Janet, a successful training consultant, brought up the hot topic of procrastination in a recent group discussion. “I’m the only thing getting in my way,” she said. “It’s not rocket science – I’m clear on the steps I have to take, and I have a daily checklist. But for some reason there is always an excuse – something more important, or I’m too tired, or I promise myself I’ll start tomorrow. I am paralyzed by procrastination!”
The group applauded her honesty and many quickly revealed that they too, were frustrated with their own procrastination.
COACHING INSIGHTS, DECISIONS AND ACTIONS
Instead of coming up with more tools and techniques to manage time, we decided to dive deeper into the source of procrastination. I asked the group members to consider what thoughts and emotions come up when they procrastinate. Here’s what they uncovered:
1. I put off making certain phone calls because I’m afraid they won’t want me, and I just don’t feel like I can deal with that kind of disappointment right now.
2. I’ll take just a little too much time getting up in the morning – just long enough so that a good workout will definitely make me late – so I say I’ll do it at night, and then at night I’m too tired and promise myself I’ll do it in the morning.
3. I may be missing one piece of critical information, and it’s going to take too long to find that information and also do the project, so I move onto other urgent things that I can get crossed off my to do list quickly.
4. I don’t know enough – I’m going to make a fool out of myself. I should prepare more.
5. I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing. If I move forward, I might make things worse.
What we noticed when we put everyone’s “procrastination thoughts” on the table is that the tasks that were being procrastinated on all had inner conflicts associated with them. It may have been clear what needed to be done, but underneath, doubts and fears made the tasks both uncomfortable and draining – even to think about.
Each participant made a list of what they procrastinated on, and identified what was uncomfortable or draining about the task. Then we moved to the topic of energy management.
Willing yourself to do an uncomfortable or draining task requires energy. This means that any task on your “procrastination list” will take five times as long for you to do. It also means that once you’ve done it you’ll feel exhausted, even if that exhaustion includes a brief moment of exhilaration from the accomplishment!
The big “ahas” in the group session came in the form of relief, to finally see a logical reason that explained their procrastination. Janet said, “Oh I see it’s not that I’m a loser, and I’m not stupid, and I don’t have a secret desire to self-destruct after all. Instead I’m not seeing that this simple 5 minute phone call is realistically going to take me about an hour – not because the task takes a long time, but because it takes so much out of me”.
As group members re-framed the tasks they had been procrastinating on – accounting for the extra time and energy these would take because of fear, inner conflict, and pushing outside their comfort zone- they were able to be more realistic about planning, getting the support they needed, and cheering themselves on for taking baby steps instead of criticizing themselves for their avoidance.
Whenever we make changes, either personally or professionally, we are going to run into tasks that are uncomfortable. They may seem simple on the surface, but because they are new, they take more time and energy. The good news is that once you get yourself moving and actually do the tasks a few times, they slowly get easier, more comfortable, less fraught with conflict, and they start taking less time and less energy.
Usually people who procrastinate want to act, but haven’t considered what it will really take to get moving. This leads to negative self-judgment, and adds even more weight and inner conflict to the task in question. Once they acknowledge procrastination as a signal that something is understandably more disconcerting than it looks on the surface, it’s easier to allow themselves extra time and energy, and work into successful action.
Have you been procrastinating?….Think about this exercise and it will help you uncover any inner obstacles that have been holding you back. You’ll find that when you do go back to tackle those tasks, you may even be energized by them!!
Please Note: While coaching scenarios I am sharing are based on real situations, names and identifying information has been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. Any similarity to real people or situations is coincidental.