When we ask ourselves why we procrastinate, a couple of reasons come easily to mind: That we are lazy, and that we suck at time management. The first is actively unhelpful. The time management explanation is also a distraction.
Time management skills are important, don’t get me wrong. Planning, timeboxing, project tracking and to-do lists are all valuable, but you can have all of those things and still be a world-class procrastinator.
Because to not procrastinate means to do the thing that really matters. And the thing that really matters is usually highly emotionally significant. There is a lot at stake, including our beliefs about ourselves. Ironically, a lot of strategies to beat procrastination involve recrimination and punishment – perhaps something we first experience from our early caregivers, and later inflict on ourselves. For that reason, one of the first things I discuss with clients in tackling procrastination is self compassion, with patience and persistence.
Does this mean letting yourself off the hook? No! Have high expectations of yourself. Aim to be a better person, have a better life and have a greater positive impact on those you come in contact with.
But let go of the self-blame and be strategic instead.
You develop a good habit of meditating for 3 minutes a day. Moving up to 5 minutes a day, you start to feel like there is a benefit from it. Reducing anxiety, improving focus, this is really worth the time! So you decide, “I’m going to do 15 minutes every day.”
And maybe that will work and maybe it won’t, depending on what is in your life already and what habits of mind and action you’ve already developed.
It may be that you find yourself putting off the meditation, leaving it until later and then not actually getting back to it. Intending to do it tomorrow, but never finding it compelling enough to do today.
This is a helpful frame. Anything that helps me get started for a matter of minutes, even seconds, or that makes starting just a little more pleasant, gives me a chance of continuing and possibly finding flow.
(I’ll be posting more on this topic, including micro-pomodoros, preparing the workspace and first physical actions, and you’ll find these with the getting started tag.)
People sometimes ask me whether I got into anti-procrastination coaching because I’m a super-effective and productive person who could help other people be like me, or because I had problems with procrastination myself.
Let me assure you, I am not the pinnacle of productive, focused work. I chose this path because I had massive problems with procrastination and didn’t understand why, and then slowly began to find strategies and ways of thinking that helped.
(Photo by me)
I’m still my own first client – I work to improve and support myself before (and in order that) I can work for and support my paying clients. I have my struggles and dysfunctions, and I work on them daily. I also have my own coach who I talk with weekly, which helps me stay on track, get back on track, and deal with the challenges that inevitably come up.
I have successes, I have frequent failures, and I learn from all of them. That’s what progress looks like.
It’s both funny and humbling when I look at my testimonials page and see kind, appreciative words from people who I know are better organised and more focused than me. But I have also learnt not to beat myself up about it, because we have different sets of challenges. I’ve had my issues with physical and mental health which have made motivation and focus extremely hard. Another person finds themselves in a difficult, unsupportive family situation.
It’s okay. By some miracle I was born, I am alive, and right now I’m sitting in the sun beneath a clear sky. And when I stumble, I begin again now, where I am.