For as long as I can remember, I procrastinate. I wish it were a sexier word, one that didn’t sound like I dropped my keys on the floor while getting home later than I said I would. But I guess it’s like it sounds.
In college and graduate school, I put work off until the last minute. I believed in “tomorrow,” “it can wait,” and “I have other things to do.” Often tests were taken with crossed fingers and magic. I always had rules though—you have to when handling your time—go to every class and from class, go to the library. Show up! I placed myself within the environment of my schooling, hoping that this would make up for the procrastination.
Outside of school, same story. My yoga practice took on a similar shape. When I avoided showing up for class, I looked for others way to implement physical nourishment. I learned from others who also struggled with this particular self-care. Why is it that we don’t show up for things that are so good for us? I started signing up and paying for classes in advance, put my leggings on an hour before, asked a friend to go so that I was excited to share the experience, and that I would be held accountable. To this day, I will go, begrudgingly at first, but in the end I will never regret going. I observed my procrastination and worked with it.
Thus I came to the conclusion that my relationship to my procrastination is not negative. It doesn’t need to be. Sometimes the pressure is needed to push myself in another direction. And so how do we push pass the procrastination and begin to wield it as a tool?
Redefine your reasons.
Some of us call reasons for procrastination “excuses.” What’s up with that? In an age of judgement, advocate for yourself. Take a step back and detach from any negative associations you may have for taking your time. These are your reasons. Own them. Honor them. Write them down and tape them to your mirror: I believe I have the time because it is mine.
Ask yourself why you procrastinate. Define, or call it something. I asked a friend why he procrastinates and he responded ambiguously “I fear the results of an action” and with curiosity and talking it out, he unpacked the sentence to a point where he admitted he didn’t need to procrastinate anymore. He said, “it’s something I want to work on.” When we offer something a name, it’s no longer something to fear.
Do while not doing.
This is a funny one. A prolific novelist (and mother of teenagers) offered the advice, “write while not writing.” So my advice to you is whatever it is you are procrastinating, while you’re not doing it, think about it. Immerse yourself within the language of it. Engage with the ideas of it, maybe jot somethings down.
Thinking about teacher training? Jot down what sort of style you imagine teaching. Don’t worry about its manifestation yet. Ride the wave of your timeline. When the time comes to do it, you’ll already have done it in one form. Your only schedule is your own.
Know your seasons.
Consider your energy levels given the time of year, month, and week. Throughout your day, when do you have the most and least energy?
This could be an easier assessment for those who have a routine of their sleep and diet, but could grow complicated with the involvement of life: social obligations, work schedules, stress, caring for others, and more. Budget your energy as you would your time.
Know it is okay to skip out on something to do that is more compatible for your energy level. If everyone’s going dancing and you had a long week, embrace the joy of missing out. Take a bubble bath and binge watch a show in your underwear. If you find yourself exhausted early in the morning, maybe you’re more suited for nighttime yoga. The goal is to find something that works uniquely with you.
Make a list.
Of all the things you need to do on any given day. Order this list not by priority, but by type. Do you have to respond to an email, surf the web for a gift, sign up for a meditation workshop, and run to the post office? Contain the like items, “computer work” in one box, and “the errand stuff” in another. This process will allow for you to apply your seasons by asking yourself what’s possible in the moment and otherwise be efficient in the act.
You might not be a list person or a person who writes things down. Try changing it up! See if the practice works for you. I write everything down. If anything, I sleep easier knowing my thoughts are resting on paper. It also feels good to witness crossing things off a list, especially all of the web type things that otherwise poof off into the unknown.
Embrace change, even if that means a break.
Yes, take a break! Take all the breaks you need! Take a vacation! Maybe your procrastination is the product of feeling stuck. Move your body as a freedom to let your mind create. Gain a new perspective with a forward fold, a walk around the block. Read a book. Make yourself a meal. Stand at your window and drink a glass of water. Breathe, and feel your body fill with inspiration.
Learn how to say no.
But in a way that serves you. Remember you? Yeah, the incredible, creative, intuitive, generous, inquisitive you! You keep giving and giving, but when are you going to say “Nope, sorry buck-o, I’m done for the day!”?
You may find that saying no to things prevents you from overcommitting, and thus having to procrastinate on things due to being spread too thin. Say no to things you don’t need and welcome in the space for the things that do. Remember you, and forgive yourself when all else fails. You’re only human.
Procrastination is not the enemy—it’s a sign. Notice your procrastination, consider the reasons, and eventually you’ll find yourself pushing past it. Awareness can start today.
Karen Cygnarowicz is a writer and artist living in Portland, Oregon, where she serves as a studio assistant to Emily Katz at Modern Macramé. She received her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Follow her art shop, Wild Light Design and her Instagram, as she explores what it means to be wildly human.