Category Archives: Procrastination

Using The Pause to tame The Ping

You know that sensation you feel that stops you from what you’re doing and entices you to check your email, or your social media feeds, or whatever has a call on you? Todd Henry calls it ‘the ping’.

Todd’s definition of the ping has been really useful for me. When he described it as a philosophy, it struck a chord: “Something out there is more important than whatever is right here”.

People say that if you call out and name a problem, you begin to weaken its hold on you. I think by recognising this impulse and actually labeling it, you’re in a much better position to get on top of it.

Hello Ping, we see who you are now, and soon, we’ll have you on the run!

It’s getting more difficult though. The connectivity revolution has meant that we can access pretty much anything in the world at any time from an electronic device that sits on our lap or in our hand. As we are fortunate to live in a truly wonderful world, it makes perfect sense that at any time, there’s something going on ‘out there’ that’s as least as interesting as we’ve got going on here, with the possible exception of when we are talking about ourselves!

Research is now revealing that the lure of email, social media etc. is as, if not more, addictive as the kind of drugs that have ruined lives for centuries. Why wouldn’t we be attracted to the unlimited excitement and fascination that awaits us in the big bad (online) world?

This is a problem, and one we need to tackle. Fast.

Back to Todd’s definition: he doesn’t use the word interesting or fascinating or entertaining. He uses the word important. And that’s good news. I’m not sure we can compete and win on grounds of fascination or entertainment but we can certainly decide for ourselves what’s more important. And this means we can own this problem, and take responsibility for it.

I’ve battled with the ping for a few years. I find some days I have him under control, other days I find him over-powering. But here’s something that I find works well for me. I’m going to call it ‘The Pause’. (why not name it and capitalize it, makes it seem very authoritative. Thanks Julien Smith, and others!)

I’ve noticed that when the ping hits and we stop what we’re doing to explore something else, it’s rarely a one-step process. Let me explain that by reminding you of your days of studying in a library. One minute you’re reading your book or scribbling on a page, then something distracts you, you look up and the spell is broken. It’s a one-step thing. You’re working, you look up, now you’re not working.

With electronic devices it tends to be a two or three step process. You stop what you’re doing, you click on something new, you wait for it to launch, then you’re off on another path. Sometimes you have to complete another step, press another button, enter a password etc. This is actually great because it creates some space for The Pause. And what is The Pause? It’s that moment when you realise when you’ve been pinged and you hold back before you commit to the distracting activity.

At first, it can be difficult to always do the right thing when you notice The Pause. You’ll probably find you’ll proceed to checking your email or Twitter or the news or whatever it is. But over time, you’ll begin to notice that you always have a Pause. And some of the time, you can actually back away from what you were going to do and go back to your work. The more you do this, the more strength you will build (some call this discipline or willpower) and you will be more likely to feel The Pause and then go back to work.

Environment matters a lot too. The more distractions that are within eyeshot, the worse the ping will be. All forms of reminders or alerts, apart from those which signal an appointment, are bad news. They are the highest form of the ping. As far as I know, it’s possible to disable all of these alerts. If they’re pinging you, get rid of them.

I’m learning a lot by working with a couple of our Smarter Egg circles on this topic. This stuff sounds so easy but it trips most of us up, most of the time.

(Image credit to Claudia Regina via Flickr)


Don’t wait to start doing the right thing

I was in school just when the personal computer was becoming popular. The ‘coolest’ thing for kids our age. aside from playing football of course, was to get access to a computer. In truth, I preferred playing games, as primitive as they were. But we also did some programming. It was in BASIC, one of the more popular early languages.

One of the programming constructs we used often was the IF-THEN instruction. IF something or other is the case THEN the computer should do this or that.

That IF-THEN idea came into my mind again in recent weeks arising from some really useful sessions with some of our Smarter Egg groups. Quite a few people have caught themselves making the IF-THEN mistake when it comes to their work and business.

Here’s the problem:

IF I get the promotion/get that contract/expand the business/am assigned onto that project

THEN I will start doing the higher-value tasks and work that’s required

But, is it the right idea to postpone doing that higher-value work until the circumstances change?

Todd Henry makes the point very well in his book The Accidental Creative, where he talks about the dilemma we face when we are expected to produce great ideas on demand.

If you want to deliver the right idea at the right moment, you must begin the process far upstream from when you need that idea. You need to build practices into your life that will help you focus your creative energy.

He’s right. Developing the right practices is so important. And there’s no point waiting for that IF-THEN moment for you to start doing the right thing.

