Tackle procrastination with the Ultimate Procrastination List

You do it.  I do it.  We all do it, I suppose.

But I’m thinking that perhaps I do it most of all.

I’m talking about procrastination.  I’ve been putting off writing this post. . . . . because I am such a wretched procrastinator. I am so bad at putting off things that I should do but don’t wanna do that I’ve paid late fees from it and worse.  Yes, I’ve lost money, I’ve endured the jeers and taunts of those I love, and I’ve lost countless hours of sleep.  I’ve probably encouraged a number of gray hairs and wrinkles to emerge, as well, all because I procrastinate.

All this worrisome procrastination came to a screeching halt earlier this month, however.  I found a cure, Gentle Readers, and today I’m sharing it with you.  I was tossing and turning one night when I should have been sleeping like a lamb, after the arduous day I had had.  What should have been a restful night turned into a miserable night of anxiety as my harassed brain ran over all those things that I had been putting off. I decided that I had had enough.  Something, it was clear, needed to be done.

Return the defective camera.  Go get your wedding ring re-sized. Make that appointment for that test. Find straw for this summer’s mulch. You know the list.  You’ve got one, too, don’t you?

Please say you do.

I got up early the next morning, as is my wont, stumbled about to the kitchen, and the first thing I did (after pouring myself a fortifying cup of coffee, and liberally lacing it with sugar and cream–I needed the courage) was to make a list.  The List. The Ultimate Procrastination  List.  The List of everything that was bugging me, everything that I had been putting off for weeks, months–in some cases (hanging my head in shame) years.  The list of niggling, bothersome little chores that was continuing to rob me of a good night’s sleep.

This little monkey looks as though he could, indeed, prove troublesome. (image Wikipedia)

Call about the water softener.  Set the date for Tim’s party.  Clean out the basement ‘fridge. Call Sandy about the roof. 

It felt good to write it all down, and I filled a long yellow index sheet in one, feverish, cathartic session.  I had my list of 30-some things that I had been procrastinating over written down in less than ten minutes. It was that close to the tip-top of my brain. I’m quite sure I’m the Worst Procrastinator on the Planet to be able to do this.  I could have written down more, but I decided that 30-some things was enough to tackle for now.

But enough. I was ready. Ready to throw this bothersome monkey (or in my case, all these bothersome, irritating, worrisome monkeys) off my weary back and then to look myself in the eye again (so to speak), to be able to sleep soundly at night once more, knowing that I had done my best to accomplish all these things that really needed to be done. By me.

Clean the garage. Sew the melodrama dummy back together.  Deliver the melodrama dummy, for pete’s sake! Order school pictures! Haul two broken chairs to the dump–or ask Bryan to. Find that lost Thomas the Tank Engine DVD from the library.  Return that lost Thomas the Tank Engine DVD to the library. Sigh.

Because, as you know, sometimes–although you don’t wanna do it–you’re the one who’s going to have to do it.  Putting it off doesn’t change that.  You’re the one.  Nobody’s going to rescue you.  Alas.  Alack.  (Just the annoying part of being a grown-up, I guess.)

File:Crab-eating Macaque tree.jpg

This little fellow looks like he could give you a run for your money. (image Wikipedia)

But simply writing it all down alone doesn’t get all those things accomplished, either, as you well know.

I had to come up with a plan, and since I’m a praying person, the first thing I did was to pray over this list.  “I have set the Lord always before me.  Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” –Psalm 16:8

Then I looked over my list, and did me some thinkin’ and a bit of planning.  I reckoned–with all my daily responsibilities and chores–that I could do four items a day, if I planned carefully.  None of these tasks should take more than an hour, I figured, and some only minutes. (I really procrastinate on making ‘phone calls.  I worked my way through college as a receptionist, spending large chunks of each day working an antiquated ‘phone system, and I still avoid the telephone, because of that.)

Call Chad.  Call the dentist.  Call Sandy.  Call the Sprinkler Guy–what’s his name?. Call the hydrant people. Call Larry. Call the mulch guy–what’s his name?  Call Dad and ask him if he knows the mulch guy’s name.

I was starting to get excited about this project. I was beginning to feel how awesome it would be to have all those naughty monkeys off my back.  I thought up a few rules to the game, because that’s what it was turning into:  a game.  1:  I’d take Sundays off, and 2: I’d set up a big reward for myself (I’m going to take my family out for dinner someplace special, but don’t tell, it’s a surprise!) for finishing it and also, 3: I’d be honest about following through on a big “punishment” if I went one day without accomplishing four of those tasks.  In essence, if I procrastinated on my Procrastination Project, I was going to have to pay for it.  I was going to have to pay for it dearly.

Here's my list, a few days in.  Awesome, isn't it?

Here’s my list, a few days in. Awesome, isn’t it?

I had to think about that for a few minutes.  What could be so awful that I would push through this procrastination problem and actually get all these little loathsome tasks  done?

