How I use kindness, not willpower, to get more done.

Kirsten Horton
Jan 2, 2018 · 4 min read

I used to be really, really bad about procrastinating.

I’d waste a whole day watching TV or cleaning my room when I knew I needed to be writing an essay. At the end of the day, I’d panic and spend an hour working before it was time for bed.

Sometimes I tried to explain it away. I tried to tell myself I had done enough, even though I knew I had wasted my time.

But most days, I felt guilty, ashamed, and stressed out because of procrastination.

But there is another way. Procrastination no longer rules my life. Here’s what I changed.

I faced my fears.

“The worst procrastinators are perfectionists. They’re so afraid of failure that they refuse to give themselves an honest chance.”

My Educational Psychology class completely changed my perspective on procrastination. My professor went on to say that procrastinators are trying to protect their egos. When they hand in an assignment started the night before, they think, “Well, I could have gotten an A if I just had more time. If only I could stop procrastinating!”

In reality, they’re not sure they could get an A. Perfectionists worry about trying their best and still not being good enough. So they procrastinate.

Once I learned about the link between perfectionism and procrastination, I became more curious about why I procrastinate. I started asking myself why I was procrastinating.

Often, I was procrastinating because I felt afraid and overwhelmed. I learned that I could calm myself down by breaking down the task into small, manageable chunks. I could remind myself of times I’ve been successful in the past. And I could move forward and get started.

I started with verbs.

To do: Business plan. Novel. Taxes.

To do lists that contain entire projects are terrifying.

When you’re working on a big project, like writing a novel or starting a business, you can’t do it in a day. But a to do list like the one above makes you feel like you should!

My rule for to do lists? Always start with a verb.

To do: Identify three competitors to my business. Write five pages of my novel. Find and print off my tax forms.

Starting with a verb makes tasks smaller, more manageable, and better defined. Verbs keep you focused.

Small, focused tasks fight off the dread of never knowing when you’ll be done. They help you to get started. And getting started is the key to ending procrastination.

I kept my promises.

If you told a friend you were going to write them a letter of recommendation this Wednesday, would you let it slide until Thursday? Or Friday? Or the following Tuesday?

I expect my friends to keep their promises to me, and I always try to keep my promises to my friends. But I don’t treat myself the same way.

I don’t always treat myself kindly. I promise myself I’ll get something done, and then I let it slide way past what I promised. But I’m learning to treat myself with more respect — the kind of respect I would show a friend.

I don’t make promises to myself that I can’t keep anymore. No more promising to write a novel in a week or file my taxes in an hour.

Instead, I make realistic plans and stick to them. I try to be honest with myself if I might not make my deadline, and be clear about the reason why.

And, if I can’t make my deadline, I don’t berate myself. I might be disappointed, but most of my focus is on trying to improve.

A friend keeps their promises, rather than constantly making plans she can’t keep. A friend is encouraging and helpful, not critical and unkind. Being a friend to myself has helped me to make and keep plans. It’s helped me beat procrastination.

Now that I understand why I procrastinate, I don’t feel at war with myself anymore. I become clear on the root of my fear, I make my tasks clear and defined, and most of all I’m a friend to myself.

I used to think I needed to fight procrastination with willpower, but that’s not true at all. I procrastinate when I’m scared, so the best thing to do is help myself overcome my fears. When it comes to procrastination, kindness beats willpower every time.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 277,994+ people.

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Kirsten Horton

Written by

Canadian-born Londoner. I try to leave things better than I found them.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +492K people. Follow to join our community.

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