Think Rugby. Do you think you’re better off passing to a player who’s already moving or one who’s standing still?

Taming the ‘ping’ with a new morning habit

First things first! Start with your most important task! Eat that frog!

All of this is good, sound advice for what to do at the start of a workday. Why would you want to postpone your most important work in favour of trivial tasks?

But it’s not as easy as it used to be. Five years ago, for most people, starting work involved traveling to a physical location and firing up some form of PC or laptop. Now, though, the device that some people use for their alarm clock can also give them instant access to their email and a bunch of other fascinating applications and platforms that give them updates, more updates, and even more updates.

I’m not fully versed in the brain science behind the cognitive disruption caused by email or a Twitter feed but at the very least, it’s distracting to our work and can set us on a different course. And, yes, it feeds the resistance.

Seth Godin called this out last week. It hit me like a slap in the face. In my mind, I was still doing the first thing first (well most days at any rate) but I realised I had let the allure of the update to flood my world before work began. Todd Henry calls it the ping – the idea that there’s always something more interesting out there than we’re working on right here.

I need to stop surrendering to the ping. I want to stop surrendering to the ping.

Of course, the chatter in my mind began to fight back: Isn’t that awfully late to be checking in to see if there are ‘important’ messages? So, you have to wait until you get to your office (a 20-min commute) to begin your first piece of work? What about all that downtime? You’re not participating in the conversation!

It seems a lot of people have been hooked. I was fascinated to observe in this piece about getting up early just how many people get up at ungodly hours and yet the first thing they do is check their email!

So, how will I break the cycle of addiction, or perhaps more accurately, with what am I going to replace the habit?

I would love to do more writing. I always feel that I’m only capturing a tiny fraction of the learning I’m picking up from the Smarter Egg work itself and also from the running and the growth of the business. So, that’s the replacement habit. A piece of writing, to be published on the blog, every morning before I ‘check in’.

Various theories on habit-forming suggest you need to commit to a 21 or 28 or 30 day plan. I’m going to commit to 21 consecutive workdays (weekends are off limits).

Oh, and by the way, this was written on Day 1. I resisted the lure of the ping. And it wasn’t as uncomfortable as I feared.

Two questions you need to ask yourself every day


Q1: How would you like to feel when your work is done today?

Got it?

Q2: What actions could you take now to maximise the likelihood of feeling like that?

The answer to Q2 will probably include stuff you don’t feel like doing now.

You have two choices: face up to what you need to do  & do it now OR think about it but do something else.

So, how do you think that latter option will make you feel?

Are procrastination and laziness the same?


For many people, procrastination is perceived as being the same as laziness. If you’re not getting things done, if you’re not meeting your commitments, people are quick to generate all manner of unpleasant labels:  sloppy, unreliable, useless, lazy.

But is this fair? Is it even true?

For me, laziness suggests an unwillingness to do anything. When I think of laziness, I think of apathy, inactivity and a lack of energy.

Wait a minute. Procrastination isn’t actually a passive or inactive process at all. It’s, in fact, a very active process. We choose to do something else rather than the thing we should/could/want to be doing. We substitute one activity for the one we are avoiding. So, for most of us, we are not apathetic, inactive or lazy when we are procrastinating.

I would even argue that using terms like laziness will only feed a negative mindset that will make your procrastination habit progressively worse. In our programmes and when coaching clients, I always say that you can’t criticise yourself out of procrastination. Breaking the habit has to begin with an acceptance of a positive outlook, a belief that it is possible for you to replace procrastination with production.

Just because you’re procrastinating on something does not mean you’re lazy.

Resistance, procrastination & Seth Godin


What is it that causes us to delay action? What is it that causes us to procrastinate?

Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. His wonderful book, ‘The War of Art’, explores this concept better than any other book I have found on the topic. It’s a book I use in the Smarter Egg Overcoming Procrastination programmes.

This quote captures the essence of the idea:

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

If you have ever wanted to do something new, exciting and rewarding but found yourself not quite getting there, then you have already met Resistance. As far as I can see, we all have.

I was intrigued to see recently that Seth Godin is now exploring this very topic in his new book, ‘Linchpin’. Seth suggests that there is a biological source for Resistance. He calls it ‘the lizard brain’. Of course, this proposes that everyone has it. And I think he’s right.

How do we defeat Resistance? Acknowledging that it’s there is a good start. Understanding how it affects us will make things clearer. But, we only succeed when we roll up our sleeves and take it on. Defeating Resistance, overcoming procrastination, making a start: these need to be active processes. Movement is required.

What’s your next step?

