Procrastinators Are Actually Workaholics (4 Steps to Reclaim Your Life)
STOP BEING IMPULSIVELY BUSY ON THE WRONG ACTIVITIES
“My own behavior baffles me. For I find myself doing what I really loathe but not doing what I really want to do.” — St. Paul
I once attended a business training meeting in Honolulu with a CEO from out of town. After the training concluded, my wife and I were invited to accompany this man, his family, and a small group of friends on a chartered boat the following day.
I was honored by the invitation and, admittedly, I was also excited for the wonderful opportunity it would be to get to know this man on a personal level.
We live about an hour from the harbor on that side of the island, but we planned to leave our home especially early to ensure that we would arrive on time.
The following morning, however, I got caught up in other things, and our departure time kept getting pushed later and later as I rushed to complete these “important” tasks.
Ironically, I can’t even remember what it was I was working on at the time, but what I do remember, what I will never forget, is standing on the dock with my wife, watching the boat coast around the point and out of view.
I had procrastinated, and I had—literally—missed the boat.
Procrastination threatens to rob us of those things that are most important in our lives.
As the saying goes, “Time waits for no man.”
In short, when we procrastinate, we risk missing the boat.
WHY WE PROCRASTINATE
Question: How long does it take a Nobel Prize–winning economist to mail a box?
Answer: Eight months.
George Akerlof, Nobel Prize–winning economist, wrote of an experience he had:
“Some years back, when I was living in India for a year, a good friend of mine, Joseph Stiglitz, visited me; because of unexpected limitations on carry-on luggage at the time of his departure, he left with me a box of clothes to be sent to him in the United States. Both because of the slowness of transactions and my own ineptitude in such matters, I estimated that sending this parcel would take a full day’s work. Each morning for over eight months I woke up and decided that the next morning would be the day to send the Stiglitz box. This occurred until a few months before my departure when I decided to in- clude it in the large shipment of another friend who was returning to the United States at the same time as myself.”
After reflecting on this incident, Akerlof found he “did not have rational expectations” in putting off sending the box.
I share this story for two reasons.
The first, and more obvious reason, is to shed light on the irrational thought process we engage in when we procrastinate.
Consistent irrational decision-making — saying you’ll do it tomorrow, then not doing so and adding yet another day to complete the task — is similar to the irrational decision-making process many people use when bound by an addiction.
“Most drug abusers, like most chronically overweight individuals, fully intend to cut down their intake, since they recognize that the long-run cost of their addiction exceeds its benefits. They intend to stop— tomorrow.”
We are likewise aware that “the long-run cost” of procrastinating our inspired ideas “exceeds its benefits.”
Yet, we procrastinate anyway. This illogical behavior is preventing us from living our best life.
The second, more subtle, yet equally important reason I share this story is to demonstrate that no one is outside procrastination’s reach.
Procrastinators tend to believe themselves lazy and incapable. They are thus plagued by feelings of weakness and even worthlessness, yet when we understand that procrastination happens to the best of us—even Nobel Prize–winning economists— we can more easily shake discouragement and find the power to overcome this destructive habit.
LET’S DISPEL TWO MAJOR MYTHS OF PROCRASTINATION ONCE AND FOR ALL
Myth One: Procrastinators are lazy.
Reality: Procrastinators are often workaholics.
Mike Michalowicz, a successful entrepreneur and author, was proud of his twelve-hour workdays and his eighty-hour workweeks. But when he reduced his work- day to nine to five, he discovered something interesting about himself.
“Ironically, when I forced myself to leave work each day by 5 p.m., my whole schedule changed. I started skipping the nonsense distractions, such as the constant checking of e-mail, or surfing (ahem—researching) the Internet. I actually got down to work during that time. My per-hour productivity skyrocketed! And I was getting more done in a 9-to-5 day than I used to in an entire ‘workaholic day.’”
“In the end, workaholics don’t actually accomplish more than non-workaholics. They may claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they’re wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving on to the next task. Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.”
Myth Two: Procrastinators live in the future and avoid the now.
