When life gets hectic and you start to get overwhelmed, do you step away and take a break? At these times, how do you know if you are making the wise choice by relaxing, or procrastinating instead? It is important to distinguish between wasting time and recharging your batteries.
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I have just finished a fairly busy few weeks. During this time, as we hit the peak of decision-making and intensity in our family, I decided it was the best time to rework my website (melindamartinkhan.com). I had known it needed a refresh, and I had been looking for the new template for a while but couldn’t settle on the new look. It seemed inspiration had arrived - potentially at the worst possible time. I had guests from inter-State, my father had recently died, we were hosting my daughter’s 21st birthday and I was wrapping up some work from Latin America. But I forged on with the website (much to my family’s surprise) - tweaking and creating while juggling these other commitments. I wondered later was I procrastinating or relaxing.
RELAXATION: Relaxing is an important way of handling stress. During periods of high pressure, or at a point of extreme tiredness, if we can take some time away from work to do something we enjoy, or to physically rest, it is possible that we will return to the task at hand with better mental clarity and end up with a better end result.
PROCRASTINATION: Procrastination is the term used to refer to avoiding tasks or activities that we don’t want to do. There could be many reasons why we search for anything else to do rather than complete or participate in these tasks. It isn’t helpful to think of procrastination as the result of laziness. Often we spend our time working very hard at procrastinating (cleaning the house, filing away emails, jogging). There may be days when we binge watch The Gilmore Girls as a form of procrastination, so sometimes there may be some laying around involved our procrastination choices (for experts in procrastination we can be very creative in our diversity).
Are you procrastinating or relaxing? To identify if you are relaxing or procrastinating we need to get in touch with our feelings, and focus on our intentions.
How do we feel during this activity? Despite the relaxing nature of the activity, if we still feel tense and anxious, then it is probably because we are procrastinating rather than relaxing.
What was the specific reason for starting this activity at this time? Relaxation works best if it is a planned and anticipated, regular, activity with a time slot in our day and week. If we are avoiding something by diverting our attention to this unplanned relaxing activity, then we can classify this as procrastination and not relaxation.
Making the most of your free time: Reward yourself with planned relaxation time every day, and longer periods of relaxation on the weekends or after solid blocks of intense work. It is important for your mind and body to get used to relaxing as a regular planned activity so that you learn to let go of the burden of anticipated work load. Practice letting go of thoughts about work that needs to get done. Tell yourself that you are on a break, and that you will come back to your task list when you are scheduled to check in (when relaxation time is over). If you don’t plan time to relax, all activities will start to feel like procrastination. Without planned relaxation your brain won’t stop creating ‘To Do’ lists or checking in with your progress to completion of those lists (regardless of what you are doing).
Staying focused when working: When you feel that you are starting to drift into procrastinating behaviours, take a few minutes to really focus on the feelings and intentions that are driving those actions, without judgement. Understanding what is causing you to step away from the task or activity can help you plan your way forward. Ask yourself the following questions?
What task/activity are you delaying starting?
If you started, and your worst fear happens, what would that be (i.e. what outcome are you trying to avoid by procrastinating?)
How will you manage if that really does happen? Would it be a major crisis?
Have you completed a task like this before, what happened? (Coming back to reality)
What skills/strengths are you bringing to this situation? (Recognising your capacity)
Choose one part of the task that you could do now as first step to moving the task forward.
My relaxation: I find photography, websites and writing relaxing. I love the creativity. Working on my website was relaxing for me; and a great mental shift during a very busy time. It was a little bit frustrating in that it took me hours to work out how to make the banner on one particular page look exactly right….. But that is all a part of the fun (a mental brain teaser). I just kept working away at it until it was the way I wanted it. I can recognize that this is relaxing for me. I know lots of people would hate it.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU? It’s important that you relax the way you want to relax and don’t listen to other people tell you how to relax. Practice taking a mental break from your ‘To Do’ list while relaxing. A good test is how you feel afterwards, as well as during the activity - you should feel relaxed and not guilty or anxious about having taken a break.
Most importantly, program in time to relax so your brain gets used to taking time away from work and responsibilities (learn to relax). And acknowledge procrastination moments, and take a few minutes to look it squarely in the eye and ask why you are avoiding a particular task - you might learn something interesting. We all procrastinate for a reason.