All of us procrastinate at some point. Some of us do it quite a bit. Quite a few of us do it so much that it seriously gets in the way of us achieving our goals and getting what we want in life.
Here’s a quick run-down of some of the ways you’ll spot procrastination, and my ideas on beating them. Many of the solutions are in fact interchangeable because procrastination has only a couple of underlying causes, but these pairings up of procrastination type and solution seem to be the ones my students have best luck with.
(Obviously these are things I’ve seen in other people, not myself. I’m perfect.)
1. Productive procrastination
Ever cleaned the house because you’d rather do that than write the Winterman Report? Yeah, me too. This really isn’t the worst type of procrastination. At least you’re doing something. But still. The solution seems to be to remind yourself why the hell you were writing the report in the first place. Write yourself a list of “why’s” and stick it somewhere obvious. Include everything from the proximal (if I don’t do it now, my weekend won’t be my own) to the distal (if I keep coming so close to missing deadlines, I’ll never get promoted).
2. Unproductive procrastination
“Just one more game, mom!” You may not have said the words, but you know the tone. You use it on yourself all the time. “I’ll just listen to one more song… play one more game… lie here for ten minutes more…” This is usually because there’s pain associated with the task. And that pain is usually emotional. And that emotional pain is usually because you don’t really know how to go about it yet. Guess what? You’re not going to figure out how to do the job whilst playing X Box so get off your ass and try. Now. Promise yourself that you’ll spend just ten minutes working on it. Spend the first 2 minutes figuring out a simple step you can do to get started, then the next 8 minutes doing that simple step. If you still really can’t bare carrying on, OK, give yourself permission to go back to the couch. Slacker.
3. Fear of finishing
Most of the time if you’re going to do some interesting work, there’s going to be a result and you’re going to show it to people. That can be scary. Your brain might say all sorts of hugely unhelpful things, like “it’s not good enough” and “I don’t have the talent for this”. Worse still, your brain might give you nothing more concrete than a diffuse sense of unease. Helpful. Thanks brain. Here’s the thing. What’s really scarier? That you might try at something and fail, or that you might die never having tried? You do realise that the world might never know what a great musician you could have been because you died before you got up the nerve to fail? Feel the fear, gulp, and plough on.
4. You’ve not got any widgets to crank
Thinking is hard. Planning is hard. It’s therefore really easy to get stuck in planning a project and never move on to actually doing it. David Allen suggests you just ask yourself what’s the next action. Just do that. Get yourself untuck before you spend the rest of the week planning a project that you can’t get going with.
5. Prioritising the wrong things
I’m not saying they’re wrong. You are. Be honest with yourself. How did you spend this morning? This afternoon? Did you do anything that wasn’t really important? Was it easy to let yourself do it because it was urgent even if it wasn’t important? Steven Covey used a 2 by 2 matrix to categorise all actions. Whilst we would like to spend a lot of time in the calm, intelligent quadrant 2 — not urgent but important — urgent things tend to be highly seductive, even when they’re not important. There’s really only one solution for this. Know what your life’s about and stick with it. Know what your mission in life is. Figure out what’s important to you. Not your friends, not your favourite grandparent. You. And be honest with yourself and why that’s important. If the work in question lines up well with that mission, then other things are just going to have to wait, aren’t they? Screw you guys, I’m on a mission!