Procrastination


Even if you work in a relaxed, creative environment, it still doesn’t remove the challenge of procrastination.  We all do it – 15 year olds will put off preparing for their exams.  However, senior managers regularly admit they ‘drag their feet’ about some big new initiative, program or structure that needs to be implemented.

And here’s the point; procrastination isn’t being lazy; nor is it about delay or not doing something.  In fact, some delay is good; allowing incubation time.

Procrastination is about not doing something and feeling bad that we’re not doing it.  I would guess if you think hard, there’s likely to be something right now that you are putting off.

Let’s see if we can help.  Download and print off the exercise in the document window.

Let’s start by first analysing the reasons we procrastinate; even this simple step will probably be a big help to overcoming the problem.    So, stage one, think of a topic, issue or project your are procrastinating about (or have done so recently).  You may need to pause to identify one …

procrastination3Interestingly, some people think procrastination is the problem itself.  They might even call themselves “procrastinators” – as if it in some way defines their whole personality.

Procrastination isn’t the problem, it’s a consequence.  There can be many deeper underlying reasons, but my experiences with participants at the seminars highlight three key themes:

1) Feeling forced into doing something

2) Feeling overwhelmed by something

3) Feeling afraid we might fail at doing something

Which of these broad factors are playing into your current situation?  Or is it something different again.

Procrastination is largely an emotional issue, linked to our deeper feelings.  In fact, Stephen Pressfield who wrote “The War of Art” observed that resistance builds to the thing that is closest to our soul.  Then we find excuses not do that thing.

So let’s deal with each of these three themes one at a time.

Feeling forced into doing something

feeling_forcedBeing pushed into doing any task doesn’t help us engage with it, and certainly doesn’t empower us.  Many people feel victimised by this approach and some have commented to me that they actually feel most of their life is made up of doing stuff they’re forced to do; by someone else.

Changing “I have to” into “I’m want to” will help in overcoming procrastination.  But this requires a key ingredient… Seeing the benefit of the activity.  Knowing why you are doing a task is vital if we are to feel committed to it.

So in the second box, write down why the activity is important.  If you’ve been working through the Ease the Load course methodically, you will remember we covered this in another way in the Projects section earlier.

As an aside, if you are a manager and asking someone else to complete a task, this is an incredibly important step, and one that is often forgotten.

feeling_overwhelmedFeeling overwhelmed by something

Sometimes the task can seem so big that we sigh, stare at it a while and then choose to do something else.  That’s why even when we have a lot on our plate; we still find ourselves playing solitaire on the computer.  We will find anything interesting rather than doing that huge chore.

So what can you do if this is your problem?  It may seem obvious, but break it down; split the task into smaller manageable chunks.  And this works both at the office and at home.  So back to the exercise, in the next box write down some simple steps to get this thing moving.  Don’t worry about getting them in the right order.  Now, what’s the one simple step you could take that would help to get this big thing moving?

I saw someone recently do this with all the clutter in their house.  This was a huge mammoth project, and initially looked overwhelming.  So the lady set a timer and promised herself she would do just 15 minutes tidying and then take a break.  She was amazed at what she accomplished in those 15 minutes.  She sat down had a coffee and then set another 15 minutes on the clock.

There is a similar approach which was invented in Rome by an Italian student in the 1980’s called the “Pomodoro Technique”‘ named after those big tomato-shaped kitchen timers.  He would write his dissertation for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break.

Interestingly, if the underlying reason you are procrastinating is this fear of overwhelm, the 5 minute break is just as important as the doing stage of the task.  Give yourself a reward for doing the work.  “I have that report to do, and then I’m going to …” (you fill in the blank).

To illustrate, Mark Twain spoke of a concept that Brian Tracy later coined “eat that frog”.  If you have a lot of things to do in a day, the worst one for most of us would be to eat a big frog.  If you just let it sit there on a plate while you do everything else, it will drain your energy and will feel to get more overwhelming as the day progresses.

If you do it first though, it will give you a feeling of accomplishment and the day will seem so much easier and in turn it will give you energy.  So what’s the big frog for today?  Write that down on box 4.  Make that the first task you do as soon as possible.  And get this into your daily habit.

I’m not a big fan of a daily to do list, but at least when you are doing your planning, make eating the big frog a key concept.

Feeling afraid we might fail at doing something

The third issue was the fear of failure.  That fear can paralyse teams and even entire organisations into avoiding some initiative that could make a real difference.

A recent study of people who make New Year’s resolutions show that by the end of the first week, 75% were still keeping up with their new found goals.  By 6 months, only 46% were still on the wagon.  Why?  The biggest factor was that people focus on “what happens if I don’t succeed.  What’s the result if I fail?”

fear_of_failureNeil Fiore in “The Now Habit” illustrated the problem.  He likened the things we have to do as being a long, wide, thick plank on the ground that we have to walk across.  Not too hard, we can do it; we have the skills.  Easy!

But imagine that this plank is now 100 feet above the ground on the roof between two buildings.  We feel very different.  The plank is the same but now we are focusing on the fall, failure.  “What happens if …?”

Now imagine the same plank on the roof between the two buildings, and the building we are on is on fire.  Now what?  We are scared, but now we have to get across this plank.  Sometimes we actually start the fire ourselves so that it drives us across that plank; we get across somehow, even if it’s not very elegantly.

We wait until a deadline is looming then we feel we have no choice but to do it.  Still not a great feeling is it though!  Not exactly the motivation most of us would choose.  And in honesty, we probably don’t do our best work.

However, imagine the plank is still on the roof, but this time, there is no fire.  And under the plank is a big safety net.  So even if you fall, you will be okay.  Now the task seems a little easier and we can stop worrying about the height.

What safety net can you put there to support you?  Well we should first acknowledge that worry has it’s place.  But to make worry useful, an action plan is needed as a follow up.  Otherwise we’re running round screaming “danger”, without trying to work out how to deal with the threat.  So in the last box, answer the questions listed (or the ones that are relevant to your situation) and this will act as a safety net if your underlying issue to procrastination is fear of failure.

So we’ve looked at three key reasons; feeling forced into doing something, feeling overwhelmed by the size of something, and the fear of failure.  Not all the tips here will be applicable to you, but this approach is not complicated nor is it a secret.  These techniques have worked time and time and I’m confident that they will help you too.

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