Reality: “Procrastinators live in the now.”
Procrastinators are addicted to immediacy, and that makes it difficult to engage in tasks that don’t produce the satisfaction of immediate results. It is this addiction to immediacy that makes them prone to impulsiveness and thus procrastination.
In fact, Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation, states that “scores of studies based on many thousands of people have established that impulsiveness . . . shares the strongest bond with procrastination.”
Thus, ironically, procrastinators actually live in the now.
When we procrastinate, we fill our lives with the tasks that are right in front of us rather than make the concerted effort to leave enough room in our schedules to pursue dreams. Procrastination is like going to a fancy restaurant and filling up on bread and not leaving enough room for dinner.
John Perry, a professor of philosophy, describes pro- crastination in this way:
“Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him [to] do it.
However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.”
Don’t get me wrong, living in the now is a good thing. The lesson here is to live in the now by engaging in the most important activities today (dream work).
When we live in the now and perpetually push what is most important to tomorrow by filling our time with less important activities, procrastination is robbing us of the most significant and fulfilling opportunities of our lives.
Drawing from multiple sources such as dictionary definitions, Latin roots of the word, studies of vocational behavior, and academic journals, here is my definition of procrastination:
Procrastination is the counterproductive act of choosing to postpone doing something important until a later time.
For perpetual procrastinators, understanding pro-crastination is akin to understanding ourselves. When we understand what is really happening when we procrastinate, we are better able to understand the cause(s) behind our own tendency to procrastinate. And when we understand why we procrastinate — on an individual level — we are better equipped to formulate a reasonable defense.
I’ll illustrate with an example from my own experience.
I struggle with procrastination, particularly when it comes to writing (to which my wonderful editor, Lisa, will gladly attest). I share the lament one Master’s candidate included in his final thesis on the subject of procrastination:
“When it is hard to find the right words, it is easier to play a game instead.”
Boy, do I relate.
At times, I find writing to be completely arduous. I find myself doing laundry, washing dishes, running errands, and poking myself with a fork in order to escape the task of writing. Admittedly, I also find myself choosing my favorite small luxuries like eating out, surfing, play- ing guitar, and going on family outings over writing.
The ironic revelation is that, despite the inherent difficulties I face when writing, the truth is that I actually want to write! Further, I actually like to write! Yet I procrastinate anyway.
I echo the words of St. Paul,
“My own behavior baffles me. For I find myself doing what I really loathe but not doing what I really want to do.”
While the tasks I choose instead of writing are often productive, refresh- ing, and may even complete other tasks on my to-do list, they are keeping me from doing the things that are most important to me. No matter why or how I choose to procrastinate, it is no question that procrastination gets in my way.
In pondering this personal paradox, I have been enlightened by the discovery that when writing feels hard, or when I feel overwhelmed by related tasks such as researching and compiling data, procrastination steps in as a compelling distraction. I now see this tendency for what it is and consciously work to avoid it.
YO, ARE YOU PROCRASTINATING…RIGHT NOW BY READING THIS ARTICLE? :-)
Most people who procrastinate are glaringly aware that they are neglecting what is most important to them by filling their time with less important things.
However, it is common for people to be neck deep in patterns of procrastination without even recognizing it. This happens when people genuinely believe that they are unable to act on their most important goals because of time-related restraints.
“I can’t do this important thing — the thing I’d most like to accomplish — right now because these other important obligations take up all my time.”
Remember, procrastination doesn’t always come in the form of frivolous activities. Often we’re filling our time with good or even essential tasks, but even so, anytime you postpone doing the things that are most important in your life, you are falling victim to procrastination.
No matter the reason behind our procrastination, the result is the same:
“Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried” (the slogan of Procrastinators Anonymous).
Procrastination must be overcome or it will rob you of the things that could be most significant in your life.
4 STEPS TO OVERCOME PROCRASTINATION NOW
The following are some steps to help us overcome procrastination.
