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Admitting you have a problem is the first step: my name is Calum and I’m addicted to procrastinating. I do it almost everyday, before every task that I should be getting on with – applying for jobs, going food shopping, going to the bank, writing my novel, writing this column. I love it. (Oh, my computer’s rubbish bin needs emptying and that desktop wallpaper has been bugging me).
Former IdeasTap columnist Kirsty Logan wrote of her struggles with the activity that is as much fun to say as it is to do - how the need to knit a scarf or experiment with Elvis hair would seem immediately more important than going for a run or editing her novel.
It is an illness that can afflict us all.
Before writing this column today to submit to the IdeasTap team in hopes of becoming their shiny new columnist I have played my ukulele, cleaned the kitchen, done two loads of washing, watched many YouTube videos and have been sucked into the world of Pinterest (ooh, Nutella brownies!)
But why do we procrastinate? Is it just laziness, do we really not want to do the things that we are putting-off? Perhaps I have ADHD (Hang on, I need to rearrange this playlist on iTunes).
However I have recently come to the conclusion that it’s all about fear - a fear of failure - a hidden anxiety about not being able to accomplish the task you’re running away from.
What if, when you start writing the next chapter of your life-changing novel the magic words won’t fill the blank page and what you wrote before seems so uninspiring? (Hmm, I think I need a different font).
What if you don’t manage to run the distance you’ve set yourself and will never run that 10k in less than an hour?
It seems procrastinating is, though initially innocuous, loaded with emotional baggage.
Ironically, while procrastinating (actually, I can call it research) I happened upon a leaflet online from Cambridge University’s counseling service about procrastinating (it is a real problem!) and it provides some soothing words of encouragement (wait, I’ll make a cup of tea and then read them).
The leaflet suggests that to overcome procrastination we should, for example, set ourselves small goals, like write one page; read one chapter or work for 45 minutes, take a 15 minute break and do another 45 minutes’ work (you can read a lot of tweets in 15 minutes).
The leaflet ends by saying that, as I suspected, procrastination is often linked “to anxieties about the quality of the work you hope (or fear) you will produce.”
Of course sometimes it can just be about not liking a certain task or finding it too difficult and feeling overwhelmed. But suddenly procrastinating now seems to be less of an entertaining way to defer certain things, but rather the mask (oh, do you remember that Jim Carrey film? I’m just going to look it up on IMDB) we wear to hide from inner feelings of self-doubt.
We need to face our fears and realise that actually you feel much better for having done some studying for that exam, written the chapter of that next great novel and run those three miles in the wind and rain.