This is first of two posts on procrastination – the second part is available here.
I’m going to talk about the experiences that led me to write my Inspiration to Action eBook series. The series is an interactive guide to applying the methods that I’ve discovered for overcoming blockers to achieving your goals. Each chapter focuses on a specific issue, providing an explanation and a step-by-step guide to how I have addressed the problem. You can find chapters on procrastination, lack of motivation, lack of inspiration, having unclear goals and many other topics. You can find a full list of the chapters here.
Identifying the problem
The first step in addressing my procrastination was to identify how, when and why I was procrastinating.
Although in theory I understood that procrastination was anything distracting me from what I really needed to do, I actually defined it more narrowly than that.
I only really identified procrastination when it took an obvious form – checking social media, watching a video, getting up and speaking to someone. I missed one huge source of procrastination – work.
I’ve talked in a previous post about how procrastination can disguise itself as work. I was good at getting myself sat down and ‘working’, which is half of the battle. But I was bad at ensuring that I was working on the right task. I would complete tasks that were easy, neglecting the tasks that were a little tougher. But it was the tough tasks that were actually important!
The tipping point came when I sat down to reflect on my progress and realised that I hadn’t achieved half the things I’d wanted to. I took a step back and asked myself why that was the case – why was I struggling?
The answer, simply, was that I didn’t feel like I had enough time. But that didn’t make sense! I was in charge of my own time. Surely I could make time for all the important stuff?
When I tried to make time, I realised how clogged up my life had become with ‘productive’ but ultimately unimportant tasks. They resembled work because they were related to my work projects, but they weren’t actually taking me any closer to achieving my goals. They were procrastination.
Although I ultimately addressed the problem only because I reached that tipping point, I could have dealt with it much sooner. If my self-assessment routine had been a little better, I’d have more quickly identified that there was a problem. If my goal-setting routine had been more structured, I’d have been directed towards more valuable tasks, side-stepping the temptation to procrastinate with easy tasks.
So I’d identified the how – I was procrastinating with easy tasks that still felt like work. I’d also identified the when – it was pretty much whenever I allowed myself to get away with it (which was a lot). The why was a little less clear.
Avoiding mental strain
I wanted to understand the reason why I was procrastinating. I wasn’t afraid of working hard – I thrived off hard work at times. Quantity was no problem, but quality seemed to be – I wasn’t pushing myself to take on the tasks that felt tough.
This realisation hurt a little – it made me feel like I was lazy. It was also a little scary – how could I possibly succeed with my goals if I wasn’t capable of pushing myself?
I wanted to understand. So I started to research the problem.
I started to read about neuroscience, diving in to the workings of the human brain. Things became a lot clearer when I read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I discovered that it’s natural for our brains to take the easy option. Our brains develop mental shortcuts (heuristics) that help us to avoid having to think too deeply about things. We want to conserve energy – thinking is a strain.
It should take a push to motivate yourself to take on a tough task that requires thought – your brain should naturally be against it. I felt better – I understood why I’d been completing the easy tasks. I wasn’t lazy – I was human.
It became clear that I needed to implement a structure that made it easier for me to take the tough option.
In the end, I managed to find a structure that cut my procrastination dramatically. But that’s for next time.
Until next week
In next week’s post I’ll detail how I found the motivation to really push myself and how I structured my work to avoid procrastination.
Also published on Medium.