It seems to me if a tool is so widely used, there must be something to it. As a leadership caddy, procrastination is almost always the first thing my clients want to eliminate from their lives. As you will read, I advise them not to eliminate the very tool that is there to help them navigate the rough spots in life and business.
“If it weren't for the last minute, nothing would get done.” Rita Mae Brown
It's time I think to do a little more brain hacking and think of procrastination as a detour in the road. The purpose of a detour is to give us a warning, help us avoid something unnavigable, or dangerous and provides a safer route. Detours usually take a little longer, they circumvent the problem, but in the end we arrive at our destination unscathed. In most cases you will discover that properly employed procrastination, like a detour, will give you an alternate route to the solution of the problem at hand.
A Tool for Life
What if procrastination was a good thing, and we stopped beating ourselves up about it and learned why we do it?
I often find myself procrastinating whilst my brain appears to be “mulling” it over and finding solutions to the problem.
There are three key fears in procrastination that I, and my clients experience:
- The Fear of doing something we don’t like doing: We Put off something we do not like doing. Sometimes if we procrastinate long enough it causes another person to do it for us, sometimes it becomes too late to do it and we end up not having to do it at all. What if instead, we looked at what it was we were putting off, determined it was something distasteful to us and immediately found a way to delegate it to another person? There may even be times when it makes sense to decline to do the task. In this instance it would be important to inform any people that may be depending upon us for the result or task, but in the end they are better served if we decide and inform them as soon as we know so they can get the job completed by someone that will probably do a more complete job anyway. And our reward is: the uncomfortable or distasteful task is off our plate and the energy drain caused by its presence is eliminated.
- The Fear of not being good enough: Sometimes we find ourselves procrastinating because we are frightened. We may believe we are not capable of completing the task. We may believe we do not have the knowledge or expertise to complete the project. We may believe we do not have anything of value to contribute. We may be frightened of rejection. The project may feel too big to us and we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed with its scope and not able to move ahead with the process. Fear is a real emotion and one to be heeded. But the possibility exists, to examine the fears and discover the energy behind them.
If lack of knowledge or expertise is the fear, we can find ways to gather the knowledge we need or find experts in the particular field to support our work. We may need to request more time for research, but we can move ahead and complete the project.
If the fear is that of not adding value, or being rejected: we can review our strengths, research, brainstorm and discover a method of adding value that may also eliminate the potential for rejection
- The Fear of losing options: Disguised as indecision, this is often the most damning of all procrastination tactics. Why? Simply because it is very rarely recognized for what it is.
Most of the time, this is cause by too much choice. Yes, too much choice. Not too little. Too much. It is known as the paradox of choice. A 2000 study by Iyenger and Lepper (Iyengar, S; Lepper, M (2000) When Choice is Demotivating Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2000, Vol. 79) found that as the number of choices doubled, the commitment to a decision plunged 50%.
You can find yourself resisting moving forward with a project because to do so means leaving an option behind.
Once we can name the fear, we can often find a solution to its source and eliminate it.
There are many reasons why we procrastinate. The above examples are just a few. Think about times when you get stuck or are overwhelmed and procrastinating. What are some of your reasons?
In most cases you will discover that properly employed procrastination, like a detour, will give you an alternate route to the solution of the problem at hand. You can shorten the detour or speed up the process if you treat your procrastination as a tool that can help you through life rather than beating yourself up and wasting time in self-chastisement.
You can learn to use the five steps to using procrastination as a tool for life.
- First: Recognize when you are in procrastination mode. Speak out loud and call it by name!
- Second: Congratulate yourself for using so valuable a life tool!
- Third: Take the time to stop, think and look at why you are procrastinating.
- Fourth: Take each “why” and discover solutions to those issues. Once you discover the “why”, and there may be multiple “whys”, it is much easier to break the problem into smaller parts and approach each issue.
- Fifth: Create a strategy and timetable to carry it out.
My challenge to you this week is to begin to look at procrastination in this more positive light. You will discover that it immediately becomes a friend, not a foe and the energy around it relaxes. Go a step further and begin to employ the five steps to using procrastination as a tool for life.
How do you make procrastination work for you?