'If only I had more time' -- encouragement for procrastinators

I once had a mentor who chastised me every time I explained that I didn't have enough time to make progress on a long-term, stretch goal. He taught me that the top three knee-jerk responses for not accomplishing something was not having enough time, money or energy. Hmm, with my top three reasons now being labeled excuses, I had to face the reality of what might really be getting in the way of me achieving my dreams.

Enter my battle with procrastination. (Hence this article being written at the 11th hour. The irony does not escape me).

It's amazing how fascinating a Facebook post or YouTube video, cleaning my desk, organizing and planning, or doing the laundry can become when I'm faced with a daunting, unclear or undesirable task. Squirrel! Yet the art of defeating procrastination is the gateway to gaining control over one's life.

Why and what are we procrastinating? We put our heads in the proverbial sand, delaying and postponing difficult conversations or tasks, or making a commitment of our time, money or energy for numerous reasons.

The act of procrastinating is wrought with resistance, anxiety, guilt, lethargy and fear. Timothy Pychl, a professor who studies procrastination at Carlton University in Ottawa, explains that it's not a time management problem so much as it is an emotion-management problem. He indicates that instead of focusing on feelings, we need to focus on what the next action step is. Often, it requires us to do the next thing even when we don't feel like it.

We all have competing demands on our time. There are plenty of things on our to-do lists that keep us busy. I am not interested in being busy. I want to be productive. When I hear "busy" I think of firefighting the miscellaneous activities that are urgent but not important. They have little correlation to one's long-term goals.

It's true that sometimes procrastination fosters incredible productivity in one area of our lives; however, it's often at the peril of progress on the things that would bring us a deeper sense of accomplishment. The kind of substantive productivity I want to nurture is the kind that gets the right stuff done. As we prove our capacity to execute what's most important, we build self-confidence, personal integrity and forward momentum. That's how I want to spend my time undertaking things that expand my experience and make my life richer.

If you're like me, you thrive under pressure. The deadlines drive you. What often happens is we create an artificial and not-so-healthy sense of urgency to propel our actions. We meet our deadlines and deliver but at what cost? And, is it really our best performance? The negative impacts include unnecessary stress, threatened credibility, and even deterioration of relationships. Our habit of procrastination robs us of living our potential, feeling a rightfully earned sense of satisfaction, peace of mind, sense of worth and even joy.

The self-proclaimed master procrastinator and blogger Tim Urban says, "A remarkable glorious achievement is just what a long series of unremarkable, unglorious tasks look like from far away." By the way, if procrastination is a well-steeped habit of yours, I highly recommend you check out his entertaining and informative blog (www.waitbutwhy.com).

Raise your game and take the K Challenge:

-Changes don't have to be drastic to be transformative. You can make a significant impact to your sense of control, focus, intentionality, productivity, energy and esteem by tackling that which you are most resistant to. Choosing not to procrastinate requires a commitment to something bigger than just what is in front of you. It requires:

-Getting clear on what you want to experience or impact. What will bring you genuine, long-term satisfaction and fulfillment?

-Getting started. Pick ONE priority each day. Be specific on where to start. Master procrastinators can be consummate planners. Yet their plans are often too vague and daunting and lack a clear starting point or specific action steps for tackling the challenge. Create a step-by-step, tangible action plan for execution.

-Staying focused. Block out 30-60 undistracted minutes to address your No. 1 priority.

-Delaying instant gratification.

-Tackling tough issues. Everyday. It might be a difficult conversation or undesirable task. Muster up the courage to address it fully and wholeheartedly. Don't make it harder than it is.

-Replacing unsatisfying, stress-inducing and ineffective habits with new, action-oriented, high-priority living. Try this experiment: For one week, track how you spend your time by capturing the activities of your day and the amount of time they take. At the end of the week, you'll have a snapshot of your patterns and you can see if what you do is aligned with what you want to get done.

-Learning what and how to delegate. Share the workload while providing others an opportunity for contribution to the organization and professional growth.

-Building in accountability. Sharing your goals and priorities with a trusted colleague or friend and asking them to hold you to it can help you stay on track.

-Asking for help. If you find yourself stuck, find someone to help you think through how to get unstuck. For example, if are struggling with writing a report, assemble key points and make an appointment with a colleague or your boss to brainstorm the message and structure.

-Improving your decision-making skills. Oftentimes executives procrastinate on making a decision until they get all the data or because they secretly hope the issue will go away on its own. Turn off the perfectionism. Have a bias for action.

While I cannot give you more time, these tips can help you achieve measurable results. As you dismantle your resistance, remember to practice some self-compassion. New habits take time and persistence to develop. Celebrate your wins, because they are your building blocks for attaining your goals. What will you tackle today?

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Karen Natzel is a business therapist who helps leaders create healthy, vibrant and high-performing organizations. Contact her at 503-806-4361 or rx@biztherapy.biz.

Published: Tue, Nov 28, 2017

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