Procrastination as Information
When clients admit to procrastinating on an action in session, they are usually shrouded in shame and embarrassment. As if somehow they are a failure, because they’ve been procrastinating.
Does this sound familiar:
It feels like there’s a part of you that knows you “should” be doing this action and that part even wants to be doing it. But there’s another part of you that’s like a whiny 3 year old, stomping your foot, saying, “I don’t WANNA!” You beg and plead with that 3 year old inside of you, but you just can’t get into action. And the more you push against it, the stronger the resistance.
Some of my clients think that, as their coach, I can fix them, force them, make them take action. But here’s the thing – they’re not broken and neither are you. And the more you push against resistance the stronger and more powerful it becomes.
Procrastination is a symptom of something. It’s not evidence that you’re broken. It’s evidence that your unconscious is staging a rebellion. And in order to bring your unconscious back into alignment with your conscious mind – you have to understand what is causing the rebellion.
Why shaming doesn’t work
Imagine if you went to a doctor and told him you have a sore throat. And instead of the doctor examining you and running tests and prescribing treatment, instead, he told you that you were bad and wrong for having a sore throat.
Would that fix your sore throat?
Wouldn’t you just feel bad about yourself and still have a sore throat? And yet, that’s exactly what you’re doing every time you beat up on yourself for procrastinating. It doesn’t work. Cut it out!
Procrastination is a symptom
Procrastination is the key to finding out what your unconscious is trying to tell you. So instead of shaming yourself – start investigating. Become Dr. House and investigate what is causing your procrastination. Get curious.
What is the root cause of your procrastination?
What Causes Procrastination?
There are many different reasons for procrastination. And if you tend to procrastinate on a lot of different things – you may have different reasons for each thing. Here is a list of common causes and some suggestions to counter them:
- Your goals are unclear – you’re not sure why you should be doing this thing
Get clear on your goals – what specific goal does this action serve?
- There is a learning curve for this action and you don’t know how to do it
Find someone who can show you how. Take a class to learn how. Google it! Take the action and be willing to do it badly while you’re learning.
- The action is too big, too vague or too general (overwhelming)
Break it down and get specific.
- You have a lot of different actions you need to take and they all seem of equal priority or importance
Make a list and knock them out one at a time – if they are truly of equal priority, just pick ANY one. Learn how to manage conflicting priorities.
- No matter what you do, it’s never enough. And you’re not allowed to play until you finish your homework!
Celebrate each accomplishment, each baby step. Make sure you take breaks to play, exercise, just breathe. Not allowing yourself to celebrate is a recipe for burnout. This is critical!
- The action feels like a big risk and you’re afraid to take that risk
First ask yourself, “Is this true?” In other words, is it really the risk you think it is? You may find that your fear of the risk is making it seem bigger. Get support or coaching around overcoming your fear.
- When you imagine taking the action, you anticipate that it will be difficult or frustrating or even just boring
Just do it for 15 minutes – you can stop after 15 minutes. Put on some really great music. Reward yourself for having done it by doing something really fun next.
- When this action is complete, the next obvious action is either invisible (if I do this, then what?) or really scary (if I do this, then I’ll have to do THAT!)
Very often the next step will become clear when this step is done. And you don’t have to do it alone. Work with a coach to help you through the scary stuff and figure out what’s next. And remember – just focus on the action in front of you – the next action will be dealt with when it’s time to deal with it!
Diagnosing Your Procrastination
Do some of the above suggestions ring true for you? Here are a few more questions that might help you uncover the underlying cause of your hesitation and/or resistance. First, don’t ask “why”! “Why” just gives you reasons to procrastinate more!
- When I think about taking this action, I feel ______________ (fill in the emotion word – anxious, sad, angry, etc.). What am I thinking/believing that has me feeling ______________?
- When I imagine taking this action, I think it is going to be _______________ (easy, hard, frustrating, boring, overwhelming, etc.)
- How long will this action take me?
- What are the specific steps to accomplishing this action?
- What fear, concern or consideration is stopping me from taking this action?
- What will taking this action do for me? What outcome do I desire from taking this step?
- What outcome am I afraid of, if I take this action? What’s the worse case scenario? What if I do nothing? Is that worse?
- If I break this action down into its smallest component steps and just contemplate the first of those steps – how does that feel? Can I take that baby step now?
- Am I celebrating each baby step or am I only allowed to celebrate when I have the big goal and I’ve done it perfectly?
Sometimes simply asking some of these questions can actually clear you enough to get into action.
Procrastination can fundamentally undermine all of your time management systems. So figuring out what is causing you to procrastinate is a critical first step in managing your time well.
What are you procrastinating? Share what you discover about your own procrastination in the comments, or ask for help figuring it out!