Procrastination: Swatting The Ankle Biters

Darren Kaltved | November 9, 2021

Have you ever noticed that the longer you procrastinate about doing something, the bigger it seems to become, and tougher to begin to tackle? Then, when you actually do whatever it was you were putting off, you feel so good that it is over that you are surprised you didn’t just do it when it first showed up on your “to-do” list?

In fact, it seems as though you spent far more time and energy worrying and thinking about doing whatever it was than it took to actually do it. Sometimes those tasks are pretty significant, writing and defending a thesis, for instance, and sometimes they are less so, perhaps scheduling a doctor’s appointment.

No matter the size of the tasks, the longer you put them off, the more stress they can create in your life. A wise friend refers to things about which we are prone to procrastinate as “ankle biters” — like those annoying “no- see-um” flies that can take the fun out of being outside.

The more of them there are, the more stressed you feel, the more fatigued you become, and the less likely you are to begin those things which you have been putting off.

Here are some easy things you can do to help you avoid procrastinating.

Make lists.
Writing down what needs to be done will help you prioritize and plan.

Set deadlines.
This is most helpful for the larger items on your list. Say you are in graduate school and you plan to graduate in May. In order to avoid the all too common dilemma of trying to search for a job and finish your Master’s project at the same time, set deadlines for yourself to help ensure that you will be able to complete the project prior to graduation.

Yes, you will be beyond busy, but it will be far easier to finish your project before you graduate (and commencement will be much more enjoyable!) than if you wait until you are in job search (which requires significant time, effort and energy) or if you wait until you employed in a new position. Our experience in Career Services is that once people are hired, they have a much harder time completing their projects.

Schedule time.
Just as you block time on your calendar for other kinds of appointments, do the same for the tasks you are avoiding. Many people find that scheduling less savory tasks early in the morning is helpful.
Set a timer. Even the most unpleasant task is more do-able if you know you can quit after 20 or 30 minutes. Set a timer to work on your task for as long as you are willing to do it. More often than not, you will find that once you have begun you are willing to keep going on it. And you can always reset the timer to provide you with that “light at the end of tunnel.”

Take baby steps.
Just as setting the timer can help to get you started, dividing your task into small pieces can make it easier to begin.

Ask someone to hold you accountable.
If you suspect that you may not be disciplined enough to follow through on your plan if left on your own, ask a trusted friend or mentor to check in with you on your deadline dates to get an update on your progress. Knowing you will be held accountable can be a great motivator.

Reward yourself.
When you have met a deadline or crossed off a few of the items on your list, reward yourself! Make it something you enjoy and promise yourself more rewards as you make more progress. We all need positive reinforcement now and then, and a reward will make the journey to completion of your project much more enjoyable.

There is another aspect to procrastinating that you will want to consider. Think about what you do when you are procrastinating. Do you text messages your friends, peruse the internet, check your email?

Identify what it is you do when you are procrastinating, and use some of the same techniques to help you manage how much time you waste on those relatively non-productive activities. Schedule a certain time each day to do them; set a timer and don’t go beyond your allotted time; reward yourself if you avoid your “time wasters” for an entire day.

Now, what ankle biters are on your “to-do” list? Apply the tips above and start swatting!

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