President Kimball once said, “One of the most serious human defects in all ages is procrastination” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , 48). Procrastination robs us of effective and meaningful time as well as of peace of mind and confidence. Sometimes we spend all our energy putting off tasks—large or small—that we grow to loathe them and sink into a spiral of guilt and cowardice. Elder Marvin J. Ashton has called procrastination “unproductive delay” and encouraged us to instead do things “straightway . . . immediately, without delay or hesitation” (Marvin J. Ashton, “Straightway,” Ensign, May 1983, 30).
Over the past year I have made a significant career change from a full-time office professional to an overtime wife, mother, and homemaker. As all mothers know, this challenging shift in my daily work was pretty daunting at first. Instead of having a focused routine driven by deadlines in the workplace, I became the one-woman manager and entire team of our home life in charge of all the decisions. Okay, my husband helps a lot at home, but during the day, when he’s gone, it’s up to me. This change from relying on and performing for other people to needing to rely solely on myself for motivation has been significant.
Over time, I have discovered that many of the skills that helped keep me motivated in the workplace can help me not procrastinate my responsibilities at home, especially these five: (1) Prioritize, (2) Be early, (3) Amplify your strengths, (4) Set honest goals and give honest praise, and (5) Reward yourself. While at this time in my life I’m focused on improving my homemaking and mothering skills and not procrastinating those duties, these five principles should help you in whatever responsibilities you need help with in your life—work, school, family, church service, etc.
I am a list person. I have lists on my refrigerator, my shopping list, my planner, and all over the house. During busy times at work, my desk sometimes turned into a forest of Post-It notes as I tried to keep things from slipping through the cracks.
Now that I’m at home, it is easy to make the wrong prioritizing choices by thinking that things like scripture study and prayer can be pushed aside for pressing appointments and chores; I have to constantly remind myself what is most important, especially at times when there are so many things that need my time and attention. Properly prioritizing can help you avoid procrastination because giving the most important things your first attention makes subsequent tasks run more smoothly.
2. Be Early
Being early isn’t just about getting to a meeting on time. At work it meant getting a report finished a few days before a deadline or answering an email before it became urgent. Now being early means mixing up the cornbread dry ingredients in the early afternoon so there is less to do right before dinner or balancing the budget frequently so that it never piles very high. Choosing to put time into something that you know you will have to do eventually before it is a stress is one of my key defenses against procrastination. Try it and see: What can you do today so you don’t have to worry about it tomorrow?
Although it is important to do the most important tasks first, sometimes a group of tasks are equally important. At these times, it is okay to do what you like best first: Search for a strength to help you overcome your weakness. For example, maybe you have a list of people to get in touch with. Would you rather phone, email, text, or something else? As long as the methods are equally effective, choose the one you are good at and like. This will help you deter procrastination. At home, I love having a clean house but there are some chores I don’t really like doing. To play up my strengths, I remind myself how much I love the clean in order to motivate myself to do the work to make my home that way.
4. Set Honest Goals, Give Honest Praise
No one wins when you overwork yourself or set expectations that are honestly beyond your abilities. When I first became a full-time homemaker, I thought the best thing would be to have a one-day housecleaning wonder once a week—one day when I would make the house spotless so I would only have to deep clean once a week. Honestly, I don’t have time to commit to only housecleaning for a whole day on the same day every week. Instead, I try to make sure I clean everything at least once a week, which I can honestly do, but it’s okay that it means vacuuming one day, cleaning sinks another, and sweeping on another, all on different days each week. Assessing your work honestly means telling yourself you are doing a good job even if you are not reaching what you think is “ideal.” If I can clean half the house all on one day, I rant about it to my husband the whole evening because I know that I did an amazing job.
5. Reward Yourself
Rewards are a step beyond praise. Be sure to treat yourself with something special when you do something great. Rewards can be a great motivator. Now, keep it moderate (not too much chocolate!), but I have heard of an English teacher who stuck M&Ms randomly in the stack of papers she had to grade to keep herself fresh and motivated while working. Sometimes it’s helpful to motivate yourself with “fun jobs.” For example, as soon as you complete the report at work that you’re not excited about, you can check your email. At home, we all have chores that we like okay and that we hate; maybe do the one you hate first and then reward yourself with doing something productive that you like.
When called by the Savior to follow him, the disciples “straightway left their nets” and “immediately left the ship” in order to answer his call. They recognized that following the Savior was their highest priority. We can seek His help in learning how to be most effective in fulfilling our responsibilities in our families, homes, wards, careers, and other worthy life pursuits. Elder Ashton has said, “One of our greatest resources for success and happiness is doing the right thing now.” By prioritizing, being early, using our strengths, setting goals, and giving ourselves rewards, we can overcome procrastination and enjoy that happiness of “doing the right thing now.”
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