The Art of Procrastination

Are you like me and put things off that you don’t really want to do, not necessarily because they are too hard but because they just don’t inspire you? So what happens? Well, my experience – both personally and from what clients have told me – is that we will do all sorts of things which aren’t of much value at all to us or our business…

This is also known as the art of soup making, more of that later…

thinking can be an important part of preparing for a task

thinking can be an important part of preparing for a task

Suddenly tidying up the office, culling emails, finding people on LinkedIn or even spending time on Facebook or Twitter all seem to be more urgent and important than the task we’re putting off. At least before Social Media some of the things we did were useful, even if not value add – perhaps now not so much!

Now I’m not saying that doing so is a always bad thing – at times it’s more helpful to have absolute clarity about what it is we want to achieve and ‘create’; other times it’s important to be calm when making difficult conversations.

What we don’t often recognise is we have spent a lot of time thinking about the task and that thinking has been an important part of the preparation – some of it on a fully conscious level and some on a subconscious/unconscious level, call it what you will. We have already started to write the report, prepare the presentation, strategise the difficult conversation in our minds – so not all that time was pure procrastination.

I have to be honest here; it’s an art that I’ve perfected over the years – in fact I’ve often said that I have a PhD in procrastination! For me procrastination happens for two reasons: the task simply doesn’t tick that ‘Hell yes!’ box even if very bad things might happen because I haven’t done it e.g. HMRC are going to fine me for not filing a return. And the other thing that delays me is because I think it’s going to be hard; and you know what – once I get started it rarely is and the sense of achievement when I’ve done it is pretty cool too!

Really all that’s happening when we procrastinate is we let our thinking about that task – the effort it will take, the value or value add it has/doesn’t have, the time it will take, the ease with which we can do it – get in the way. In some cases we give more energy to all the thinking we have about the task than it takes to do the task itself! I’m sure that you, like me, can remember more than one occasion where that’s happened.

We give importance and credence to the thinking we have about the task and in doing so we have action paralysis. But what if we were to acknowledge them as just that – thoughts – and there is no need to act on them? And in knowing that, those thoughts that are on a procrastination loop – “Shall I, shan’t I”, beating myself up – just dissipate.

And when you know that it’s no more than your personal thinking, then thoughts of procrastination are of no consequence and it’s simply a case of “Yes, I’ll do it now” or at an agreed time. And when that agreed time arrives, we are more likely to do it – we may not enjoy it, but we do it and we do it to the best of our ability.

The ‘Hell no!’ tasks – those things that you don’t enjoy doing why not consider how they can be done by someone else by delegating or outsourcing. There are plenty of people for whom your ‘Hell no!’ is their ‘Hell yes!’ and they enjoy doing those things and enjoy being of service. And in doing so you’ll be of greater service to you and your business. And of course it gives you time to work on other ‘Hell yes!’ value added things.

In his book Get Everything Done And Still Have Time To Play, Mark Forster suggests that before you take a break of any sort (cull emails, make coffee) at least start that task. If only writing a heading and the first line – the hardest thing of all when procrastinating is starting. And if it’s a difficult conversation then just call the person and ask them when it would be a good time to call to have a longer chat and book the call. It’s something that I’ve found very useful.

And finally – why soup making? Well, Lucy Whittington of Being a Business Celebrity tells a great story about a client who – whenever he was procrastinating – would go and make soup from scratch. So procrastinating has quickly become making soup and it’s a great lead in to a conversation, “You know how when …”

Until next time …

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