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How to handle procrastination and the dread of getting things done


by Lia Hynes
25th May 2021
How to handle procrastination and the dread of getting things done

Liadan Hynes explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves, including managing procrastination.

I have a friend who has suffered for years from anxiety. Intense, sometimes debilitating, anxiety.

Sometimes this friend, in the throes of anxiety, falls into procrastination. There are things to be done, but she simply cannot bring herself to do them. And then that causes her more anxiety. I get it because I’ve done it myself endlessly. For the past few years since my marriage ended, I was, like my friend, frozen around the getting of certain things done.

They’re there, right in front of you. The life tasks – the not-doing of which is causing you huge stress.

You can see over the other side of them. To that place where you wouldn’t be stressed by them. Wouldn’t wake at four in the morning and feel fired up with anxiety, or make endless to-do lists at the bottom of which those few items repeatedly languish, never actually executed.

Coping skills or coping potholes?

It feels sometimes when we are dealing with the difficult parts of life that we are navigating our way between methods of coping that are both good, and bad.

Coping skills or coping… potholes? Negative coping, as it’s sometimes described.

Things that help us get through, some of which are good for us, some of which are bad. Exercise, drink, yoga, drugs, to name a few. Whichever way we lean depends on how weak or strong we are at that moment. We’re all just doing our best in the given moment, with whatever resources we have.

I’m reading Senator Lynn Ruane’s book People Like Me at the moment. One of the main themes is the journey of a woman plotting her way through pain, and how she moves from coping methods that served to compound her hurt, to learning skills that helped her to cope with trauma, anger, and underneath that, fear. I think we maybe take for granted how important coping skills are, and how little we are taught them.

But there’s also a coping method that doesn’t require any movement towards it. It is more of a freezing. Procrastination. In a way, procrastination is the ground zero of coping methods, bad and good. You’re putting off the immediate bad (facing the task) and losing out on the eventual good (the payoff after it is done).

Getting around to it

This week, I painted the hall and one wall of the living room in my house, after they had been freshly plastered due to some repair work. Two years ago. The plastering took place two years ago. I’m only getting around to painting these walls (just two of them), now.

Strictly speaking, my brother and father stepped in and painted them for me. Partly because they probably couldn’t stand looking at the bare walls anymore, but also I asked them to help.

It’s not the greatest account of overcoming procrastination, but I made it happen. And it’s not the only thing. I’ve been ticking things off my list left, right and centre for the last two months. I’m meeting with an actual financial adviser this week (and trying not to be unbearably smug about it).

I told a friend about my procrastination around life admin stuff. What I need is three days off to just mill through it, I said, then immediately, I heard it, as she looked at me dubiously. Because we both knew that was never going to happen.

She’s also been through a separation and had experienced the same thing. Her advice was helpful. What worked for her was making lists of three things she would do every day. They could be tiny. But they started the momentum. And stopped the overall hugeness (which had built up in her head) daunting her into immobility, so she got nothing done.

Just after we separated I met a friend for coffee to get some advice. In the middle of our conversation, I felt my tooth crack. For two years I worried about it but did nothing. Late last year, I went to the dentist, fully expecting to be told there might be several extractions. Instead, there was a quick filling, all fine.

There’s probably something to be said there about things never being as bad as you fear they will be. But really this is to say, that in the middle of things, you do your best, you just get through, and if you cannot face all the things right now, you will be able to eventually. And that is good enough.

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