As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a procrastinator! I’m that person who wrote her Master’s dissertation in 3 agonising days… And as painful as that experience was, it really didn’t teach me anything because to this day I continue to avoid tasks at hand for as long as possible until the deadline is so close that I really need to race to it. And each time I submit my application 1 minute before the submission window is closed, I ask myself: “Ria, why are you like this?”

To some extent, such mentality comes from the fact that I know pretty well how long it takes me to do certain things. If I’m confident that I can avoid working hard for a definite amount of time without serious consequences, why bother starting sooner? And if things suddenly do take longer than expected, then a sprint to the finish line can almost be like a spontaneous adventure. This is another reason for my constant procrastination until the very last moment because, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m that type of a person who really thrives under pressure.

Even though it can be understandable why I might wish to avoid working on something as boring as a 25,000-word dissertation, recently I started noticing that even with the most exciting of projects, I can still be slow and reluctant to get them done unless I have a deadline in front of me which isn’t self-imposed. For a while, I thought it was just pure laziness and I felt bad that I’ve taken my love for procrastination to a whole new level. However, upon further reflection, I’ve come to realise that such behaviour is probably quite unusual for a super bubbly and enthusiastic person like me, and there must be something else to it. I’ve decided to dig deeper and figure out what it is that sometimes prevents me from doing the things I love the most. After finishing with soul-searching, I’ve discovered that it’s mainly the 3 particular mindsets that keep triggering my most unproductive behaviour. I thought I’d share my revelations with you in case you find them helpful or, perhaps, notice that your brain falls into the same traps.

Photo by Jamie McNamee

Too. Much. On. 

Sometimes when I have a lot to do, I feel like it’s just too much for me and I don’t want to do anything at all… This is probably very illogical but I definitely notice that when my to-do list looks like a gigantic monstrosity and the time on the clock shows 8 PM, all of my productivity goes out the window. Instead of working harder in a short period of time that I have, I start wasting my time procrastinating. I feel anxious about the amount of work and worried that I won’t get it done on time. Simultaneously, I become easily distracted and feel reluctant to crack on with the tasks. This is of course if the official submission deadline is not set for 10 PM and I don’t feel like I’m about to have a panic attack.

For a while, I kept calling myself lazy and gave endless promises that I’d do better the following day. However, when I finally decided to address the root of the problem, it became obvious that I use procrastination as a crutch to help me deal with anxious thoughts. As I know in advance that my to-do list will only be growing, it makes me feel defeated that regardless of ticking off a few points, by the end of the evening it will seem like I haven’t progressed at all. This creates a perception like I have to go into a battle knowing that I’m going to lose it. Such negative thinking can be quite difficult to overcome! And even though fighting with dignity regardless of the outcome would be a much-prefered option, sometimes it feels easier not to go to the battle at all… And that’s when my procrastination levels go through the roof!

It’s too vague

Having a never-ending list of tasks is bad enough but what makes it even worse is if some of those tasks are written in a vague and unclear way. “Respond to your emails“, “sort out the drive“, “plan Stage 3” – these are just a few examples from my particularly bad to-do list that made me push these points back for weeks. I have 5 email addresses, I’ve had that drive for 8 years now, and after a certain time, I couldn’t even remember what “Stage 3” was about.

It didn’t come as a surprise that I wasn’t rushing to complete those tasks! And even though they might not have been as anxiety-inducing as some of the other points I needed to tick off that day, such vague tasks can really add to the bigger picture of how unclear and gigantic your to-do list really is.

Photo by Kerrie Sloper and Anna McGuinness

Striving for perfection

Perfectionism can be both a blessing and a curse. I’ve previously written about the detrimental effect that striving for perfection can have on a musician’s work (Check out “From a Beginner to a Beginner: How to Make Your First Record“), and I continue to think that sometimes perfectionism can really be my worst enemy.

When I get to work on something I’m really passionate about, I can easily move from a helpful dose of perfectionism, which is checking that I did the best I could, to pure obsessing. I get worried about each detail; I  re-check every single thing; I change the direction of the whole project and re-start from scratch. And sometimes I worry about the project idea turning out perfectly so much that I feel anxious to even work on it.

This is another incredibly illogical, yet very apparent trap that I fall into sometimes: I feel so passionate about certain things and want them to turn out as well as possible, yet I get too worried that they won’t be as perfect as I’ve imagined them, and it feels almost safer just to postpone working on them for a little bit longer. This vicious circle was especially noticeable during the mixing process of my New EP, and because I wasn’t honest and upfront with myself about my feelings of anxiety, for ages I couldn’t figure out why I was avoiding one thing that I was absolutely crazy about!

Photo by Jamie McNamee

It’s only recently that I started noticing that my procrastination modes have different reasons behind them and therefore need to be approached in separate ways in order to be handled well. When I just don’t feel like doing much, I need to push myself harder and snap out of my lazy mood. However, when I feel anxious and worried about things, pushing myself further without sorting the emotional elements first will only make me feel worse. Recognising the difference between the two and knowing how to approach each mode has really helped me limit the amount of time that before was spent procrastinating, and next Monday I’ll share my tricks!