Often in life, what we want to do and what we need to do are two very different things. The result is procrastination: the intentional and habitual postponement of an important task.
As caregivers, there is always a job to be done. Mom’s cluttered closet needs to be cleaned out, you need to file your taxes, the car needs an oil change, and you should call Medicare about a billing mistake from Dad’s last stint in the hospital. Instead of approaching these things head on, we putter around the house, busying ourselves with small tasks that are far less urgent and important.
When we procrastinate too much for too long, though, the big stuff doesn't get done. On the off-chance it does, it’s usually completed haphazardly. This starts a vicious cycle. You wait until the last minute, and then you're stressed because you're short on time. You feel guilty and angry at yourself for being in this position, and you feel twice as overwhelmed with responsibilities. This scenario is the perfect breeding ground for caregiver burnout.
So, what can you do to stop procrastinating? You’ll need to break old habits and develop new ones. Not only will you get more of the important tasks done, but you’ll also reduce your stress levels and free up more time for yourself. Get started with these 10 tips to help you lead a more productive life.
- Create To-Do Lists
No, a mental list doesn’t cut it. The process of physically writing down what needs to be done makes you focus on each task and how it fits into the big picture. It also ensures that nothing falls through the cracks. Prioritize your list. What must be conquered immediately, and what can wait until tomorrow or next week? Next, estimate how long each project will take and time your day accordingly. Don't overbook yourself. Leave some extra cushion for the interruptions, mishaps and set-backs that caregiving is notorious for.
- Break it Down
Break large or intimidating jobs into smaller, more manageable tasks that you can tackle one at a time. This is especially useful for caregivers who have trouble knocking out drawn-out tasks in a single sitting. For example, if you need to fill out a comprehensive VA benefits application for Mom, try to complete one page or form each day. It won’t seem so overwhelming, and you’ll get the whole task done in no time.
- Set Short-Term Deadlines
Deadlines are crucial for ensuring consistent progress, no matter how small. Instead of working in long stretches, assign yourself small-scale deadlines and take a short break once a part of the task is complete.
- Tell Someone
Even adults sometimes need another person to help us stay on track. We are less likely to dawdle if there's an element of accountability at play. Telling your husband or best friend, “I'm going to get this done by Tuesday,” could provide that extra bit of motivation, because we want to avoid the lecture or twinge of embarrassment that is sure to occur if we don't follow through.
- Visualize Success
Develop a clear mental picture of the completed task and how you will feel at that time. Focus on the end result instead of the mundane process. Think about how good you will feel and how much weight will be lifted off your shoulders when you're finished. If you’ve promised yourself a break or reward (see number 10), strive for it.
- Remove Distractions
Turn off the television, silence your cell phone and remove anything else that might keep you from focusing on your tasks. If necessary, opt for a few hours of respite care for your loved one, so their needs are met and you won't be interrupted. When you’re truly focused, tasks take far less time, leaving you actual free time to do the things you want to do.
- Change Your Expectations
Striving for perfection is a huge hurdle for those trying to beat procrastination. If you are waiting until you can do something perfectly, it will never get done. And if you’re constantly revisiting a task that you’ve already “completed,” you’ll never truly be finished. No one is perfect. Do your best and accept it as your best. Otherwise, you will wear yourself out over each individual task, leaving no patience and energy for the others on your list.
- Just Do It
Next time you catch yourself saying, “I can do this later,” think like a Nike commercial and just do it! Getting started is often the hardest part, but once you push through these feelings and gain momentum, it should be smooth sailing. The feeling of accomplishment you get when you tackle things head on will be better than any relief you get from shying away from them.
- Cross It Off
Writing down your to-do list puts all of your tasks before you, and the flip side of this is the physical act of crossing off those items as you finish them. Putting that pen to paper is cathartic and provides a sense of accomplishment in its own right. It gives you visual confirmation that you are getting somewhere.
- Reward Yourself
Set rewards for your accomplishments. If you have a productive morning, take a break to sit down and enjoy lunch with your loved one. Once a big task or an entire to-do list is done, buy a new book, take a trip to the movies, or order take-out from your favorite restaurant. Just be honest with yourself. If you didn't earn the reward, then don't take it.