Procrastination — it’s one of those things that every person on this planet has experienced in one way or another.
Whether you’re a store cashier who snoozes your alarm just one more time before your shift, or a CEO who just can’t seem to make that big company decision, we’ve all been there.
I would argue that women have a particularly unique relationship with procrastination. Just like everyone else, our self-sabotaging behaviour is galvanised by emotional resistance and fear. But, it also runs deeper, inexplicably linked to our historical social conditioning to always be ‘perfect’ and to be seen, not heard.
For women, our urge to procrastinate is far less likely to stem from laziness, but more so linked to behaviours like perfectionism, people-pleasing and impostor syndrome. We don’t want to do anything ‘wrong’ or risk judgement for others, so we often put off doing the things that might make us vulnerable.
While I no longer identify as a procrastinator, I certainly used to be one – and it affected my life in much deeper ways than letting the dishes unwashed in the kitchen for an extra five minutes.
However, I’ve since learned the power of imperfect action in helping me push through the urge and make meaningful progress towards my goals.
Here, I’m getting real about my own journey with procrastination and sharing three ways it’s affected my life, and how I’ve used imperfect action to overcome it.
1. PROCRASTINATION STOPPED ME FROM STEPPING INTO THE SPOTLIGHT
While I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic, I’m a naturally very shy person and have struggled with the idea of being ‘seen’.
I remember when I was younger, I auditioned for a local musical production of Grease. I was selected to try out for the part of Rizzo, which I was so excited about. I had the song “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” all prepared for my audition.
But, when it was time to actually get up on stage and perform it, I was completely paralysed by fear. I pretended that I had come down with a cough (the oldest excuse in the book, right?), and asked if I could audition next week instead. The musical director said “sure”, but by the time next week rolled around, they had already cast their Rizzo. I missed my chance. Sure, it’s highly possible that I wouldn’t have been cast in the role anyway, but because I never tried, I would never know.
This fear of being vulnerable has popped up in other areas of my life, too. At times, my performance anxiety has been so bad that I’d feel sick to my stomach if I knew I’d have to speak up in a class or meeting. So, in order to avoid the discomfort, I just wouldn’t voice my ideas at all — which obviously stopped me from reaching my full potential.
How I took imperfect action to overcome it
In 2017, I decided I was going to do something about my performance anxiety, once and for all. I wrote ‘overcome my fear of public speaking’ on my goals list on New Year’s Day. I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to do, but I assumed it would involve some kind of public speaking training. But lo and behold, a month later I was approached by Crown Group out of the blue to MC their ‘Women of the Future’ event series.
It would mean I would need to get up and speak in front of more than 100 people and lead interviews with female founders. The idea simultaneously excited and terrified me, but I knew it was exactly what I needed to do to face my fear.
The day of my first event, I felt that familiar, nauseous feeling and thought for sure I was going to throw up all over the stage. I didn’t feel adequately prepared, even though I had spent hours and hours memorising all of my notes. I found myself facing intense self-doubt and wondering why they had even approached me — was it some kind of terrible mistake? But, I still got up on that stage and the second I started speaking, I felt my nerves evaporate.
I ended up MCing four more of the events, and since then, have started my own podcast series, appeared on other people’s podcasts, recorded live workshops, interviewed celebrities, and even appeared on TV. While I wouldn’t say I’ve completely eliminated my performance anxiety (I still get nervous doing things as small as calling someone on the phone!) I’ve learned that pressing ‘go’ is the hardest part, and everything that comes after that is a breeze.
2. PROCRASTINATION PREVENTED ME FROM GETTING MY FINANCES ON TRACK
For a long time, I told myself I was just ‘bad at money’ and ‘would never be able to save’. I know this will sound familiar to a lot of people, because they’re self-fulfilling prophecies so many of us tell ourselves (especially as young women).
In my early to mid-twenties, I lacked financial literacy and would live pay cheque to pay cheque. In fact, I would often completely run out of money two weeks before payday, and would have to scrounge for coins under the sofa.
