“Get ‘er done! The Procrastination Proposition”
Procrastination, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is the deferment or avoidance of an action or task and is often linked to perfectionism… For the person procrastinating, this may result in stress, a sense of guilt, the loss of productivity, the creation of crisis, and the chagrin of others for not fulfilling one’s responsibilities or commitments. While it is normal for individuals to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning.
So, why do we all procrastinate? We tend to feel that life is infinite and we keep putting things off. Or is it that we just don’t want to do some of these things. It probably is a combination of several things.
Here’s what I suggest; I want you to test your procrastination resistance and make a commitment publicly to act on all things that come to mind for one week. OK…for one day.
That means if a load of laundry comes out of the dryer, it has to be folded immediately and put it away before it cools off. That would mean less wrinkles for the clothes we are all wearing. If you see a plant that needs water, jump on it right then. Or if there’s dust on something you notice, use your sleeve to get it off. As mail comes into the office, open it, and deal with each piece.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get a bit of a headache… hey, I’ll take some Advil right now.
For one whole day, there is no putting anything to the back burner. The purpose behind this craziness is to see how it feels. Will you feel better or worse than you normally do when you tend to put things off for forever?
Drop me a line on how this experiment goes for you. Now, remember, this is just a test.
Ok, so my research is not very sophisticated, but as I dug deeper to find out why so many of us put things off, I found some good info on this ailment most of us suffer from. I decided to go after and interview some “movers and shakers” in the Business Community across Canada and yes, these are businesswomen in Canada with about the same amount of ‘stuff’ on their plates as we all have. Here’s what I found:
Procrastination – not all bad?
Could it be that procrastination isn’t always bad? Well, if we look at the stats, somewhere close to 95% of all of us procrastinate on some aspect of our lives. We tend to put things off more in our personal lives than our professional lives and I will address both of these in this article.
There is always a number of things you could be doing. No matter what you work on, you’re not working on everything else. Yes, ladies, even you amazing multi-taskers still put stuff off and to be honest with you, multi-tasking only leads to several things being done in a mediocre way and usually not one thing being done outstandingly. So, the question is not how to avoid procrastination, but how to procrastinate well.
Why do most of us procrastinate?
According to Patricia Morgan MA, CCC a Professional Counsellor, Consultant and Speaker from Calgary Alberta.
1. Morgan says that because women are socialized to care about relationships, it is hard to do certain tasks. Cold calling, for example, is easier for males who typically (there are always exceptions) enjoy competition and making a score. For most men, losing creates more determination. Typically, women don’t want to impose on others, they prefer win-win and they feel rejection more strongly. Since a good portion of women’s sense of self revolves around connection and relationship, to not succeed in a relationship, even if it is just a phone call, can be emotionally draining. So, what do we do? We AVOID these tasks until it is completely necessary to do them.
2. Some women are addicted to excitement, to the adrenalin of being on fire. You will hear them justify their procrastination with statements like, “ I am so much more creative when I am flying by the seat of my pants”. I fall into this category.
3. Those of you who wear your hearts on your sleeves and like to take your time with decisions, find it difficult to decide on even a blouse at Winners because you are so fearful of being regretful of that purchase that you put it off and end up wearing that same old shirt you have been procrastinating in for years.
4. So, what about those tasks we just don’t like or want to do? Well, according to Patricia, “Those activities drain us. They make us feel weak. We’re not using our strengths. When we use our strengths, we feel energized and stronger.”
5. My personality style (promoter/socialiser) feels drained after filling in forms, working with numbers, creating contracts and doing laundry. I feel energized when I create a new article, socialize with girlfriends and speak to groups of people.
Perfectionism is just a disease that procrastinators need to get over!
The question should actually be: “What came first, the Perfectionist or the Procrastinator?”
These two ailments are like peanut butter and jam — they just go together. The standards of a perfectionist justify the procrastinator.
In an excellent article from spring of 2008, “The Making of a Perfectionist”, writer Hara Estroff Marano wrote, “Because it lowers the ability to take risks, perfectionism reduces creativity and innovation—exactly what’s not adaptive in the global marketplace.”
When we procrastinate, we are not taking a risk. Marano goes on to write, “Concerned over mistakes, perfectionists tend to interpret mistakes as equivalent to failure and to believe they will lose the respect of others if they put out substantial work.”
The most dangerous form of procrastination is unacknowledged procrastination, meaning that you know you put things off, but you still accomplish a fair bit and from where you sit, more than the majority of people you know. That’s because it doesn’t feel like procrastination. Basically, you’re “getting things done.” Most of the time it just tends to be the wrong things.
