Stacey keeps saying she’s going to organise a beach clean, make her grandparents’ life story into a book, take up yoga and reduce the clutter in her apartment by half. The trouble is, that’s all she does – talk about it. While her intentions are good, the 31-year-old hasn’t even started one of her projects. Her reasons? She’s too busy, tired, overwhelmed and short of time. She’s suffering from ‘Tomorrow Syndrome.’
‘I really want to do those things,’ says Stacey, a financial analyst, ‘but I never seem to get round to them. There’s always something else that needs to take precedence, like grocery shopping, driving my mum to the audiologist or optician’s, and taking clients out to dinner.
‘When I have a free evening here and there, I’m too exhausted for yoga, writing, cleaning and decluttering. I zone out, put everything else on hold and watch Netflix or I scroll through Facebook and Instagram.’
Although she can justify why she uses her time the way she does, Stacey is an expert procrastinator. The word itself contains ‘cras’ which is Latin for tomorrow, and those who procrastinate are fond of putting off today the things that can be done tomorrow…or the day after, or next week, month or year. Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, they never get done and they drop off our radar, or we hurtle towards an emergency, wishing we’d done the things we said we would.
While 84 per cent of us admit we might procrastinate occasionally, and put off jobs like visiting an ageing uncle, getting our air con serviced, clearing out our car or taking our soft plastics to a recycling point, about 20 per cent of people procrastinate about most things regularly. This can trigger a downward spiral that may lead to apathy and depression, not to mention the more serious consequences of not getting our cholesterol checked, our car serviced, and our bills paid on time.
Famous Tomorrow Syndrome sufferers include artist Leonardo da Vinci, who painstakingly worked on his Mona Lisa painting for 16 years, never finishing it. The writer J K Rowling confesses when working on a tricky chapter, she procrastinates by making tea and looking at Twitter. And the late American businessman and designer Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, was reported by several of his collaborators to procrastinate constantly.
So why are some of us prone to Tomorrow Syndrome and these delaying tactics? What makes even the most prolific among us more manana than maintenant?
According to women’s empowerment coach Sana Khammash we tend to delay on many things, ranging from eating healthily and starting a diet to writing a research paper and revising for exams. Often, she says, getting going is the hardest part.
‘Most of the time people procrastinate because they have a lot on their to do list and they don’t know where to start,’ says Sana, who is based in Dubai. ‘As well as feeling overwhelmed, they may have a lack of motivation, or a fear they can’t do the job or do it well enough.’
Perfectionism and Procrastination
UK life coach Talane Miedaner adds there are even more reasons why we put off starting projects and develop Tomorrow Syndrome.
‘Sometimes we procrastinate because we don’t enjoy doing a chore, like mowing the lawn, writing a sales report or sorting out our bills,’ says UK-based Talane, author of Coach Yourself to Success (McGraw Hill). ‘Or we might not have enough information. Doing our book-keeping, for example, is a huge task if we have to get the software, set it up and learn how to use it. That’s before we get out a year’s worth of invoices and receipts and start sorting through them.
‘Sometimes we pick the wrong goal completely. These are usually our ‘should’ goals. We think we should lose weight, we should visit our auntie who’s not feeling well and we should take up pottery.
‘Or we might just feel overwhelmed by the task in hand, whether that’s writing a book, moving house, studying for qualifications, or training for a triathlon. When the job feels too big, too impossible and too emotional, like clearing out someone’s house after they’ve died, we are paralysed with dread.
‘Perfectionists also delay because they fear they won’t do the job to perfection, while maximisers will spend so long assessing the possibilities so they make the right decision, they might never get round to booking that holiday, buying a new sofa or swapping jobs.’
So how can we beat Tomorrow Syndrome and just get things done, whether they’re to put together an art portfolio, teach the children to swim, cook more vegan meals or set up a clothes-swap scheme?
Delegate Or Trade
If you really don’t want to do a job, find someone who does, suggests Talane. ‘People flog themselves to do things like their accounts or decluttering, when they could just hire someone to help out,’ she says. ‘At work, if you don’t want to do the filing or photo research, ask among your team. Organising papers or flicking through images is a dream job for someone. Do a swap. If you like writing and your colleague is good with numbers, agree to write the sales report if they’ll sort the budget.’
Set a Timer
Often, we’re surprised by how quickly we get things done once we start, says Dubai-based life coach Kirsty McIntyre.
‘Setting a timer is great for tedious tasks like filing paperwork or cooking dinner if you’re not a culinary whizz,’ says Kirsty, who specialises in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). ‘Keep the timeframe short and not overwhelming. With a 15-minute timer, you’ll get jobs done more quickly because you know the clock is ticking. When the timer goes off, you won’t want to stop mid-task.’
Hire an Expert
Do away with all the trial and error and hire someone, recommends Talane. ‘They can either do the job for you, or they could teach you how to do it so you can do it yourself in the future,’ she says. ‘This can save days and days of trial and error, and time spent researching. Not many people want to spend a whole day reading a manual before they even get started. The expert will also teach you all their insider tips to make it all much easier.’
Pick the Right Goal
Make sure you’re clear on your motives so that you can banish Tomorrow Syndrome, says Talane. ‘Sometimes we come up with jobs or goals that we think we should do, like losing weight, but our heart isn’t really in them,’ she reveals. ‘If you don’t enjoy counting calories and your big passion is ballroom dancing, wouldn’t it be more pleasurable to book some dance lessons? You’ll probably find the extra weight will fall off as you waltz around the dance floor.’
Keep yourself motivated by setting a reward, says Kirsty. ‘This will retrain your brain into knowing that action equals reward,’ she says. ‘Just be sure to keep the level of the reward aligned with the effort that goes into each task. And don’t sabotage your efforts. Don’t have a doughnut for your reward if you’re losing weight – a massage or manicure would be better.’
Recruit An Ally
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by Tomorrow Syndrome, ask a friend or an expert to help you or just be with you, suggests Talane. ‘Often, when we lose momentum, we get stuck in inertia,’ she reveals, ‘but if we have someone helping us sort out our loft, clean a beach or knit babies’ clothes for charity, we’re more likely to get things done. An extra pair of hands will act as an outside force to give us the boost we need.’
Start With the Hardest Task
If you begin with the toughest job, the rest will seem easier, says Sana, and you’ll be fired up to whizz through your list.
‘After ticking off a hard job, like a difficult phone call, some tricky editing or weeding your vegetable patch, you’ll have such a feeling of achievement, you’ll get an energy boost to tackle another task and finish the rest,’ she says.
Break a big job down into much smaller tasks, advises Talane. ‘If you want to declutter your life, start by clearing out your handbag or the glove compartment of your car,’ she says. ‘You’ll feel good for having made a start, and the energy will drive you to move on to your wardrobe, the garage or the storage space you’ve hired that’s costing you a fortune.’
Watch Your Language
Using the right words will help your mindset when there are things to be done, says Sana. ‘We add pressure when we use words like’ should’ and ‘must’, says Sana. ‘If you replace those words with ‘I want’ and ‘I am doing’, you’ll feel better about your task. What you want to achieve will have more meaning and significance because it’s something you choose to do for yourself, not something you’re doing to make others happy.’
Free Up Time
Get clinical about your hours and minutes, and Tomorrow Syndrome could be yesterday’s problem, says Talane. ‘If you want to write a book, look at where you can claw back some time by getting someone else to do a job,’ she says. ‘For example, if you spend four hours a week cleaning your apartment, hire a cleaner and use those hours to write your book. The cleaner will be the perfect reminder that you need to take yourself to your desk and start typing Chapter One!’