You procrastinate. Admit it – we all do. I’ll bet Gandhi did, Mother Teresa, and Churchill. It’s human nature to put off nasty work.
But here’s the rub: it’s also human nature to get things done. We are a species that builds bridges, writes books, solves world issues, and save money so our children can go to university 10 years from now. We know how to get things done.
So it’s doubly frustrating when you procrastinate. You know you should be coaching that employee, or working on the next chapter in your book, or updating your calendar. But, you don’t.
I’m guilty as well.
I will put off something as simple as buying a Thank You card for a client, or calling an associate to set up an appointment. I actually enjoy both of those tasks, but there they are, marinating on my list. “Oh yeah, the card”, I think, one more time.
WHY DO WE PROCRASTINATE?
There are lots of reasons for procrastinating and usually none of them have to do with ability.
Here are some reasons according to the experts:
- you overestimate how important your feelings are “I just don’t feel up to it right now….maybe tomorrow”
- you think that working on your book will somehow mean you miss out on something important (like the Earth rotated another 67,000 miles)
- you think it will take a lot of time to make any kind of difference. “If I’m going to lose 20 lbs. I need to go to gym five times a week!”
A QUICK TEST
How do you know you are procrastinating? Here’s a quick test you can take right now (check which ones apply to you):
___ THE THING DID NOT GET DONE (hope that’s obvious enough.)
___ you’re checking email every five minutes, praying for a distraction
___ for the last eight days you have written “call web designer” every day in your day timer
___ you plan on a walk after work, but instead eat a bag of Doritos and watch an Oprah rerun
___ you see a person you recognize at a coffee shop, but don’t go over to say “Hi”
___ you’re reading this list and feeling guilty.
I’m joking (a bit), but these questions are important: you need to know that procrastination has a cost. For example, how about your health?
PROCRASTINATING ABOUT HEALTH
I don’t know many people who are happy about their fitness. Sure, I have friends that are supremely fit, but most are either in the fitness industry or endurance athletes (neither are normal). When it comes to the thousands of people I present to every year – most are unhappy about their fitness.
When I ask people about their problem, I hear more excuses than solutions. No wonder they don’t don’t take better care of their health.
For decades we have been fed a load of crap that if you want to look like ________________ [fill in name of anorexic movie star here] you need to sweat it out at the gym five days a week.
Stair master, rowing machine, or treadmill – pick your poison. This isn’t going to be fun, but goddamit you will see your abs again.
The reality is this.
If you already procrastinate about your fitness and health, what makes you think a gym membership will change anything?
It’s like buying a new blender. For a while it’s “fantastic!” But then it goes into that cupboard with three other appliances that once were “fantastic!”
The gym membership is not the solution (actually it is for the gym owner, but not you).
The new recipe book on gluten-free cooking isn’t the solution either (although I do have a great recipe for gluten-free burgers my family loves).
The oh-so-trendy moleskine journal isn’t the solution either.
I have a different solution.
PROCRASTINATING IS A PATTERN
First, you need to recognize that procrastination is a pattern. It’s not so much about fitness, making a sales call, or writing your book. How you procrastinate about all of these things follows a similar pattern every time.
That’s good news!
This means that if you can develop a pattern to procrastinate you can develop a pattern to NOT procrastinate.
It’s like speed reading. Once you learn a few tricks and ramp up your reading by, say 400 words per minute you save time and effort every day.
My program The Time Freedom Formula goes into more detail, but I’ll give you some cool ninja tricks to get you moving.
ONCE AND FOR ALL, HOW TO STOP PROCRASTINATING
Before I give you three great solutions, let’s get the absolute, smack-dab best I-hate-procrastination-and-I-want-to-get-things-done solution on the table. And that is to chunk it down.
I don’t care if you want to lose that roll around your waist, write a best-seller, or make two more sales this week. You have to chunk it down.
Here are some examples:
– a brisk walk every day (it should be a bit hard to speak) for 20 minutes will make a huge difference to anyones fitness. In one study, the risk of heart attack in women was reduced by 30-40% just by walking about 20-30 minutes a day.
– writing every day for 20 minutes is how Dave Logan wrote Tribal Leadership (a NYT best seller). Sure it took him 1,106 “Multiple Put Down” moments, as he calls them, but he got it done.
– my keynote sales come from regular webinars, sending thank you gifts, staying in touch with my bureaus, and writing very detailed proposals. In total, it works out to about 10 minutes every day of my time.
My favourite time model is that 10 minutes a day (five days a week) will add up to one full 40 hour week every year. That’s a ton of fitness, writing, or sales calls. Chunking down is the mother of all the get-things-done strategies. [Tweet that out!]
THREE VERY SNEAKY WAYS TO GET THINGS DONE
Once you’ve chunked down into bite-size pieces what you want to get done, use three sneaky tricks to get you going.
1) Put some TNT into your day.
For years I have used a simple trick to avoid distractions and work on what’s important. I call it The Next Thing (TNT). Here’s how it works.
Before I head into a meeting, make a note of what I will do when I return.
I do the same thing before lunch, leaving for the day, or even going to bed at night.
It’s may sound simple, but this little trick keeps me off email, Googling how to spell “anorexia”, or debating what to do next. I just sit down, see the note, and get to work.
Try it and let me know how it works for you.
2) Trick your brain
I’m always more motivated and productive the day before vacation. You?
My brain is excited about the “reward” of the trip coming up and everything seems a bit easier, even more enjoyable, then the day before I step on that airplane.
You can use the same trick every day. Here’s how it works.
Before you tackle that task you’ve been putting off, ask yourself what’s the reward? What fun, different, interesting thing will you do once the timer goes off, or the meeting is over, or the task is done?
My favourites are: head across the street for a nice, hot London Fog (you must try one), catch up on some blogs I follow, meet a friend for a chat, or just go for a walk. The trick is to build some anticipation, even excitement, around the reward.
Even the most mundane task can be manageable when there’s a treat for when it’s done.
3) Use an egg timer
It’s called the Pomodoro technique and works like a damn. Instead of dreading a job like proposal writing or inviting people to a meeting, you just commit to 20 minutes. That’s all I’ve got folks – take it or leave it. And, in fact, that’s exactly what you do. When the egg timer goes off, you stand up, take a five minute break, and then decide if you want to work more on this job, or switch to a different one.
By the way, Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, which was the shape of the egg timer used by Francesco Cirillo when he invented this system (at least that the story he’s going with).
NOW DO THIS
If you have read this far you know you need to tackle procrastination face-on. Here’s how.
Pick any one of the three ninja tricks above and try it for a week. Not a day – a week. You need to really give it a chance to prove itself. Then pay attention. Notice any change in results, how you feel, what comments you get back. Look for what changes are working and go with those. No improvement? Okay, toss that one and try another one.
You’ve got lots of years ahead of you. Investing a little time now to experiment with something this important is, in my books, a great investment.
Let me know below how it’s working for you. I want to know!
coffee cup: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eccampbellphotography/
men walking: http://www.flickr.com/photos/recklessbyname/
egg timer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/barbourians/