Hello, my name is Allison, and I am a procrastinator. I procrastinate and so does everyone I know. Not only do we all procrastinate, but we beat ourselves up about it too.
I’m such a loser – but I just can’t handle doing that right now
I know I’m not getting to it – I’m a failure as a lawyer
What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just do it?!!
I am going to let you in on a little secret from my coaching practice: I have learned that procrastination isn’t stupid, it’s smart.
We procrastinate for good reason.
Surprisingly, when you reflect on the truth about why are you procrastinating and what needs to be done, procrastination can be transformed into productivity.
Here’s how this works.
Step one: Start by making a list of everything you are procrastinating about.
This first step is important. Instead of cluttering up your head with your list of stalled To Dos get them onto paper.
Step two: Review this list and choose your top three.
What are the top three items that need attention?
If you are having difficulty prioritizing, consider this: Which of these is going to have the biggest positive impact on you or on others when you get it done?
In many cases the things we procrastinate about are also important to us or others. This step of reviewing the list to pull out the top three items, is an important exercise in pausing to recognize what matters.
Step three: Choose one thing you are procrastinating on from your short list.
This is the one project on your list that would have the greatest positive impact on you or others when it is done.
This one thing now become your first action item to get started on. It is your top priority.
We often think of procrastination as wasted time, but that is not an accurate assessment. We aren’t wasting time, because when we are procrastinating we are choosing to put our time and attention on something else.
Procrastination is more like limbo. A state of trapped intentions. We are committed to something and now that commitment is on hold. The longer our action is suppressed the more the pressure mounts until finally the discomfort of inaction and fear of its consequences pushes us into motion.
To shift out of limbo faster, pause to take stock of the projects you are stalled on, develop your shortlist, and choose one action to carry forward.
Step four: Tell the truth to access your courage.
What are your reasons for not taking action on this top priority?
It could be that you feel stress or worry about the possible outcome. It is easy to put off doing those things that make us uncomfortable.
Here’s what important to know. It is normal to feel stressed about projects that are new, complicated, or challenging. The uncomfortable feeling of stress is a natural part of the learning process. When you face a challenge and aren’t sure of the outcome your body responds with a stress response. This physical response helps prime your brain and body for performance. What is needed is not to postpone taking action, but to access your courage to move forward.
First comes courage. Then comes action. As you take action you learn and grow. Over time confidence emerges.
Step five: Connect with what is important.
You have looked at your reasons for not acting. Now consider, why is this item important? How will it positively impact you or someone else? How will you learn and develop from this experience? What are the long-term benefits?
Considering these questions helps strengthen your commitment. It reminds you of what is meaningful and can help give you the encouragement you need to take action.
Step six: What is the precise next step to take to get this moving forward? Write this down on your To Do list and make it the first thing you do when you start your day.
Make a procrastination review a part of your weekly planning. Let those things you are procrastinating on remind you of what needs to be moved to the top of your To Do list. Recognize that there are always good reasons for procrastinating and there are even better reasons for taking action. Courage must come first, confidence will follow.
Over the past decade plus of coaching myself and lawyers I have learned a lot about procrastination – why we do it, and what to do about it. Most recently I have found the work of leadership coach Dan Sullivan valuable reading on this topic: Procrastination Priority. I agree with Sullivan that rather than being treated as a bad habit, procrastination can give each of us insight into ourselves, and when we access our courage, procrastination can become a positive impetus for taking action.