Why do we put off enjoyable tasks?

Traveler Looking Out

One common misconception about procrastination is that we only tend to put off the things we hate to do. There are so many examples of tasks we would love to avoid: housework, going to the dentist, having a ‘difficult’ conversation etc. It’s easy to understand why we might choose to delay acting on those.

Would it surprise you to learn that we can be equally as bad at putting off tasks that bring us pleasure? At the simplest level, this can include our inability to redeem frequent flyer miles on time but can also extend to the point where we actually are deferring our capability to live happy lives.

In the ‘rat race’ paradigm, it’s normal to defer the lives we want to live until we achieve our goal, our promotion, our next big target. “When ‘the big thing’ happens, then I can start enjoying my life!”

This article from the New York Times explores research on why we respond better to tighter deadlines when redeeming gift vouchers. Some of us might shy away from deadlines as we see them as being ‘overly-controlled’. But, ask yourself, why would you postpone enjoying life?

The commitment contract

Procrastination is a powerful force. Quite often, it’s too powerful for us, preventing us from taking action in the way we would like.

One of the keys to overcoming procrastination is to allow ourselves to build systems, structures and relationships that give us the means to overcome the impulse to procrastinate. This piece from the The Economist provides a great example of a ‘commitment contract’, using the example of one of the most common New Year Resolutions – the desire to quit smoking.

If you are already struggling to make progress with your New Year Resolutions, try to think about ways that you could change the definition of what you are trying to achieve. Try to focus more on what you might lose. Try to involve others so that you don’t want to let them down. Try to put some form of external stimulus in place that keeps you going when it might be easier to put things off.

New Year Resolutions aren’t easy to achieve. But they’re not quite as difficult or as hopeless as you might fear.

The elasticity of time


Even though I use a quote from Albert Einstein elsewhere on this site, this post is not an exploration of his theory of relativity!

In recent weeks I have experienced both the total relaxation of holidays and the hectic busyness of a very full work schedule. Every day that passed apparently had the same number of hours on the clock. But it certainly didn’t feel that way.

The clock ticks at the same pace all the time. Each day comes and goes. The sun rises and then sets. Newspapers land in the stores with a new date.  Yet, time can feel so elastic.

On some holidays, with days of unstructured relaxation lying ahead, time can appear to be infinite. And many of us will tend to act as if there is an unlimited supply of time. But the clock is ticking at the same pace.

When we are under pressure, facing a deadline, or have over-committed ourselves, it feels like time is in very short supply. We work to maximise the output of every single minute. Yet, the clock is ticking at the same pace.

From working closely with people in our ‘Overcoming Procrastination’ workshops, I have noticed that our varying perception of the value of time can lie at the root of many non-productive behaviours. Why do we treat our time as being precious and valuable one day, yet the following day act as if it is a commodity with an infinite supply?

Finding a more consistent or level balance on how we value our time can be hugely effective in helping us get into a productive mode and ultimately, achieve our targets and goals. If we can find our optimal ‘sense of urgency’ and ensure that it is sustainable, then we will have developed a very productive habit.

The ‘sense of urgency’ label may have become a cliche in many business circles but I think it accurately captures a critical point of human behaviour. Of course, it’s easy to abuse the concept, especially in corporate environments where ‘sense of urgency’ is measured as a required competency. I have seen many expend a lot of energy in creating a storm of dust but ultimately achieving very little.

So, here’s a key question: what is the optimal level of urgency that gets you moving on what you need to do but doesn’t tire you too quickly?

In recent months, I have developed the habit of a daily reflection, mostly completed before I begin my work. At present, I reflect on four points under the heading of ‘sense of urgency’:

  1. My time is not infinite
  2. Today will never come again
  3. Now is the time to act
  4. I am at my best when I move with purpose

What works for you when you work to arm yourself with your optimal sense of urgency?

Overcoming Procrastination – Cork September ’09

It’s showtime!

The first Smarter Egg Overcoming Procrastination programme will commence on Wednesday, September 23rd at the Ambassador Hotel, Cork. The first session will run from 7pm to 9.30pm.

This will be the first of four sessions with the other dates reserved for September 30th and October 14th & 28th.

Places on this initial programme are strictly limited to just fifteen people. Already, almost half of the places are reserved so procrastination on signing up will likely lead to disappointment!

This programme will be a unique blend of different learning elements: interactive workshops, facilitated discussions, personal assignments with a special option of individual coaching in the area of procrastination.

If you would like to participate or would like to treat a spouse, family member or colleague to an innovative learning experience, then please contact us immediately to reserve your place.