Why am I writing about procrastination?
This is a topic that lots of people will have written about, and it’s not quite in my usual line of work but…
On a fairly regular basis, I help someone close to me, who has asked not to be named, with her paperwork. I will call her Sue. It’s the bane of her life and piles up days and weeks at a time (we usually tackle it before a month is up!). It’s a perpetual worry to her. She knows she wants to get it sorted, but somehow can’t get around to doing it.
Sometimes Sue surprises both of us, and gets a lot of the paperwork done before I visit. Other times we tackle it together and get through it in just 20-30 minutes and are then left saying “it wasn’t that bad after all”.
It’s not the only task that Sue finds hard to get on with, but she’s developed tactics for tackling some of them and I thought there might be some clues there to help her. So I’ve decided to put my mind to the subject, hence my revisiting of a wonderful chapter entitled “Mañana” in the Mind Gym book “Give me Time”1, and writing about it in this blog2.
Procrastination is all about underlying beliefs
The essence of the Mind Gym’s approach is based on reprogramming our underlying beliefs – what it is that we are telling ourselves, often unconsciously, that is getting in the way of getting things done. The chapter itemises the different types of beliefs, then helps us to ‘soften them’ and add a ‘get out clause’ so that they no longer stop us doing things. But apparently this approach takes practice, so the authors also give us some quick fixes to be getting on with.
Here is a summary of the various misleading self-beliefs, using my own framework of ‘Can’t and won’t’. I’ve added a third main category of ‘I don’t have time’, which although not in the “Mañana” chapter, is a theme of the book as a whole!
I haven’t discovered yet which of these beliefs is at the root of Sue’s procrastination with her paperwork but if she’s willing I’m looking forward to having an interesting conversation with her to find out.
Some quick fixes for procrastination
The authors very helpfully give us 10 short-term alternatives to use whilst we are practicing to adjust our self-beliefs. I’ve used a number of these myself but also have a couple of others, which I’ve added to make 12.
- Adjust the level of challenge -so it’s stimulating enough without being de-motivating.
- Choose a reward to fit the challenge – a way to celebrate getting the wretched task done!
- Commit to a penalty or forfeit – if you don’t get the task done then pay up to your favourite charity!
- Double your estimate e.g. if it might take twice as long as you thought you had better get started!
- Dive in – do the hard part first – after that it’ll be easy
- Do something to change your mood or your view of things – stand-up, get a cup of tea or go for a walk around the garden (but don’t take too long about it!)
- Tap into positive peer influence – mix with people who get things done and perhaps it will rub off
- Tackle it in bite-size pieces – how do you eat an elephant (metaphorically speaking of course)? A bite at a time.
- Break it down into short stretches of time
- Make a 5-minute start – and then see if that gives you the incentive to continue!
- Make a public commitment – which is what I did about writing this blog. I also use this approach at the end of my training courses / workshops when people tell each other what they will do, how, by when.
- Ask a friend or work buddy to give you moral support – which is what I do with Sue, and she also helps other friends in this way
When is it OK to procrastinate?
I came across a variation of this question in my copy of a new book “ And the next question is…” personally autographed by one of the authors, Rachel Alexander3.
I was wondering what this question was about when Sheila Thomas (@Speranda), from TWI, answered my tweet request for issues and solutions around procrastination. Her example was: “we do postponed things in the first week following the monthly Weldasearch database update as getting enough in for that has priority. [Procrastination is] planned in that we always do this, although [the] specific tasks put off [are] not always predictable.”
I realised then that we can and should apply this principle at work by regularly reviewing and reprioritising what we do, but in a planned way so that the reprioritised items, if they are important, still have an allocated time.
We should of course also give ourselves scope to do this at home, for example when a friend drops in unexpectedly, or to catch those last warm sunny days in our English Indian summer. However it’s a grey day today, so I’m off to the gym just after I get this finished and posted!
I hope you’ve found reading this as helpful as I’ve found writing it. If I’ve missed your particular procrastination issues, causes or any solutions you’ve found to address them – don’t delay, post a comment against this blog so we can share these extra insights with others!
1. They Mind Gym. Give me time. Time Warner Books, 2006. ISBN 0 316 72992 2
2. I can have my own issues with procrastination. Writing this blog has got me re-reading the chapter, and just to make doubly certain that I would both read the chapter and write the blog I put out a note via LinkedIn and Twitter saying that I would be writing the blog in September and inviting input – a public commitment which resulted in some humorous responses: “I’ll think about it…;o)” (thanks Richard!), but also an insightful work-related approach to procrastination from Sheila Thomas at TWI which I’ve shared at the end of the blog.
3. Rachel A. Alexander and Julia M.L. Russell. And the next question is… powerful questions for sticky moments. MX Publishing, 2012 ISBN 9781780922881. The question is number 342 in there list of 364 questions: “When would be the best time to procrastinate about this?”