“Procrastination: What do you do when you just don’t want to do anything at all”
Bella checks the timer. Has it gone off? Is work over? Is it time to play?
In a recent Mastermind group meeting, one of the members brought up her challenge: procrastination. She had administrative office work that she’d been putting off for months and she really couldn’t seem to get motivated to finish it. I had plenty of suggestions to offer. Who amongst us hasn’t suffered with procrastination at least once, or once a month, week, day, or hour? Whether it’s filing papers, writing an article, making those phone calls, or taking an action in the direction of satisfying a dream of yours, most of us could use help in overcoming procrastination. Here are some things that have worked for me.
Setting the timer
One of the easiest ways to get things done when you just don’t feel like it is to set the timer for fifteen, twenty or thirty minutes and agree to work on the project for just that length of time. This is a strategy I learned from a friend who learned it from the author, Neil Fiore, Ph.D. (More about him later.) This has been especially helpful with those mundane office tasks like filing, organizing, or just cleaning up. I can always do anything for 15 minutes! And more often than not, I set the timer for another round or forget about the timer altogether because suddenly I’m engaged and it feels like no big deal to keep at it. Getting started is often the hardest part.
Music is the signal
As a writer, I’ve had my share of deadlines. Every time I start a new big project (like a manuscript), the most important step is to choose the music that is going to be my companion during that long period of concentrated effort. Usually it’s 3 or 4 CDs. As soon as I start playing one of them, I sit down at the computer and begin. Whether it’s Shania Twain’s Come on Over, Van Morrison’s Hymns to the Silence, or Bliss’ Quiet Letters: U.S. Edition, I have signaled my brain and my body that it’s time to get to work. Once I have those trusted CDs chosen, I never deviate from that small selection until the project is completed.
Scent is the signal
Another ritual that I’ve used for smaller projects is to light a candle before I take action. My favorite right now is an orange soy candle that has an aromatherapy aspect of grapefruit and ginger. There’s something about having that signal of scent that announces procrastination and avoidance is over and now I’m taking action.
One of my favorite books on this subject is The NOW HABIT: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore, Ph.D. This book is a classic. First published in 1989, it was revised in 2007 to take into account all the additional things that can keep us from getting our tasks done—email, Facebook, surfing the net. Another title is
It’s About Time: the 6 Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them by Dr. Lina Sapadin with Jack Maguire. This book was a great help to one of my coaching clients.
One time while in the middle of a deadline, I felt totally allergic to facing the project. Where my butt needed to be was in my office chair in front of my computer. Where I was sitting, procrastinating was on my living room couch. The distance between the two felt like 300 miles through a desert rather than 30 feet of easy terrain. I pulled out The Now Habit and went to page 146, which I’d earmarked. On that page, Fiore offers a guided visualization. Through relaxation and suggestion, the exercise makes you eager to begin. That 300-mile desert trek disappeared and I practically pranced to the computer! It felt like a miracle!
“Keep on starting, and finishing will take care of itself.” Neil Fiore in The Now Habit.
Make yourself accountable to someone
What do you do when you have a dream with absolutely no evidence of it coming true? Wouldn’t that be the easiest thing of all to procrastinate about? If you put off any action about your dream this week or this month, who would even know?
That’s how it was for me more than a dozen years ago when I had a dream of becoming a nationally known columnist who would write articles about fashion that had a humorous twist. One day it occurred to me to start pretending I was that columnist. What do columnists do? They write articles, they send them to their editors, and then they appear in newspapers or magazines. I asked my friend Patti in Minnesota if she’d go along with me and pretend to be my editor. Every Friday I would send her a 750-word article. Having someone that I was accountable to made it real for me and although I missed a few deadlines (and felt terrible about it—that’s the strength of pretending), this commitment helped me build a body of work and work the muscle of completing a piece and meeting deadlines.
When my first book deal came about and my publisher said she wanted forty chapters, each about 750 to 1000 words in length, I nearly lost my breath. How would I possibly do that? Then I remembered my stash of pretend articles and do you know that ten of the forty chapters in 40 Over 40: 40 Things Every Woman Over 40 Needs to Know About Getting Dressed, were articles I sent to my pretend editor, Patti, on Fridays? Tackling my procrastination and making myself accountable to someone paid off in ways I’d have had no way of predicting at the time.
Tough love technique (not for the faint of heart)
I have one other solution to procrastination to share with you that is not the warm and fuzzy kind involving candles and lovely music. It’s nearly the opposite. It’s more about doing something you said you’d do (like exercise 3X a week), or else pay a steep fine for not doing it.
This method was told to me by Michael Broffman from the Pine Street Clinic in San Anselmo, CA. Michael is world famous for his work with cancer. He does cancer research as well as helping cancer patients augment their Western treatment with Eastern treatment through acupuncture protocols, nutrition and herbal supplements and helping people make healthy lifestyle changes. Here’s a technique he suggested for doing things we just don’t feel like doing. He said, “We honor traffic laws and traffic signs and usually driving is orderly because we know that if we don’t follow those signs, we’ll be fined.” So true. No one loves writing that check for $50 or $500 especially when that same money could have gone to a great meal or a new favorite accessory. I know what I’d rather spend my money on!
He suggested that whatever it is you’ve promised yourself you’d do—exercise, finish a project, make those phone calls—you have a plan for “fining” yourself if you don’t do it. He said, “Make that check out to something you would never in a million years want to support. If you’re an animal rights activist, you might make the check out to the National Rifle Association. If you have a strong political persuasion, you make the check out to the opposite political party or cause.” He suggested that you have a check already written out and the envelope addressed and stamped so that if you don’t do what you said you’d do, you simply sign the check, slip it into the envelope and mail it immediately.
Sounds harsh, doesn’t it! But sometimes it just might work better than candles or music. I wanted you to have several techniques. Let me know what works for you!