Ask yourself three questions:
1. What are the most important problems in your work and home life?
2. Are you working on one of them? If not, why not?
3. What’s the best thing you could be working on, and why aren’t you? Most people will shy away from this question. I think the question that is missing here is: What will happen if I don’t do this task? And if you are OK with the answer you come up with, take it off the to-do list.
According to Mona Hale, C.A. VP Finance & CFO, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, when it comes to our careers, women in business tend to internalize decisions and look at all sides of an issue many times, whereas men tend to be less emotional and more direct in making a decision. This is especially true where staffing issues are involved and might cause a woman to take longer to make a decision as they weigh the emotional impact of their options. Unfortunately, any delays in coming to a timely decision can be viewed as not being able to make a decision or procrastination.
Paul Graham stated in an article on procrastination: “I think the way to ‘solve’ the problem of procrastination is to let delight pull you instead of making a to-do list push you. Work on an ambitious project you really enjoy, and sail as close to the wind as you can, and you’ll leave the right things, which is usually the ‘small stuff’, undone.
So, what’s “small stuff”?
Graham’s answer is “Roughly, work that has zero chance of being mentioned in your obituary.”
Tips and Tricks to get you moving
When feeling overwhelmed by the immensity of a task — whether it’s moving from home or writing a book — break the task into smaller steps, called “chunking”. Write out a check list, gather boxes, check with friends to help you or write an outline, brainstorm titles (that’s the fun part), mind map out sections of the books and possible content for those sections.
2. Balance your tasks.
If you procrastinate because the task or activity is draining, reward yourself afterwards; do a chunk of the draining task and then do some tasks that energize. If your job requires you to do activities that weaken and drain you, look for opportunities to delegate, switch jobs or volunteer to do tasks that utilize your strengths.
Take a look at the article, “Choose and Use Your Top 3 Strengths”.
3. Risk Taking = Mistakes
To tackle perfectionism, begin to observe and appreciate the value of taking risks and making mistakes. Begin with safe places and activities to experiment. Tell yourself, “It’s good enough” for tasks that don’t require total accuracy.
Learn the difference between excellence and perfection. Do some activities just for the fun. Develop a mantra for when mistakes happen such as, “Another mistake, another life lesson!”
Do a task that is safe to you, and in your head, do it to 80% of your liking. Keep notice of how it feels in your body. But do know this; a perfectionist doing 80% is like the rest of us doing about 150%.
4. The “Don’t Think” Method of Getting Things Done!
Much can be said about our ability to think and reason, but too often, our heads get in the way of getting stuff done. The best advice I’ve ever received from a coach was to “stop thinking so much.” Good advice we all should heed!
Scenario: You plan to go for a walk before work tomorrow morning. This requires you to wake up 30 minutes earlier than you are used to. Your alarm goes off, and your head kicks in, “I really could use an extra few minutes of rest. It rained last night and seems a bit cool outside this morning. My back is hurting. If I get into work a bit early, I’ll finish some of that extra work I’ve been putting off. Blah, blah, blah.”
Instead, blindly reach for your walking shoes, stumble from the bedroom and closer to the front door and repeat over and over and over, “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think…” all the way out the door.
You need to get a report done for work or your volunteer organization and you notice dust bunnies in the corners of your house. As you find yourself being pulled towards the vacuum just say to yourself, “don’t think, just focus, don’t think” take on the task to complete the report without the other chatter in your head taking over your focus.
5. Always do something on a MONDAY!
If starting a new hobby, new exercise routine, or healthier eating perhaps, always do something active on a Monday! Because if you do something on a Monday, you will probably do something on a Wednesday, perhaps on Thursday, too, and maybe even that Saturday.
If you wait until Wednesday, then Wednesday usually turns into Thursday, Saturday, next week or not at all.
Build better habits and you will build a better body. Build a better body and along the way, you will put out – and gain – more and more energy. Better habits will lead to a more creative mind, stronger self-esteem, etc.
So, if you are reading this on any other day than a Monday, you simply must go out and do something active, creative or anything that brings you joy TODAY. And then make sure that next week, you begin your week starting your new habit on a Monday!
6. Accountability: The RX to the Procrastination Cure.
Get to know yourself and while you are on that journey, at least be honest with yourself! If you need an accountability buddy (not a watchdog), then get one. All of us get more accomplished having someone to positively keep us on track.
My procrastination mantra is: “Don’t be cranky, be a BAG! Bold, Adventurous and Gutsy!” Life is just a physics equation – get moving and get ‘er done!
Best Selling Author, Award Winning Speaker,
Perspective and Accountability Expert