When was the last time you rang your Grandparents? Or shared a yarn with your next-door neighbour? Maybe you’ve been meaning to connect with a local charity or community project, but whether it’s been work, or study or any number of other events in your life, there’s always been a reason to put it off for later.
When people talk about procrastination, they often refer to examples of school or work, putting off writing a report or studying for an exam. So, often we overlook how the ways we put off strengthening our vital human connections are in fact forms of procrastination.
So enter the COVID-19 pandemic, and while this time has been fraught with tragedy and anxiety, the silver lining has been that it has given us the more time and reason to connect with our friends, family and community - albeit in new and different ways. So how is it you’ve found time to re-watch the entire 201 episodes of The Office, to complete four different 1000 piece puzzles, and alphabetise your recipe books, but still haven’t called Nanna?
First of all don’t feel bad, you are most definitely not the only one putting these things off. But, if we all know the value of human connection, we know that ticking a task as simple as picking up the phone will make us feel better, why do so many of us continue to put it off?
Many of the theories around procrastination dispute the myth that it’s a character flaw, and that procrastinators are just lazy - they argue that it comes down to the avoidance of negative feelings. When it comes to tasks for work or study, these negative feelings often centre on insecurities about your abilities or a fear of failing. When it comes to social tasks, these negative feelings usually boil down to similar anxieties and fears of rejection. However, while for most procrastinators the fear of not meeting the looming deadline of a task for work or study will often override the fears that had you putting off the task; social tasks without any specific deadlines don’t offer the same motivations.
So what can you do to avoid the rabbit holes of YouTube, Netflix binges, and colour-coding your bookshelf?
The first tip is to take a moment to forgive yourself. By reminding yourself that everybody is guilty of procrastination on some level, you can acknowledge and accept your actions in the past, and approach your task without giving into the negative emotions. A little self-compassion and perspective will let you realise that what you’re afraid of is only one possible outcome.
From there the next tip is to focus on the other possible positive outcomes. Psychologists talk about peoples ‘approach’ and ‘avoid’ motives. Your avoid motives are your reasons to not do the task, or to put something else at a higher priority. By avoiding negative feelings, and choosing to laugh at Steve Carell’s ridiculous workplace antics instead, your avoid motives quickly outweigh those urging you to approach. You can reinforce your approach motives through a mental mantra (I love my Nanna!), or maybe a big post-it note or smiling picture of Nanna stuck to the side of your computer can help override your avoid motives.
And finally, you can further outsmart these avoid motives by planning ahead and removing temptations. Your avoid motives often push you towards shiny objects of instant gratification and, with a little self-reflection, you can usually come up with the things you know are most likely to distract you. Whether that’s not turning on the TV in the morning and having your coffee with a neighbour instead. Or maybe you can make the call to that charity or community event coordinator before you open your emails or social media accounts. While you’re working on your To Don’t list, put a little extra effort in your To Do list as well. Don’t just write ‘call Nanna’ on the list, put down a time you know she’ll be available, even set an alarm or calendar alert for the time to remind you.
These social tasks may not have the same tangible results as writing an eight page report, but can hold a world of value not just to you, but to the people you are connecting with as well.