Another stumbling block to productivity is procrastination. From the Latin for “belonging to tomorrow,” procrastination is delaying doing what you intended to do.
Why do we do it? It is a maddening behavior – the immediate relief feels great but is short-lived. Ultimately, procrastination corrodes your faith in yourself.
The most popular explanation for procrastination is laziness. But I don’t really believe in laziness, do you? I think we always have reasons for what we do. Understanding your reasons is the key to overcoming procrastination.
Disfavor, Fatigue, Fear
Disfavor. Last week, in “To Increase Productivity, Learn to Say No,” I wrote about the difference that actively choosing your focus makes to productivity. Say yes to things that you care deeply about and are meaningful to you and no to everything else.
Are you procrastinating because you just don’t care about the task? If so, let it go. (If it was really yours, it will come back to you!)
Fatigue. In that same article, I acknowledged that we live in a time when a lot of people feel too busy. Are you procrastinating because you’re just tired? If so, rest. (The task will wait).
Fear. Fear is the catch-all concept for any uncomfortable feelings or thoughts you have about the task. In “Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control),” journalist Charlotte Lieberman summarizes the scientific research that shows that we procrastinate to self-soothe.
“Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time,” she says, “but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.”
We know that procrastination does not solve but rather multiplies our problems by making us feel bad about ourselves. (Researchers call these “procrastinatory cognitions.”) But we stick with this bad strategy because the relief we experience when we decide not to do something unpleasant is powerful reward – akin to removing your feet from a fire.
What we need, then, is a strategy to manage our emotions that solves the problem and provides a better pay off than procrastination.
Luckily, we have one.
Think about the last time you put something off. Find the exact moment you decided not to do it yet.What were you thinking and believing right then?
Is it true?
The last time I procrastinated was about taxes. At the moment I decided not to tally my receipts to turn over to the accountant, I was believing that my motley bookkeeping proved that I’m incompetent at business. Do The Work along with me on the task you put off.
I’m incompetent. Is it true? No. (That was easier than I thought).
How do I react, what happens, when I believe it? I’m embarrassed. I hide. I run from the task rather than confronting it. I allow it to chase me and exhaust myself.
Who would I be without the thought? A person who has to do some math once a year.
Turn the thought around. . .
To the opposite: I’m not incompetent. What is the evidence that the turnaround is just as true or truer than the original thought? What I know of bookkeeping, I’ve 100% taught myself. I have some systems that I maintain every single day. I pay all my bills on time, including quarterly taxes. I hire an accountant to ensure I’m compliant.
Gosh. That sounds like competence to me!
When we find the thought that is the real cause of our procrastination and do The Work on it, it’s a win-win:
- We manage our emotions at their source, thought, rather than at their effect, action, and therefore create no further problems for ourselves
- The payoff of The Work is not deferment, which creates drag, but freedom, which releases energy and creativity.
That – in the words of habit expert Dr. Judson Brewer – is the kind of “bigger, better offer” that can change a bad habit and create a good one.