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You’re not alone. Pretty much everyone procrastinates in some way and up to 20% of the adult population are deemed chronic sufferers. There is no doubt that there can be real world consequences if you consistently miss deadlines at work or in life. Business can be lost and fines levied. And yet, if we’re honest, many deadlines are wholly arbitrary, particularly the ones we set ourselves.

What’s more, how does labelling people with a problem or telling them they are wasting their lives help?

Might there not be less aggressive means of framing what in essence is simply doing something later than someone had initially planned? Perhaps the mistake was deciding it needed to be done earlier.

What if, just for the purposes of this conversation, we get rid of the concept of procrastination.

Instead, let’s query our to-do lists rather than ourselves. The invitation is to simply open up today’s to-do list and, for every item on it, to go through a series of tests intended to ease your burden:

TEST 1: DOES IT NEED TO BE DONE?

  • Does the task really need to be done?
  • What is the desired outcome?
  • Is there a way of achieving the same outcome with less effort?

TEST 2: DOES IT NEED TO BE DONE TODAY?

  • When does this activity really need to be done?
  • Might it benefit from some extra thinking time?

TEST 3: DOES IT NEED TO BE DONE BY ME?

  • You may well conclude that it does indeed need to be done in principle but does it need to be done by you?
  • What will happen if you don’t do it? In line with Stoic thought, visualise the worst possible outcome. How bad would it really be?
  • If you decide you have to do it, do you have to do it all?
  • Might it be possible to split it into smaller tasks, some of which might be done by others?
  • Are there some parts you might enjoy doing?

TEST 4: HOW MIGHT I ACCOMPLISH WHAT IS LEFT?

  • For anything still on your plate, when might be the best time for you to do it?
  • How might you block out time to accomplish this?
  • Is this a deep task that requires you to set aside 90 minutes in silence or can bits and pieces (microtasks) be done in free moments during the day?
  • Try visualising your day and where all the pieces might fit.

Above all, consider how you might be more compassionate with yourself!