Then it came to me–all in a flash–what would keep me on task, as far as this list was concerned. It was a brilliant idea.  It was cruel, insanely cruel, but brilliant.

I got this idea from my son Andrew, the enterprising young artist and blogger otherwise known as AndHeDrew.  His blog is all about creativity and productivity and if you need a little boost or encouragement in those areas, (and who doesn’t?) check it out right here  (you can check out his awesome online comic strip here, too, and see a cute picture of him doing his TED talk.)  Andrew and his wife Sonia do some pretty creative things to keep themselves motivated on tasks that they consider most important.

So I took an idea from their playbook and I decided that if I had to watch the worst movie I could think of, (with no seed catalog or knitting project or sketch book in hand to distract me) that I would do nearly anything to avoid that fate. (I’m like Jemima Puddle Duck–I’m not a good sitter. I knew it would be torture to sit through that movie again.)

I knew that I’d work hard on this list of things that I had been putting off forever, if it meant that I wouldn’t have to sit through this movie again.

“She’s holding him hostage . . . but he’s stealing her heart.”

(Disclaimer:  and if you are a Holiday in Handcuffs devotee, please skip this:  In our search for good, wholesome family movies last winter, we somehow ended up watching this one.  It was immediately evident to all of us that it was not a good movie in any sense of that word (once again, if you love this movie, then I apologize) but we sat and watched it, anyway.  It was just so poor that we couldn’t take our eyes off it it, and later we decided that its charm was in its awfulness.  But I never want to watch it again. Ever, ever, ever. And there’s really no charm.

Procrastination List

This li’l monkey is kinda cute, but the cute ones are oftentimes the most worrisome. Don’t you agree? (Thanks Wikipedia for sharing this image.)

So how has it worked out, you ask?  It has been amazing, actually.  Although I must admit to a few days this week of being under the weather, it has worked like a charm.  I’ve squeezed time out of my schedule (in which I thought there was no more time to be squeezed) and I’ve gotten a lot of things done that I have been putting off for a long, long time.  My mind already is beginning to feel freer, my heart lighter.  Somehow just looking at that list every night and planning which items I was going to do the next day, and then just doing them without much thought or folderol, was easier than I thought.

The family did laugh at me when I wrestled the melodrama dummy into the front seat of our car one evening, because we were driving someplace and sewing the wig back onto that dummy was on The List, but they also understood that they were going to have to share some space with dummy in the car that evening, because sewing that wig on was the fourth thing for me to do, and I was going to get it done.

Are you sold on this idea?  Here are 5 easy steps for you to make this super-simple strategy work for you:

  1. First, pour yourself a large cup of coffee–you’re gonna need it.  Just kidding.  (Kind of.) Make a list of all the things you’ve been putting off, things that you (for whatever reason) just don’t really wanna do.  You can make your own rules for what goes on the list, but for me, I decided that the items on my list first had to be “troubling” things that I had been putting off for weeks at least, and secondly, had to be things that I could do in an hour or less. (No “Eat the rest of the cherry nut ice cream,” or “Clean the entire house and re-paint it,” for example, because the ice cream is not a loathsome task, and the second can’t be done in less than–oh, a million hours. Or more.)
  2. Narrow your eyes, study your list and decide:  do you really have to do all those things?  Is there anything you can delegate to somebody else or just not do at all?
  3. Decide how many chores you can reasonably do each day without driving yourself or your loved ones completely batty, and not compromising your sleep or nutritional needs.  I chose four, and that has worked out pretty well for me.
  4. Plan a suitable reward and punishment system that will work for you.
  5. Tell enough people about your plan that you’ve got support and accountability.  Then you don’t have to answer over and over again “Why are you doing this today?” They’ll all know that you just really, really don’t want to watch “Holiday in Handcuffs” ever again. And they will be onboard. They may actually help you with some of the items on your list!

That’s it, Gentle Readers.  If you decide to embrace this rash-yet-brilliantly-simple-system for yourself, in battling those loathsome, procrastinated tasks in your life, I’d love to hear about it.

Get those monkeys off your back!

By the way, I’m going to share this post with the wonderful folks over at The Prairie Homestead. Maybe there’s a few of them who need to make an Ultimate Procrastination List, too. 🙂


41 thoughts on “Tackle procrastination with the Ultimate Procrastination List

  1. Tracy

    Oh this is such a good idea, I know I keep generating to-do lists but just never seem to get everything done…. usually because there are things I just would rather not do. I think its time to generate the whole big list and really tackle it once and for all.

  2. Toni Nelson

    I like to write things down that need to be done. It’s gives you such a sense of accomplishment as you scratch that “to do” list item off one by one. I find it helps me keep organized.

