Procrastination grows by attracting more and more mental energies and content. Often it turns into an enormous mental structure of beliefs, expectations, imaginings, memories, motivations (avoidance ones), and emotions. The emotions include fear of failure, anger at having to do something one does not want to do, resentment at the unfairness and unnecessariness of it all, guilt at putting off the required work, and shame about relevant past, and possible future, failures.
Because of this elaborate tangle perhaps the best approach is to keep the solution simple. If the solution were to be as complex as the mental tangle of procrastination, then the solution itself would become a focus of avoidance, another form of procrastination. Thus solutions for procrastination only serve to form additional layers of content on which to procrastinate.
Let’s keep it simple. Here is the simple motto you can tell yourself to sidestep procrastination: “Do the Work.” Let me explain.
When a person procrastinates, that person does one of two things, and usually both. They catastrophize the experience of work needed to complete the task, and they catastrophize the result of that work. In other words, the person imagines the work as torturous and the outcome as inadequate. Both are exaggerated. Once begun, the work and outcome are rarely as bad as imagined. The irony is that procrastination leads to delay of doing the work, and that leads to the work likely to be done poorly. In turn, that leads to the work output often being worse than it would otherwise have been.
My motto is designed to place thoughts and their attached emotions about the content of the work and about the adequacy of the output aside. The goal is to get to work on completing the required tasks without consideration given to the adequacy of either effort or output. The counterintuitive move is that by not paying attention to the adequacy of work or output, the work and output often improve. This is because ignoring these aspects leads to more and better work being done because it is started earlier, maintained more consistently, and thus results in better work outputs.
Here are examples:
- You are way behind on paperwork at your job. What you can do to sidestep your ongoing procrastination is to schedule yourself to go into the office for X amount of time to “Do the Work,” specifically the work required to complete your paperwork and not just any kind of work. You should actively avoid thinking about the nature of the work you came to do and of the outcome. For example, you schedule yourself to go into the office on Saturday morning for three hours. Once there you start charting or completing forms. You do it like it’s just a job you hired yourself to do for three hours. You don’t really care what it’s for or what your feelings about it are. You’re just the consultant doing someone else’s work. You don’t feel the need to emotionalize it, think about the past or the future, or reflect on your reactions. Why? Because none of that matters. What matters is just doing the work you’ve hired yourself to do. If you know that you are there to do the work for exactly three hours, you know your exact end point. From the moment you find yourself going in ‘til your time is up, you just shut up, sit down, shut down the drama, and do the work.
- You are procrastinating studying for your upcoming board exam. Why? Because you are catastrophizing the work of preparation and the possible exam outcome. So, just stop. All of that is irrelevant. The only relevant thing is studying. Your emotions, desires, fears, and imaginings are worse than nothing; they are distractions that get in the way of just doing the work. Schedule however long you think you have time for this evening—and every evening—and just do the work of studying. When time is up for that day, stop, and put your materials away. Do something nice for yourself before retiring for the night. Tomorrow, repeat the same thing.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison
Notice that I said to schedule yourself and to pretend that you ‘hire yourself’ for X amount of time to do the work. I’ll pretend that Jack-the-procrastinator has hired me, Jack-the-consultant. Then I, as consultant, really do not care about Jack-the-procrastinator’s emotional dramas. I just roll my eyes and shake my head about them. Instead, I show up at the job and do the work I’ve been ‘hired’ to do.
But you might say, “Sure, but what if I don’t finish the work? Or what if I don’t know how to do something related to getting the work done or I run into some other problem?”
These questions show you’re already on the wrong path. As a consultant hired for exactly X hours today, just do the work. If you run into a problem, do your best to resolve it. You don’t care what doing the work requires; you are hired for X number of hours and then you’re done. If you must spend some of that time working out problems or overcoming barriers rather than advancing on the task directly, consider that working-out-those-problems is part-and-parcel of getting the work done. Most of the time doing the work for anything involves problem-solving foreseeable and unforeseeable problems that arise. So what? Whether you are doing the task directly or solving problems related to getting the task completed, both are aspects of doing the work and one is not better than the other.
Once you temporarily achieve this mindset of “Do the Work,” which is a form of acceptance, you’ll learn you like it and will likely do more of it. You might relish sitting down to do the work and working as fast as you can to get as much done as possible in your allotted time. It gets easy because whether you are going fast or slow, working on the task directly, or indirectly by researching and resolving related problems, you are in all cases doing the work.
Doing the work can become empowering, confidence-building, mastery-achieving, and procrastination-slaying.
I powered through this post pretty darn fast today, but I’m still on the LifeBrief writing clock that Jack-the-procrastinator hired Jack-the-contractor for so I’ll just start working on the next post.
Until next time,
“Either you run the day or the day runs you.” – Jim Rohn
“To think too long about doing a thing becomes its undoing.” – Eva Young
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“If you want to make and easy job seem mighty hard, just keep on putting off doing it.” – Olin Miller