End Procrastination: How to Break the “Tomorrow” Habit
Step 1: Make Time
We must consciously set aside time to work toward our most important goals. According to Parkinson’s Law,
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
By this measure, if we do not make time for the things that matter most, the other less important tasks of the day will inevitably seep into every minute available to us, leaving no time leftover for the most meaningful pursuits in our lives.
“You must never find time for anything, if you want time you must make it.”— Charles Buxton, British social reformer and philanthropist
Step 2: Simplify
Overcoming procrastination is not, I repeat, not about cramming additional work into your day — that would be unsustainable over the long haul toward success.
Rather, overcoming procrastination is about simplifying your life to make space for the activities that matter most.
The famous artist Hans Hoffman once said,
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Likewise, the ability to overcome procrastination requires eliminating the unnecessary tasks in your life so that there is room to engage in what is most necessary to achieving your high-potential goals.
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” — Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Take inventory of the way you regularly spend your time. One way to do this effectively is to track the time you spend not working on your projects.
For example, if the Internet is a constant time-killer for you, set a timer to track how long you’re spending online. This exercise will be a real eye-opener for many.
I like to set an alarm to ring every fifteen minutes in order to keep myself on task. When the alarm goes off, it reminds me to check in with myself to see if I’m being productive or if I’m wasting time. Once I get in the zone, I turn off the alarm and simply focus on the work at hand.
The ultimate goal is to weed out nonessential tasks.
Please note that this doesn’t mean eliminating all leisure activity from your life. Participating in activities you en- joy refuels you. Such activities provide a respite from the taxing nature of hard work and are essential to maintaining a sustainable pace toward your goals.
Simplifying your life also doesn’t mean that you must cut out everything but work from your schedule in order to avoid fall- ing victim to procrastination.
Simplifying means you consciously “clear the clutter” in order to make room for the things that matter most.
Steps 3 through 6 are what I call the Four Ps of Over- coming Procrastination in starting your stupid idea: Make your idea Public, Planned, Pleasurable, and Painful.
Step 3: Make Your Stupid Idea Public
Tell someone else what you’re trying to do. There is great power in the right kind of accountability.
Effective accountability is achieved in different ways for different people. Some find power in sharing their plans through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the like.
These individuals are inspired by the amount of gravity a large and very public accountability group provides. On the other hand, it can be equally effective to simply tell a trusted friend.
The key is to find people to whom you feel accountable. Notice that I did not say someone you know will hold you accountable.
If there is a person or group that you’d feel deep regret facing after breaking a promise, that is the perfect form of accountability for you.
It is infinitely more effective than someone who is simply will- ing to crack the whip in your behalf.
Step 4: Calendar Your Dream
Dreams don’t get done until they’re due.
It is easy to find time to do everything else, except follow our dreams. This is because other important things in our lives have due dates — bills are due, assignments are due, even babies are due.
If your dreams are never due, they’ll never get done.
To effectively overcome procrastination, create a specific performance plan for your goal.
• Break your overarching goal into smaller, more manageable ones. These smaller goals are what management gurus refer to as “S.M.A.R.T.”:
Specific: Goals must clearly express the ex- pectations required for successful completion.
Measurable: There should be a system in place to effectively measure progress.
Attainable: Goals must be realistic.
Relevant: Goals should be a significant step toward your ultimate end in mind.
Time-bound: Goals must be assigned a deadline.
• Set aside specific time to work toward your S.M.A.R.T. goals. It’s not enough to simply say, “I’m going to work toward my goals for three hours this week.” It is more effective to say, “Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 8 to 9 a.m., I will work on these specific steps.”
• Engage your accountability team in your plan so that when due dates for specific tasks arrive, you will be required to openly report on your progress.
If followed effectively, this process will help you get stuff done.
Step 5: Make the Process Pleasurable
In order to stay on track and avoid falling back into procrastination, you’ve got to reward yourself along the way.
Pleasurable rewards must be things that are immediately available, such as going to the movies, spending time with people you enjoy, or eating at a favorite restaurant.
Don’t reward yourself with a vacation, for example, unless the vacation is happening immediately.
The pleasure doesn’t have to be elaborate.
