I said it in the last blog post and I’ll say it again;
“Habits are not broken. They are replaced.” (Tweet this)
If we’re doing it right, we replace bad habits with better ones. In this case procrastination is the bad habit resulting in stress, fear and some fairly serious consequences when it becomes chronic.
Procrastination, coupled with a lack of structure, leads to that feeling of dread when all you can see is the whole, you can discern none of the parts and it all looks overwhelmingly insurmountable.
If you know this feeling you will agree that it’s not great. It’s also true to say that it’s a lie; a trick of the mind that paralyzes us and protects the status quo. When we actually get into the doing of the task, we often find that our initial preconceived notion of how uncomfortable it was going to be, turns out to be an over exaggeration. In the absence of a “start” to help us make this realisation, however, we look at the task, put our head in our hands and ask the rhetorical question:
“Where do I start?”…as if I already know the answer … “I haven’t got the first bog notion where to start!!”
I do know where to start and so do you. That’s just the fear talking; Fear of responsibility, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of whatever!
A technique I use when I feel this way is to ask myself;
“If I were responsible for getting this done, what would be the first thing I would do?”
Yes, I know that I AM responsible for getting this done. Phrasing the question this way simply introduces a temporary dislocation from that responsibility so that I can think objectively. It helps me get a “start”. The quicker and better I start, the sooner I can realise how wrong my preconception was in the first place.
The other positive about this question is the fact that it gets me thinking methodically about my approach to the problem. In other words, it gets me planning.
So, central to our attack on procrastination is the introduction of structure. Yep, you guessed it, we’re going to plan, prioritise and get organised.
“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential” Winston Churchill
Planning gets scheduled as task #1 in proceedings.
Ask questions like:
- What do I need to accomplish?
- What are the goals?
- What’s the timeline?
- What resources will I need?
- How many of the resources do I control?
- Who controls the rest?
Goals and measures are important to stay on track. When setting goals keep them as SMART as possible; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based.
Specific: This is related to language conversation we had in the second post in this series. When you state something specifically you trample all over ambiguity. There is no doubt as to what is expected and therefore what is important.
Measurable: How will you know you have been successful? And when you are successful, for goodness sake “Celebrate”… you’ve just given procrastination a kick in the sweet spot!!
Achievable: To set a goal that you were never going to be able to achieve is counterproductive at the best of times. For someone who procrastinates it can be tragically fatal to their efforts in combating procrastination. It acts as confirmation that planning doesn’t work… “I planned and I still screwed up!” This can then be used as an excuse (either consciously or subconsciously) not to try further. It is very important in this regard that it is possible for you to achieve the goal in the first place.
Realistic: Given your present set of circumstances, experience level, skills set etc. is it realistic to say that you will achieve this goal by the deadline you have set?
Time-Based: Nothing motivates like a deadline. Even people who procrastinate can operate well to deadlines when they have prioritised their work properly. When setting yourself deadlines, remember one of Murphy’s Laws:
It takes 90% of the time to do 90% of the project, and another 90% of the time to finish the remaining 10%.
In other words, always give yourself more time than you think it will take to complete the task.
If you are worrying about the fact that you have done no work on something that you don’t even need to be working on until later, then you are worrying needlessly. Not only that, you are also affecting your focus on the things you do need to be working on right now!
That said, you’re never going to know what needs to happen and when, unless you sit down and prioritise your goals.
One way to do this is to separate your goals into:
- Important to get done
- Nice to have
- Not central to what I’m trying to achieve.
Now, when you are faced with choices or multiple things to do, apply the scale and always choose the highest level.
Another approach is suggested by Lominger research showing that effective managers typically spend about half their time on two or three key priorities.
Ask yourself the question:
On what tasks need I spend half my time?
Get To It!
Now you have planned your approach, so you know what is required by what date. When something else comes up, you also have a decision support mechanism to help you distinguish between mission critical and not so important.
Then comes the fun bit, “doing” the project!! You’re already good at that so we don’t need to pass too much comment here.
Just two other techniques that I use in this regard, that work very well.
Firstly, I estimate and do 10% of the work immediately. That way I can better judge how long the whole project will take.
Lastly, I source an external point of accountability, usually my wife for her sins!
It doesn’t necessarily have to be anyone involved in the project, just someone who is aware of your plan. Sit with them, explain your approach and ask them to check up on your progress regularly. It could be a parent, a sibling, a friend, a manager, a colleague or a mentor. Just someone who wants to see you do well!
It’s amazing the amount of focus instilled by the prospect of a regular update meeting.
After that, it’s practice, practice, practice!
So to summarise our approach to combating procrastination:
- Accept that you tend to procrastinate – including all the inherent positives as well as the ineffective behaviours
- Check your language – replace negative or non-committal language with more positive words and phrases
- Get organised – View planning as part of the project, not as a separate task
- Persistence – don’t give up. Keep plugging away. The more you practice the sooner it becomes second nature.
That’s it…. Simple, right?
Let me know how you get on!