One of the most common issues I see people dealing with is procrastination. Almost all my clients blame it on their laziness. As a coach, I know shear laziness is rarely the reason. I have found procrastination is usually a symptom of a number of issues, some with very simple solutions. Below are some of the common ones I run into:
Issue: Overwhelming Tasks
I think a lot of the time, clients (and I) procrastinate due to being overwhelmed. A goal that seems daunting, almost too big, can feel like it short circuits the brain. If you hear yourself saying things like, “Where do I start?” “I can’t possibly do all this” or you feel like you are just shutting down, mentally, and stalling you might be overwhelmed.
Solution: Break it Down
Break down those larger goals into smaller, doable amounts. From these, create a to-do-list with each smaller goal getting its own due date and plan of action.
Example: I need to get Cole (Kari’s son) a savings bond.
- Get information on where to get a savings bond.
- Call the establishments and find out what is involved.
- Decide where to buy the bond.
- Go to that establishment and buy the savings bond.
NOTE: For you perfectionists who become overwhelmed due to trying to find the best answer, the key is to come to an acceptance that it might not be perfect. Promise yourself you will go on to the next step when the previous is completed even if it is not perfect. Something to weigh is the time lost spent trying to be perfect versus using that time spent working on another task.
Issue: I don’t want to do it.
When I, personally, encounter this symptom of procrastination, I call it my “little boy syndrome.” There are some things we just don’t want to do. One reason is the belief that the pain of not doing them is less than actually them. Put simply, we don’t see or aren’t acknowledging what the value is of getting the task done.
Solution: Figure out why.
Take a second and figure out the value of doing the task. What benefits will you get by accomplishing this task? Even as small a recognition as “If I do this then I won’t feel so guilty” might inspire action. Sometimes it is just acknowledging that finishing the task at hand, something you don’t want to do, will pave the way for the thing you really want. An example might be the dread of studying for that midterm that, if you get an A on, will help you get an A in the class and thus help you keep your 4.0 average.
Issue: “I get stressed out waiting till the last minute but that’s when I do my best work.”
In my experience some clients who wait till the last minute believe (subconsciously) they are fundamentally flawed and, if they procrastinate, then people won’t make this discovery. Waiting till the last minute and having a goal or task be unsuccessful, the person can blame it on not having enough time. But if the person makes sure they have plenty of time and still fails, then the spotlight would be on their abilities. In their eyes, failure is because they are flawed. True, some people may judge them for procrastinating but that is easier to take then people finding out their ultimate secret.
This, in my opinion, is one of the hardest issues to work through. Why? It is rooted in a deep belief about one’s self. Luckily, though it’s hard, it’s not impossible. The key is to gently investigate the beliefs surrounding the “flawed feeling.” A question I ask of clients in this situation is what is the worst thing that would happen if they did their best and then “failed”? Most clients feel like they would be shamed with no “excuse safety net” but nothing significant would happen. In fact if they did “fail” perhaps they would learn something valuable to work on to become better. Bottom line for this issue, it has to become okay to fail. To quote Michael Jordon:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
As I close this week’s column out, here’s a bonus thought for those of us who just find it hard to start a project. Sometimes it is just muscling through the first step. As Nike would say, “Just do it!” For this article, I made a deal with myself. Write down the topic with three issues and three solutions, and then I could go watch a movie. What happened is that I wrote my outline and then thought, “Well let me write a couple of sentences in the ‘issue’s’ categories” and then I thought “Well now that I’m at it, I might as do a little bit more, etc.” Literally, that is how this article got written.
Have a question for Bob? Email him at COACH BOB. Look for answers in a special “ASK THE COACH” column the first Saturday of every month.