If you're a chronic procrastinator, there's one question you need to be asking yourself.

If you're a chronic procrastinator, there's one question you need to be asking yourself.

Like most 7th graders, I was a wreck at 12. I struggled to remember everything in the mornings as I left the house, and thereby was constantly calling home begging that my mom bring my forgotten items to school. I was totally unsure of where I fit in. And, tragically, I was brushing my curly hair until it resembled a loofah of frizz. I had zero things together.

My disorganization peaked that year, though, when an enormous project came due for our Social Studies class: the Asian Inventory. We were tasked with cataloging hundreds of household items by the location in which they were made as a lesson in how Asian manufacturing influenced our daily lives. Our class had been given several months to complete the project, and I had procrastinated. 

The day before the project was due, I was talking with some classmates in science class as they bemoaned the hours they’d spent the night before on the project. I finally said, “Well, at least you’re done! Now you can just enjoy tonight before we turn it in tomorrow.” 

My classmates looked at me incredulously for a few seconds in silence. “Colleen, you do realize the project is due today, right?”

Even now, more than two decades later, I feel the same pit in my stomach as I remember the moment the harsh reality punched me in the gut. I hadn’t started the project, due in an hour. I would fail. 

Minutes later, I went home, “sick.” It was completely dishonest, and I was desperate. I spent every minute of the next 10 hours silently working on my project in my bedroom while my parents assumed I was resting. 

I learned two really important lessons that day: first, a ton of stuff is made in Asia; secondly, and leaving a much bigger imprint, procrastination was my enemy.

Since that time, I’ve become an extremely organized and productive adult, in reaction to this pivotal childhood moment. Ever since, I strive to complete things ahead of deadline and wrestle with anxiety as a deadline approaches. 

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Overcoming my proclivity to procrastination required that I get organized. I am fully reliant on good systems of organization. I’m fond of the Google Suite of products for keeping my digital life together: Google Calendar for our family and my work schedule; Google Keep for notes, photos, reminders, and lists; Google Photos for photo storage and organization; Google Drive for spreadsheets upon spreadsheets. I rely on project management software to manage all of my to-do lists and projects, and ensure things are accomplished on time. 

But, technology alone isn’t enough to save me from myself when it comes to procrastination. If I find myself procrastinating, the first thing I have to ask myself is, “What are my blockers?” A blocker could be anything from an incomplete task that needs to precede the thing I’m avoiding, a misconception about what needs to happen, a distraction in my life, or as it most often is, missing information that prevents me from completing the task at hand.

One of the first times I ever wrote a grant report, I procrastinated for weeks. I couldn’t figure out why I was avoiding the project, until I finally buckled down to do it and realized that I didn’t know the answers to the questions I needed to answer. 

It was through no fault of my own: I hadn’t worked at the organization for more than a few months, and I was trying to answer questions about a year for which I wasn’t present. Understanding my gap in understanding unlocked the questions I needed to ask to complete the project, and from there it was simple work, hardly worth the anxiety it had caused.

Now, if I find myself avoiding and distracted when it comes time to do something, I pause and identify my blockers. As I complete a task, I think, “What next?” Then, rather than relying on my mind to serve that information to me, I look at my task list and see what’s next, and get to work.

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Colleen Cook works full-time as the Director of Operations at Vinyl Marketing in Ashland, where she resides with her husband Mike and three young daughters. She's an insatiable extrovert who enjoys finding reasons to gather people.