For instance, if the Internet is a consistent portal to procrastination, but you can’t live without it, tell yourself you can’t log on to the Internet until you’ve completed a certain task.
If you’re a fitness buff, tell yourself you can’t exercise until you get that task done — that’ll get you moving.
Step 6: Make the Process Painful
Assign a negative consequence if you don’t complete specific tasks on time.
This consequence can be in the form of having to do something you don’t want to do, or it can be losing a privilege or possession you really love.
Either way, the negative consequence must be significant enough to be a compelling motivator.
You may want to consider joining a FB group or group text. There is a cool website called www.stickK.com to help you stick to your goals.
Essentially, you go to the website, set a goal, and then put some money on the line to incentivize you to achieve your goal. Users can even select a “referee” who will hold them accountable and gather a group of supporters to cheer them on.
As a way to further motivate their users, stickK.com also allows participants to donate money to an organization or a cause they hate if they fail.
StickK.com cofounder Jordan Goldberg said,
“A lot of people write in and say, ‘You know what really motivated me? The thought of giving money to the George Bush library, or the Bill Clinton library,’ depending on your political views.”
At the time of this writing, the site boasts more than $33,521,680 million at stake, more than 382,000 commitments created, more than 900,000 workouts completed, and more than 22,000,000 cigarettes not smoked. (Poor tobacco industry :-)).
THE IRONY OF PROCRASTINATION
The ironic thing about procrastination is that it is rarely fully enjoyable, because the time spent in procrastination is simultaneously time and energy spent in worry, anxiety, and regret over what you know you should be doing instead.
Thus not only does procrastination keep us from achieving the greatest dreams of our lives, but when we procrastinate, our time is tainted and not as fulfilling as it otherwise could be.
And that’s no way to live.
No more tomorrows. Today’s the day.
“If you really want to do something, no one can stop you. But if you really don’t want to do something, no one can help you.”— James A. Owen, author and speaker
WARNING: DON’T FALL VICTOM TO “PRE-CRASTINATION” EITHER — IT IS NOT THE SOLUTION
Let me leave you with a little golden nugget.
You may falsely think that getting things done earlier and faster is the way to overcome procrastination. It’s not. That’s called “pre-crastination.”
“The opposite of procrastination can also be a serious problem — a tendency we call “pre-crastination.” Precrastination is the inclination to complete tasks quickly just for the sake of getting things done sooner rather than later” (Scientific American).
Don’t do a bunch of crap just to do a bunch of crap.
Where productivity is concerned, focus on the tasks that move you towards the goal first…at the beginning of the day.
IF there is room for stuff that doesn’t matter to creep in…so be it.
When you do the stuff that doesn’t matter, you have no time to do the stuff that does.
Ironically, when you do the stuff that does matter first, you somehow have time to do all that you want to do anyways — like a happy waterfall effect of productivity.
Life rewards those who know what they want…and go after it.
ONE TIME FREE OFFFER:
MY ONLINE COURSE THAT I SELL FOR $2,000 IS YOURS FREE BECAUSE I LOVE YOU AND IT’S THE END OF THE YEAR
I’m taking this massively valuable freebie down and selling it again soon at my discretion. Maybe even this weekend.
It’s almost the end of 2017. I’ll change this call to action soon. For now, I’d like to reward those of you who have been reading and sharing my stuff this year.
THANK YOU! Means the world.
I wrote a bestselling book called The Power of Starting Something Stupid. It’s endorsed by cool people like Steve Forbes, Stephen M. R. Covey, Jack Canfield, Michael Gerber, Brian Tracy, etc. So grateful to them. It’s in like 10 languages or something cool like that now.
I created a course called Mastering the Power of Starting Something Stupid. There is an entire section on overcoming procrastination included.
This course is comprehensive — includes modules on ideation, goal setting strategic planning, tactical implementation, overcoming fear, pride and procrastination. It also includes principle based concepts to start where you are and leverage existing resources to achieve your aim.
Bonuses include how to find your dream job and a partnered course with an expert on how to license an idea or product to a big box store. It’s legit.
(It will disappear soon and I’ll go back to selling it at $2k.)