It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted here, which is not very like me. I’ve got a host of excuses. Wanna hear ’em?
No, I didn’t think you did. I don’t even like admitting them. I mean, they’re all decent enough: had a great vacation, busy with other things, blah, blah, blah. But, they’re excuses, nonetheless.
The thing is, I’m just not sure if all the things I’ve been busy with trumped focusing on my blog, or if some of them were just things to fill in the time while I was avoiding sitting down and writing. If I’m honest with myself (and with Clever Girl Nation), I’d have to say it was a little of both.
I was starting to become a bit of a pro at procrastinating.
Not in a good way.
It was time to make a change, and today was the day. A good friend of mine and I made plans today to get some work done (She suggested it, and I happily jumped at the chance to change up my game). We’re at the library in my town right now; she’s tackling her to-do list, and I’m tackling mine. If I weren’t here, I’m sure I’d be at my home, keeping busy, maybe even getting to this very same item on my list. But chances are, I’d find distractions, too, and at the end of the day, I’d feel like I’d failed, like another day had passed, and I didn’t achieve something really important to me.
So, I thought, what would be the BEST topic for me to write about, after a bit of a hiatus? How about PROCRASTINATION…. something I know all about right now, and, I’m guessing, each of you know a little bit about to. Here we go:
WHY WE PROCRASTINATE:
1) We’re avoiding some sort of discomfort or pain:
- We dread the task itself, for all sorts of reason, including: It gets embarrassing after a while… it’s already late, and now it would just be embarrassing to turn it in so late at this point.
- It’s just not fun
- It puts us in an uncomfortable position with someone else. (Maybe we don’t know enough to complete it and need ask for someone’s help? Or maybe we owe it to someone we don’t like very much?)
- We think it’s someone else’s job, and we’re resentful it is on our plate.
- We don’t see the value in it, and think it is a waste of time
- We are afraid of failing. I know what I do isn’t going to be great, and I don’t want to feel badly about myself for not meeting my own expectations.
- We are avoiding what comes AFTER we finish it… maybe a bigger, harder, more inconvenient or challenging task? This can be something like “I am putting off going to the doctor because I am afraid to learn that I need surgery.” or “I am putting off having a difficult conversation with my boss, because I am afraid that, if I don’t like the outcome, I’ll be forced to find a new job.” This is also common for people (including me) who love to RESEARCH things… Sometimes, I’d much rather research than execute. (Because, of course, executing can expose that I did something wrong… see “we’re afraid of failing”, above.)
- We want it to be PERFECT, but can’t achieve that. This shows up in two ways:
- If it can’t be perfect, why bother?
- If it is never PERFECT, it is never FINISHED. This could mean that we either want all the conditions in which we’d do the task (space, time, resources, etc.) to be perfect, or, more importantly, the end product needs to be perfect. I use this proverb with clients all the time: Don’t let PERFECT be the enemy of GOOD.
HOW WE PROCRASTINATE:
We fill the space instead with something that makes us feel better:
- We get absorbed in something else distracting (even if it has some value) or don’t manage our time well.
- We have trouble focusing. Something more compelling or worth attention takes us on a different path, which seems important (enough) at the time.
- We don’t match our energy levels with our to-do list. By the time we focus on the task, we may be too tired, and we wasted our best energy on a different task. When we feel great, we did something fun. When our energy waned, we didn’t have what we needed to refocus on the important thing.
- We have convinced ourselves that we work best “under pressure”, so we create a pressure-filled scenario, and derive our fuel off of the adrenaline of that pressure.
HOW WE CAN OVERCOME PROCRASTINATION:
1) Change how you are THINKING:
- Think about the value of getting the task done:
- The DREAD will be over
- The relief of having finished it will give you a sense of comfort, even if you weren’t thrilled with the outcome
- You won’t be internally judging yourself for not accomplishing something that you KNOW you are completely capable of doing
- You’ll actually feel GOOD about having accomplished something, and not just GUILTY about not having done it
- You’ll be able to use your new-found time doing something you LIKE to do, now that the HAVE to do is complete
- Think about how a situation will get worse if you continue to procrastinate. This can be any kind of emotional, financial or physical penalty (a good example of “physical” is when we don’t work out, don’t take care of our health.) Understand you have control over minimizing or reversing that penalty!
- Remember that EVERY DAY we have the choice to take control over this item and conquer it.
2) Change how you are DOING it:
- Set a goal. Make it achievable, actionable, time-bound and measurable. “Be a better blog writer” is not a good goal. “Write and post 2 new blog posts each week” is. This is an important part for the perfectionist, who doesn’t know how to identify in advance what “done” looks like.
- Break the tasks down into ACTION steps. This not only makes each step clearly defined with a start and finish, but it allows us to make progress against our goal, and identify where the real barriers may be.
- Identify the barriers, figure out WHY they are barriers, and develop a plan to get past them. I learned the art of this when I was digging into “Getting Things Done” methodology. It was the absolute breakthrough for me to figure out how to get past what was holding me up. I had to figure out WHY I found a step challenging, and attack the WHY, not the WHAT, of the task.
- Manage your time well. Set a specific time for getting things done, and determine the best technique that will allow you to focus best. One great example is the Pomodoro technique, in which you focus for 25 minutes, and take a break for 3-5 minutes. Find a tool that helps you set up your time management. Another is utilizing something that motivates you, like my Twenty Minute Attack. Create a timeline for achievement, and commit to yourself that you’ll eliminate distractions during that time. This could mean a change of scenery, even if it isn’t as convenient as your current, distraction-filled setting.
- Build Accountability. This works for lots of reasons. Sometimes it is as simple as “it would be embarrassing to me if so-and-so knew I was blowing this off, and I’d rather avoid THAT embarrassment than avoid THIS task.” Sure, you’re trading off one uncomfortable emotion for another, but it works.
- Measure progress and celebrate results! It’s good to reflect when you’ve finished something you’d procrastinated, and realize that you’ve truly accomplished something… not just the task, but conquering all the distractions that went into it along the way.
So, I took my own advice today.
- I identified exactly what I needed to accomplish.
- I broke it down into tasks.
- I created an environment — space and time — that set me up for success. Scheduled time, at the library, in the Quiet Study room.
- I had a good meal that gave me plenty of energy (and wasn’t going to make me go snack-hunting… always an enemy of focused time!)
- I told my friend what I hoped to accomplish today, so that I could have a certain amount of public accountability.
- I turned off all the distractions (phone, email, Facebook, and there’s no TV here at the Library!)
- I got this post done! AND, well, *I* think it’s a pretty good one!
Good thing I didn’t procrastinate anything else the past few weeks! (Oh, wait… that’s right… off to my next task!)
How will YOU look at YOUR to-do list and figure out what you’ve been avoiding, why you’ve been avoiding it, and tackle it today???