In my ongoing quest to increase the level of boldness in all areas of my life, I must constantly deal with an old nemesis: procrastination. Based on my informal surveys I’m guessing many of you might struggle with this issue as well. Organizational psychologists label procrastination as pandemic in today’s workplace. Countless hours and profits are lost to this mindset. Moreover, stress and burnout increases as procrastination goes unchecked.
Procrastination occurs when we are faced with an uncomfortable task, and in submitting to the discomfort of the task we make up a story as to why deferring action is in our best interest. Classically defined, procrastination is counterproductive. Therefore the story/rationalization must be particularly juicy.
The most common story might be, “I don’t feel like doing that now.” Unfortunately, that’s not a particularly effective story as it does nothing to mask the fact that the action really does need to be done immediately. In this case, procrastination leads to guilt, and guilt to stress. (My apologies if I’m hitting too close to home on the topic!)
The Stories We Tell
Deep down we know when we are procrastinating, even as we know when we are telling stories. So we must start the process with awareness. You must become aware of the stories you tell yourself when you put things off (“It’s too hard”; “I’m not good at this”; “It’s not that important”; “I’ll do this later”).
Ultimately, you want to catch yourself telling stories. Awareness is half the battle. It’s not easy, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that it can be done. If you journal, this is a good thing to write down – those episodes when you catch yourself telling a story.
First, when you hear the stories in your head go through this mental exercise. Give the voice in your head a face (not your own!), preferably a face you don’t like very much. Because you’re going to mentally take a swing at that face. You need to beat back the voice so you can feel the distaste in making up stories. I know it sounds goofy, but it works. You don’t need to berate yourself (“C’mon Jeff, you idiot – just do it”). Instead you can berate the voice (“Take that!”).
Second, when you hear the voice in your head telling a story, you can be honest in evaluating the task. Ask yourself these questions (and don’t make up stories in the answers!):
- Is this task really needed?
- Would it be counterproductive to put this off?
- Can I do this right this minute?
Third, set mini-goals. Think about working on tasks in 15-minute increments. You can actually get a lot done in 15 focused minutes, and who can’t commit to that short of a goal!
Finally, work on the fast things first. I know some say work on the hard things first, but if you’ve been delaying on things that can actually be done fairly quickly you’ll find a tremendous sense of accomplishment in knocking those items off the list.
If you’re like me you’ll find tremendous satisfaction, a lessening of the guilt, and a tremendous peace of mind when you purposefully take on the uncomfortable tasks. You’ll sleep better. You’ll free up mental energy to invest in more creative pursuits. You’ll become more productive.
Re-read that last paragraph one more time. That’s a pretty powerful list of benefits for tackling these issues head on. Be bold, step up… and change the world!