Jerry Seinfeld describes the difficulties procrastination causes in his standup comedy routine about going to bed:
“I never get enough sleep. I stay up late at night, ‘cause I’m Night Guy.’ Night Guy wants to stay up late. ‘What about getting up after five hours sleep?’ That’s Morning Guy’s problem. That’s not my problem, I’m Night Guy! I stay up as late as I want. So you get up in the morning, you’re exhausted, groggy….Night Guy always screws Morning Guy. There’s nothing Morning Guy can do. The only thing Morning Guy can do is try and oversleep often enough so that Day Guy loses his job and Night Guy has no money to go out anymore.”
The reason this is funny is because it’s so familiar. We’ve all had the experience of knowing we should do something – but we don’t do it – even when we know it’s in our best interests.
“Some of the greatest battles will be fought within the silent chambers of your own soul.” – Ezra Taft Benson, Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
Procrastination is a liar and does not work alone. It has three accomplices. They have a modus operandi, which is to soften and mask the intentions of this fabricator. They are seducers that do his bidding – to detour us off the path of productivity and accomplishment. No matter how many times we’ve defeated them, they return with their prevaricating promise. Their names are Tomorrow, Later, and Distraction.
Tomorrow, piles up the greatest number of victims. The deception is that something can be accomplished in “tomorrow land.” Tomorrow never comes. It’s a mirage. Today is where work can be done.
Later, senses your anxiety and quickly reassures you of the abundance of your time. This leaves you feeling more rushed as you discover that your tasks only get harder as the day progresses.
Distraction, is the 3rd wave. It doesn’t show up until you begin your work. “Distraction” has the gift of enchantment. His disguises are alluring – just one more pass through Facebook, email, a text, a needed coffee break, reminiscing down memory lane, or fantasizing about a glorious future.
Recognizing these accomplices when they show up is strategic in defeating them. They never die, they are predictable, and they are conquerable.
Here are 5 ways to equip yourself in this power struggle.
1. Stop making excuses. The number one excuse I hear (and I have made) is “when things settle down.” The truth is that things will never settle down. The deception is to think that tomorrow will provide the time. The reality is that I don’t have more time today to get that thing done than I did last week. I must stop promising myself that something that has never happened is suddenly going to start happening.
2. Do the most difficult task first. Is it to write that note, make that phone call, have that difficult conversation, finish that important task? As Mark Twain advised, the first thing in the morning “eat that green frog.” That’s the hardest thing you’ll have to do all day. Everything else seems easier by comparison. The most difficult is usually the top candidate for most likely to procrastinate on. Do it first thing.
3. Master your moods. We often let our moods master us. Procrastination is a nice way of saying, “my moods have mastered me.” Mood mastery comes from the habit of acting before feeling. It’s a lot easier to act my way into a feeling than to feel my way into an action (tweet it). What feels good now will only make you feel worse later. As you develop this habit your willpower will grow. I have discovered that my current attempt to eliminate discomfort will lead to even greater discomfort later.
4. Set short deadlines. Bernoulli’s Law states that a gas will expand to the size of its container. This is, in principle, similar to Parkinson’s Law, that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Your to do tasks are elastic in that they conform to the time you allot them. When the allotted time is stretched, not only is complexity added, but so is anxiety. We begin tweaking and twisting every little thing until our head hurts.
5. Focus on the gain, not the pain. There is a certain amount of anxiety, stress, and frustration with the majority of things that are worthwhile. It’s energizing to look past the pain and onto the gain. Project yourself into the future. How will you feel if you don’t complete the task? What feeling will you have when it’s completed? How will it affect your resilience, your reputation, your relationships, or even your retirement? Concentrate on what you gain when that goal, task, or project is completed.
Procrastination takes up mental space in your mind by edging out the valuable things you should be focusing on – the things that matter the most.
What three things do you need to do – in your personal life, your family, or your career? Choose the most important and start today.
And I’d love to hear how that made you feel.