  3. Carrie

    OMG… seriously, were we separated at birth? I am going to take your advice, girlie – but 4 a day? Not sure I can pull that off. It would be like going “cold turkey” on procrastination and I’m not sure I could do it!! Hugs and THANKS!

  4. Francene Stanley

    I leave things as long as I can and then just DO them. To the best of my ability. Sometimes, I don’t quite finish for one reason or another, but at least I’ve started and I know the task will be easier. Today, my husband and I tried to find a place that takes passport photos. I need one to renew my disability badge. I’ve filled out the lengthy form. stating why I need on, how fast I can walk–all the stupid details. No photo yet. But we’ve heard about another place that does them in a little booth. Then, I need to photocopy my official documents, get them to someone in authority to sign that they are true, assemble all the paperwork and send it off. I guess next week will be the soonest I can do it now. Phew! That explanation was almost as hard as procrastinating about it.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      It’s always easier to write about something, I think, than just to settle down and DO IT. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Regina Walker

    Eek. Amy. Please, please take this post down, let me un-read it, and post it again in, oh say…a month! (I’m a bad procrastinator, and I’d like a pass to procrastinate getting over my procrastination.) Ugh…coffee in hand. List commencing. Maybe this is good for me….maybe I’ll be enthusiastically blogging about it soon, too! Keep writing my dear!

  6. Rachel Flower

    Great suggestions. I love your lists. So real. I feel I am getting to know you beautifully through this.
    I know the challenge of big impossible lists. I’ve had to create reward systems of my own to make sure I get to everything. But sometimes the lists just grow out of control and I need some weed killer!

  7. Jenn L

    Great topic! I struggle with this. I usually have a big list that I keep and cross off everything as I go along. I make sure and put the “little” things on there, too, because they’re easy to quickly finish and I feel more accomplished to tackle the big ones!

  8. Susan

    Oh, I love this, Amy. It’s good to find another person on the planet who avoids the telephone like the plague. And also another procrastinator. I put off calling a plumber for 3 months, even though there was a pipe outside that was dripping. It’d been dripping since Christmas and by March it was threatening to become a stream. Still didn’t phone a plumber. Eventually, my nephew-in-law happened to notice it when he was in the garden, knew exactly what it was and fixed it in about 30 seconds flat! And there I had been, out in all the freezing temperatures, emptying that bucket I’d put underneath to catch the drips. Hey-ho!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      ohh, Susan, I have some stories that could top your plumbing story. I have to fly today, but remind me and I WILL tell you a really good one, okay? One involves termites. Another one involves a leak in the roof. Need I go on? Thanks for sharing, sweetie!

  9. Rebecca Mugridge

    I LOVE this post!! I laughed and laughed and now I am inspired to get my own naughty monkeys off my back!
    Thank you!
    PS I haven’t seen hat movie so I will avoid, avoid, avoid with the kids net time we are in the video shop haha 😉

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  11. The Great Gordino

    Hi Amy,
    this is a great plan!
    Anyone taking this exercise *will* make progress, will be further foward than they were before.
    Something I’ve written about in my book is habit and momentum, that once we break the barrier of actually starting something, sometimes we find it hard to stop, that we find ourselves moving much further than we thought we would.

    I also love your idea of dishing out self punishment by watching your least favourite film – ha!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I like the term “habit and momentum” and I agree with you, that once you get started on something like a long to-do list, things just seem to build up momentum. Stuff happens, and I like that. Thanks for your comment!

  12. Harriet Stack

    I really enjoyed this Amy! I am a real procrastinator if I allow myself but it doesn’t cause me as much difficulty as it used to. One of the things I do is to decide that I really am not going to do some of those things I’ve been putting off for a very long time. That’s a relief! Also, I do things really quickly (without being slapdash) rather than labour over them. And I’ve started to keep my to do list on my screen on one of those virtual post it notes, so I can see all day if it’s getting a bit full! I love your approach and I’m seriously considering sitting myself down to see whether there are longer term procrastinations than need to be rooted out!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I agree with your approach to just get the list done really quickly–the longer I think over a task, the more reasons I can find to put it off again!–thanks so much for your comment!

  13. Carolina HeartStrings

    This whole post is brilliant! I can imagine your to-do list is always lengthy. I find I have to-do things that get done (usually out of immediate necessity) and others that I procrastinate about. I have tried to use the lesser-of-two evils approach on some of them and can get some of them knocked out. It’s just the evil ones that don’t get done. I love your 5 point attack plan. Perhaps some of the nasties will get done!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      After being gone for a few days, I find that I have to start all over with a brand-new list! Alas! But I did get a lot of items knocked off of that first one, so I’ll not forget that! Hope this helps you!

  14. Delia @ Blog Formatting

    Oh, the list. I should start it, yes. I actually have quite a few lists so I need to put them together for start and then attack the items on them.
    I’ve done it before so I know your tips work. Now if I can only stop procrastinating and write that list 🙂 Thanks for a great post, Amy!

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