadalajara, I didn’t know the meaning of “on deadline;” all my stuff was turned in hours if not days in advance.

Despite what you think, I am not saying this to brag. I am in fact somewhat envious of people who can procrastinate, or at least people whose heads are not torn apart thinking about what they have to do before it actually needs to be done.

You see, the down side of the anti-procrastination gene is that you are constantly trying to get EVERYTHING done: you make a list and think, “There’s no reason why I can’t get all 35 of these things done today.”

It’s easy to forget what little things might get in the way of finishing off your checklist in one fell swoop: eating, sleeping, exercise, personal time, and oh yeah, the time it actually takes to complete a task. When I think about completing a task that will take a fair amount of time, I resent it, and I start it, even if it doesn’t need to be started yet. Suddenly I am up to my eyeballs in things I’ve started that I can’t finish, because I couldn’t prioritize them – I was too busy worrying about procrastinating on them. (If you start it, you haven’t procrastinated on it…right?)

I may be unable to procrastinate, but I am also unable to prioritize. Often, I get sidetracked working on a project that is not as pressing as others on my list, or does not need to be done at all. I get worked into a flurry thinking about all the things on my list, without actually going through the list and moving the things that can wait to the bottom. I set incredibly ambitious goals for myself, and I am inevitably let down when I can’t meet them.

Thankfully, there is something I can do about this: I can learn the difference between procrastination and prioritization. This means writing it on my list, but picking 2-3 things off the list to do a day, and letting the rest shuffle up the list until I can get to them. I can remember that it’s ok to only do so many things a day, a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime, and that if I do it this way, I will be healthier, happier, and most likely, a lot more productive.

I am learning that nothing is a failure if you learn something from it. Therefore my über-busy, burned out past does not mean that I couldn’t hack it; it simply means that I couldn’t prioritize it. When I think about it, I can’t say that I know what the hurry is with many of my tasks – what would happen if I didn’t get my list done in a day, a week, a month? Oh yes: it would mean I was human, and doing the best I could while continuing to enjoy the process of living.

Love and procrastinated kisses