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