If there’s one topic I get emailed and tweeted about more than any other, it’s procrastination.
Makes sense, right? If we’re talking about productivity — getting more creative work actually produced — then the absence of that productivity is the state we’re all seeking to avoid like the plague.
And we call that state of productivity-less-ness — or at least one major variant of it — procrastination.
It’s true that there are often other causes of a lack of productivity: illness, for instance, or lack of necessary materials. But in most cases, the reason we’re not producing doesn’t really have anything to do with outside forces such as viruses and germs and whatnot.
It’s because at some level we’ve chosen not to produce.
We may attach any number of worthwhile justifications to our choice. But if you really want to get back to producing your work, or your art, at some point you’ve got to own up to the simple fact that it was your choice all along.
“All well and good,” you might be thinking right now, “but actually getting past the procrastination just isn’t that simple!”
And you’d be half-right, my friend.
It is simple. But it is far from easy.
What It Doesn’t Take
The problem with most procrastination-avoidance advice that I’ve read is that it confuses the issue, and never really gets at the heart of why we procrastinate in the first place.
Here’s an example: a list from a site called “Time Management Ninja” of “21 ways to crush your procrastination.”
Well, who wouldn’t like that? Love that metaphor, too – crushing like a bug beneath the heel of your boot, maybe? Or a juicy grape, watching it go splat?
And I don’t single this piece, or this site, out in order to embarrass or criticize the blogger or anyone associated with the site, at all.
But this list is a great illustration of what’s wrong with most procrastination advice.
Take a look at it and tell me if you can figure out what’s wrong with this list. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Found it yet?
I’ll give you a clue. Two, in fact. Remember, “21 ways,” right? Lots of cool little tricks here, operating on some well-tested psychological principles behind motivation and focus.
And here are two of the last suggestions, at the very end of the list:
18. Examine the Consequences – One way to motivate yourself is consider the negative consequences if you do not act. What will happen if you don’t get this job done?
21. Get Emotional – I’m not talking about having a breakdown here. But, get passionate. Your energy levels will quickly elevate and your resolve to act will increase.
So what’s wrong with the list?
I would submit to you that these two points — 18 and 21 combined — belong outside the list entirely.
They are, in point of fact, the only things you need to know to defeat procrastination once and for all.
The rest of the list is just psychological tricks to get you to jump through hoops. Those are handy things to know, and they can help you consistently practice a new set of behaviors for sure.
But they’re not going to help you kill procrastination.
Why? Because inherent in each one is the fundamental error underlying most procrastination advice: “To be more productive, do your work.”
It’s a little like the old axiom about building a new business via a somewhat edited biz plan. “Step One: Name the business. Step Two: Make money.”
It doesn’t give you anything concrete to deal with the real problem underlying procrastination.
And what is that?
Simple (not easy): Your reasons-why haven’t become strong or numerous enough … yet.
What Does Work
So, now that I’ve led you all down the meandering, lovely garden path of what-doesn’t-work, allow me to state it positively:
In order to kill chronic procrastination habits,
you must first get absolute clarity on your reasons-why:
your reasons for both why you must change your approach,
and why you must not, cannot procrastinate any longer.
Those aren’t the same thing, by the way. Let me explain by way of an analogy.
If you want to lose weight, you already know how. You must change your behavior by generally eating less. You’ll have to give up the donuts and the exorbitantly-caloric coffee drinks, and you’ll have to restrict the amount you eat every day.
So, we have the old behavior — the donuts and the coffee drinks — and the new behavior — less food overall, healthier choices.
My reasons for continuing the old behavior might include:
- they’re yummy
- they make me feel good
- I crave sweets
My reasons why I want to change, however, generally fall into two categories. There’s the stuff that will happen if I don’t change, and the stuff that will happen if I do. In category #1, we can put truisms such as “I’ll get obese, I’ll develop heart disease, my teeth will fall out.” Category #2, on the other hand, might consist of things like “I’ll feel better, I won’t get so sick as often as I used to, I’ll have more consistent levels of energy, etc….”
See the difference?
Unless my reasons for adopting the new set of behaviors are really strong — strong enough to overwhelm both inertia and the reasons-why I continue to eat those yummy donuts and slam back those frappucinos — I will not succeed, and I will continue to delay the diet.
Bottom Line: Make Your List of Reasons-Why
That’s exactly what I want you to do. Set aside a few hours this week to make an actual, physical list of all of your reasons-why.
- First, make a list of the reasons why you continue in your procrastinating ways. What pain are you avoiding? What pleasure do you get from not-doing?
- Then, make a list of all the pain you could possibly experience if you don’t break your procrastination habit. If you need some prompting on this one, just take a look at my “Cat-5” post here, especially the section subtitled “The Price I Paid.”
- And finally, end on an up-note: make a list of all the awesome, pleasurable results you might get when you do break that procrastination habit.
Aim for both a lot of reasons and emotionally compelling reasons. You need quantity and quality here, if you want to overwhelm your reasons-why-not.
Keep the lists somewhere prominent, where you can pull them out easily and review them. Do that daily — right before you start work. Pull them out again any time you’re tempted to procrastinate. You can also refer to that Time Management Ninja piece for some easy tips on how to maintain your momentum.
But first, you gotta start with your reasons.