Let’s talk about some more common causes of procrastination. Last time I talked about environmental causes (disorganization and lack of focus) and “habitual” causes (bad habits and letting jobs pile up). Today I’ll discuss incorrect thinking.

Incorrect thinking, in this case, is emotional or irrational thinking. Human beings are incredibly adept at making themselves believe things that aren’t true, and I think this is a big cause of procrastination. Incorrect thinking involves mistaken assumptions about ourselves, our abilities, and our work.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Feeling Overwhelmed ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

How often have you put off a project because you were completely overwhelmed, or you didn’t know where to start? Perhaps this is a “lack of thinking” more than "incorrect thinking," but basically it’s failing to think through the steps involved in a project. Say you have to plan your child’s birthday party. Perhaps you’re a natural at this sort of thing, but I am Party Challenged. Let's say Chickpea’s birthday is in a month, but it seems like such a big, involved project that I’m at a loss. Where do I start?

The answer, of course, is with a list! Take a few minutes (or a bit longer for a larger project) and visually walk yourself through all the steps involved to complete the project. In the birthday party example, you have to decide on a location, check availability, choose a date and time, decide on a guest list, buy/create and send invitations, pick out party favors, and so on. Now you’ve broken that big, amorphous project into a bunch of easier-to-visualize tasks. Keep breaking it down into smaller chunks until you can look at each task and think, “Yeah, I can do that!”

For a project with a due date, like the party, the next thing you’ll do is back-time. To do this, make sure the tasks are in chronological order. For example, you can’t send out invitations until you decide on the guest list, so “Decide Guest List” would go above “Send Invitations” on your master list. Thus, the last item on your list should be the last one you plan on doing. Now, using your project due date as a starting point, work backwards and give each task its own due date.

Let’s say the party date is September 15. The party location needs a final head count three days before the party, so the RSVP date should be before September 12. Say you’ll give people a week to respond, add in a couple of days for the postal service to do its thing, and you’ll want to mail the invitations by September 2. Remember to add in some buffer time. You might have to track some people down for their RSVPs, or maybe you decide to order party favors online and it takes a week for shipping. What you don’t want to happen is to fall behind on one item because of an unforeseen circumstance, then have all the following tasks pile up. Lots of leeway means less stress for you.

Perhaps your project isn’t obviously chronological. Maybe it’s just big. In that case, you still need to break it down into bite-sized pieces, but there are several ways you could go about eating them. You might want to start with the hardest thing on the list, or the one you’re least looking forward to. If you get it out of the way first, you can fly through the rest of the project. Or maybe you’d like to start with the easiest things first, if a list of mostly-completed items motivates you to tackle the few remaining tough ones.

If your project is something along the lines of deep-cleaning your house, you might want to work one task at a time. First straighten up, then dust, then wash the walls, then vacuum. One thing at a time can keep the project from being overwhelming. Or work in spatial order. Work your way clockwise around the room, or clean from top to bottom. Whichever method works with that particular project is the way to go!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ But It’ll Take Forever! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next couple of incorrect thinking causes involve our awareness of time. I’m often amazed at how my perception of time can be so skewed, at both ends of the scale. DangerBear knows all too well that I am a notorious Under-Estimator when it comes to cooking. When he asks how long until dinner is ready, he knows to at least double whatever I tell him.

More often, I over-estimate the time required for tasks, especially cleaning or the things I can do in the kitchen to make sure dinner is ready on time (like chopping vegetables).

Think of something around the house that you routinely put off because you think it will take forever. Maybe it’s folding laundry, or unloading the dishwasher, or creating your meal plan. The next time you do it (force yourself, just this once), time yourself. Get out a stopwatch or a timer that can count up, and determine exactly how long it takes. You might even want to time yourself a few times, to get an average. How long does it really take to unload the dishwasher? I’ll bet it’s five minutes, max.

Maybe it really does take you a few minutes shy of forever to fold a load of whites. After all, there are hundreds of tiny socks to pair. In that case, work it in bits. Whenever you find yourself with a spare five minutes (perhaps while you’re procrastinating about something else), pair a few socks. Before you know it, you’ll be done. If you have to, set the timer for 5-15 minutes and give yourself permission to stop when the timer beeps. If you have a basket full of ironing, let yourself get it done fifteen minutes at a time. Preferably while listening to uplifting music!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Oh, It’ll Take No Time At All! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Let’s go to the other extreme. As I said before, I always underestimate how much time it will take me to get dinner on the table. It can be tempting to keep cramming more and more into our schedules, thinking that the new task or responsibility won’t take very long. (Example: For whatever reason, I decided to start a blog at the same time I was unpacking from a move, preparing to homeschool part-time, getting ready for two sets of overnight company, and baking for the state fair. Yeah. That’s what I’m talking about.)

What is the result? Lots of stress, that’s what. It’s no fun being pulled in twelve different directions all at once, and none of them get your full attention. If you’re so stressed out by everyone complaining that dinner is an hour late (again), how can you focus on doing it right? At that point, you’ll throw anything on the table and pray it tastes okay. Ladies, that’s not how we should be managing our God-given responsibilities!

Now what does all that have to do with procrastinating? It’s easy to put off getting dinner started when I tell myself it’ll only take half an hour. Underestimating how long something will take can give us “permission” to procrastinate. The solution, I think, is the same as for the other extreme. Think through all the steps involved and estimate how long it will really take, and time yourself!

Next time I’ll talk about… guess what? Even more causes of procrastination! Goodness, there are a bunch of them, aren’t there? In the meantime, if you’re a procrastinator, really think about which of these tips you could use, and try them out! I’d love to hear any tips you’d like to share, or ways in which you’ve improved or are struggling. Now it’s time for me to take some of my own advice, as DangerBear's family is coming tomorrow for a week-long visit!


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2 Responses
  1. Kate Says:

    Wow, this series is fantastic. I am a habitual procrastinator with everything not kitchen-related. And I often pay the price for that. There have been many times when I've had to stay up all night the day before company or a big event just to get things ready. I DO make lists, lots and lots of lists actually, but it's actually getting to do the stuff to cross of the list where I fall behind. And lots of times, the lists themselves make me feel overwhelmed and cause me to procrastinate even more!

    Your words are so true and encouraging. There is definitely much wisdom I can glean through these posts. I can't wait for the next one! Thanks!

  2. Kate Says:


    Thanks so much for your comment! I was considering putting the series off for a few weeks because things are so busy here, but now that I know that someone is reading and enjoying it, I'd like to keep going. =)

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