I knew I was causing myself a lot of unnecessary stress, but I still couldn’t stop spending my money as fast as I could earn it – on things I really didn’t need, like dresses I would wear once, or three takeaway meals per day. While I only had one credit card with a limit of $1000 so didn’t manage to accumulate much debt, I had zero savings.
I knew I was taking the ‘wrong’ approach to my finances, but I just didn’t want to face reality. I chose instead to bury my head in the sand, refusing to look at what I was spending my money on. I told myself I didn’t have ‘time’ to create a proper budget or system for my finances, or that I would just wait until I was earning more money. So, I just continued to procrastinate on getting my money sh*t together, and cause myself even more stress.
How I took imperfect action to overcome it
In 2017, (this seems to be the year I made a lot of changes in my life!) it all came to a head. I had taken a pay cut to work in digital publishing, and went from a fortnightly pay run to a monthly one. On top of that, the company I was working for was a start-up, and would often pay me late or at sporadic times. It was simply no longer possible for me to live pay cheque to pay cheque, because I couldn’t rely on it.
First, I hired a financial advisor. At the time, I felt like this was quite audacious — I wasn’t rich or adult enough to hire a financial advisor! Who did I think I was?! But, I was pleasantly surprised that his prices were very reasonable, and the return was well worth what I spent. He helped me set clear goals for my finances, pay off my credit card within a month, and set up a better financial system so I had a financial buffer — so I didn’t have to worry about when I was going to get paid.
To supplement my income while working at this start-up, I also started my copywriting business as a side hustle. I had no professional branding — just a logo I designed myself in Canva, and a free WordPress blog website. I began advertising my services in Facebook groups, taking on odd jobs and before I knew it, I was getting referrals left, right and centre, and taking on more work than I could handle.
Fast forward to now, and I’m proud to say that while I’m not perfect, I have a much better handle on my money. I’ve earned a 6-figure salary the last few years, don’t own a credit card, and have a healthy buffer in my savings. But, if I had continued to procrastinate for any longer, who knows what kind of financial hole I might have dug myself into!
3. PROCRASTINATION STOPPED ME FROM GETTING MY DRIVER’S LICENSE
I have a confession: I’m 28 years old and am on my learner’s drivers licence. It’s something that’s caused me a lot of embarrassment and shame, especially as I feel I have my life together in so many other ways.
There’s a couple of reasons behind my lateness in this area. When I was 16, I decided I was going to get my scooter licence before my driver’s licence (spoiler alert: I didn’t). Then, when I was 18, my parents moved four hours away, which made it more difficult to learn. At 19, I finally sat my driver’s knowledge test and failed — twice in a row!
This made me feel like a complete failure. I put off doing the test again for years so I didn’t have to have to face that feeling again. Plus, I lived in Sydney, a big city with a great transport network. I always lived within walking distance to school, and uni and work, so there was no urgent need for me to get my licence. So, I didn’t.
When I was 25, my partner and parents encouraged me to get it together and go for my knowledge test again. I did, and this time I passed. But, living in a busy city and with my partner driving a manual car, I still didn’t have much opportunity to learn — apart from a few sporadic lessons a few times a year when we went up the coast. I had left the whole ‘driving’ thing so long that I had developed strong anxiety around being on the roads. If only I’d just learned when I was young, stupid and blissfully unaware of the dangers of life.
How I’m taking imperfect action to overcome it
Fast forward to now, I’m in my late twenties and the possibility of moving out of the big smoke and having a family isn’t too far off. I know I need my licence, for the sake of my future children and for my own independence.
Being over 25, I don’t need to fill out a logbook of my driving hours — I just need to know how to drive, and pass my practical exam. So, I’m determined to get my licence by the end of this year.
This is something I’m currently taking imperfect action towards. I booked a pack of five classes at a local driving school (which funnily enough, my downstairs neighbour who is in her late 30s put me onto — at least I’m not the only one!) and actually have my first lessons today (at time of writing).
I plan to book five more after that, then take a driver’s preparation workshop just before my test to address any weaknesses.
I’m working towards this goal just like I do any other — taking consistent, strategic action with plenty of clear milestones along the way. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes! Because after all, we’re all on this journey of pursuing progress over perfection together.
This article first appeared on A Girl in Progress.