So there I am. Sitting at my desk, happily working away at my Toastmasters CC2 speech during my lunch break, and the email comes in. It is a message from my manager, requesting that I test a new piece of functionality that our software developer has been working on, and to put together a training guide and video for it. “Sounds fun”, I think.
And then it starts. I decide to check my personal email, just to get it out the way before I get down to work. An email reminds me that I quickly need to make an online payment I almost forgot about. The One-Time-Pin the bank sends has me checking my phone. I realise I still need to reply to my best friend’s Whatsapp from this morning that I accidentally read when I was half asleep and had no time or inclination to reply. It occurs to me she might think I am being funny, reading the message and not responding for so long, so I send a quick reply, trying not to sound too busy to chat. This inevitably pulls me into a back and forth exchange along the lines of “How is your day going?”. After a while I get irritated typing out my long trains of thought, so I hit the voice note button and I record:
“Hey Friend. Well, my day was going okay, until I got this HUGE deadline for Friday. I HAVE to do QA testing, AND write a user manual, PLUS do training videos. It’s just soooo MUCH! I always take on too much. My CRM Exam is in 4 weeks and I have only just started going through the material. I have a speech due for Toastmasters this Thursday, and I really want time to memorise it (THIS time!). On top of that, my side-hustling ass just signed up 2 new website clients, in addition to the Pay Per Click advertising account I run for another company. Speaking of which, I was supposed to send them their weekly report…. Last week!! Ugh, I am just so overwhelmed!
Aaand, finally I let go of the record button of the Whatsapp voice note.
Now at this stage I have not even gotten into my multitude of extra murals… I volunteer every weekend for a few hours at a soup kitchen, I try to make it to my pole class on Monday, meditation class on Tuesdays, and Toastmasters every second Thursday. I like to karaoke once a week at least. And I once created a website that I planned to use to just put myself out there with writing and podcasts, so many plans… and it’s… under construction.
In the last few years I have read tomes of books on personal development, time management, productivity, and happiness. One of the most useful of these was a book by the name of “The Now Habit” by psychologist Neil Fiore.
Though I first listened to the book a couple of years ago (yes, I read through my ears in the car, cool huh!?), I only recently started getting back to the basic principles outlined therein. Go figure. I decided to re-listen to it again last week, and it occurs to me that I can utilise three of the ten tools he offers in his book to try and combat my streak of self-sabotage, based on my own three main causes of procrastination.
To Combat the Fear of Being Overwhelmed – use The Unschedule
When you routinely procrastinate on important tasks, there is very little hope of being able to really enjoy your (usually) pleasurable endeavours. It feels like it is all work and no play. This very quickly leads to a feeling of overwhelm and “out-of-controlness”.
This is where the first tool comes in – The Unschedule. You take a 7-day calendar, and fill it out with your daily home and family chores, prior commitments and meeting, and scheduled leisure time (also known as “Guilt-Free Playtime”) This will allow you to realistically see how much time is left for real work, once you have prioritised fun time first. To leverage the effect of reverse psychology that The Unschedule can have, set yourself limits such as:
- Do not work more than 5 hours per day on this project
- You must exercise, dance or play at least 1 hour every day
- Work for an imperfect, perfectly human first effort of 30 minutes
Lastly, fill out and track these 30-minute blocks of uninterrupted, focused work time in your Unschedule AFTER you complete each 30-minute block. Check your log at the end of the week for motivation!
To Combat the Fear of Increased Demands – Work in the Flow State
Have you ever held back on a task because you didn’t want to raise anyone’s expectations of your future work any higher than necessary? No? Just me? Well okay. One of the reason I self-sabotage, is because I fear that if I do a good job on this project, I will be given more responsibility and have to do a better job next time, and even better the next time and so on. I feel like I am only as good as my last successful task completion.
Clearly this is a twisted way of thinking, and the method for combatting it is going to sound a little airy fairy. Basically, a lot of literature has been written in recent years about getting into and working in a “Flow” state. I urge you to do your own research and experiment with what works for you.
According to positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow state is defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best”. It then makes sense that we would want to harness the power of flow to our advantage.
Neil Fiore from The Now Habit, suggests a 2-minute closed-eyed breathing exercise to clear your mind and centre your focus.
Some swear by writing out all your thoughts and worries on paper, then putting it aside. This allows them to get on with the task at hand.
I have personally found that the simple act of starting anywhere, and hanging in there for at least 5 minutes, can create enough forward momentum to get into the flow state for a good amount of time.
To Combat the Fear of Failure – Master Self-Talk
The Fear of Failure seems very natural. But the self-sabotaging behaviour surrounding this fear is quite irrational. Have you ever been so afraid that you will fail at a project, or that it won’t be good enough, that you procrastinate it until the VERY LAST MINUTE. Only to prove to yourself that you now, in fact, will hand in crappy work, due to the time spent on it. See self! Ha! I told you you would fail. So you did… just to cut the tension!
The 3rd of the procrastination bashing tools is mastering your self-talk.
You may have noticed my choice of language in the whatsapp message to my best friend.
“…huge deadline… have to do… I have only just started… overwhelmed!”
Words have power. Ludwig Witgenstein an Austrian-British Philisopher regarded as one of the most important philosophers of the 20th Century, said:
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”.
The more I reinforce my negative beliefs by saying them out loud, the more they affect me negatively. If one can consciously change:
I have to to: I choose to
I must finish to: When can I start?
I don’t have time to play to: I must take time to play
Perhaps one could consciously undo years of subconscious negative programming.
The definition of Procradstination from the Oxford Learning dictionary online is:
The act of delaying something htat you should do, usually because you do not want to do it.”
Neil Fiore’s book, The Now Habit, offers a new definition.
“Procrastination is a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.”
So my question to you is, when can you start?