I was recently asked to give a webinar presentation for adult Auties about work ‘soft skills’ (think motivation, work ethic, time management etc). One of the topics I included some slides on was procrastination. I mentioned to my Branch Manager at work that I was doing this webinar and she said ‘Jeanette, I cant imagine that you have ever procrastinated about anything.’ While this was rather flattering it isn’t quite true. Yes, I am highly motivated, loyal and diligent in pretty much everything I do, but I have in the past had significant problems putting off things that I really don’t want to do. Procrastination is something that almost everybody does, but for people on the Autism spectrum it can become a significant problem and keep us from excelling in the workplace. Procrastination is bad enough if we work in an environment where there are supervisors and a chain of command. If you put off a task for too long and miss a deadline, you might get in trouble with your manager. However, if you are self-employed, procrastination can be extremely damaging and could even cost you your business. If it is something you have a problem with, procrastination is definitely something you want to address.
When I first joined the public service as a graduate way back in 2007, there was always something in my list of tasks that I put off. It was usually something I considered onerous and which wasn’t highly time-critical. It often involved filing or recording a list of things or people in a big spreadsheet. The funny thing about these tasks was that my anxiety about doing them and my need to put them off was more damaging and unpleasant than actually doing the task! It took me a while to realise this but eventually I arrived at a helpful conclusion. If, instead of stressing about a task, thinking about how awful it would make me feel and putting off until I absolutely HAD to do it, I simply looked at the task and thought ‘I need to do this, so I’ll do it now,’ I felt a lot better. The onerous task was done. I felt a sense of achievement and my manager was happy that Jeanette had done a task which nobody else wanted to do.
It took a little practice but after a while, whenever I was given a task I didn’t want to do – reading a long report, talking to someone who was a bit grouchy or the old favourite, filing – I would just get on with it. This had huge positive effects on a number of areas. Firstly I felt a great sense of achievement for continually doing unpleasant things, I was less stressed and my managers started to think I was some kind of super-worker. So my current Branch Manager was right in a way, I don’t procrastinate any more because I have learned that it is far easier to push through the discomfort and do the task.
I call it the ‘Nike’ philosophy (no, not the Nike that is a winged victory statue from the ancient world such as the Nike of Samothrace – the sneaker company whose motto is ‘just do it!’). This is probably not something that will come naturally. Like many of the ‘soft skills’ it is something you can learn and improve through practice. Remind yourself that the task will need to be done at some point. Putting it off just adds to the pain. And putting off an unpleasant task gives it a power over you that it really doesn’t deserve to have. You are the master (or mistress) of your life. You can choose to push through and avoid procrastination or not. You have the power, so use it!
My Kitty, evidently putting off doing any work in favour of enjoying a sunny spot…