Test the Procrastination Hypothesis


I just found my old ‘Things-To-Do-Becoming-Self-Employed’ list. At first, I didn’t recognise the long list but once I realised what it was and re-read it through the clear lens of hindsight I chuckled at the paradox: It was my greatest barrier and my catalyst for success and responsible for the best advice I ever had: Just start.

Standing outside the bank with these two words ringing in my ears, I wondered what had just happened. I’d plucked up courage to speak to the local business bank manager about my super-efficient ‘Boxes to Tick Before Starting a Business One Day After My Kids Have Left Home’ list, expecting him to add a multitude of things still to consider. However, not only didn’t he add anything, he smiled, “Answers will come once you begin. Let’s ‘check-in’ in two weeks to see how you’re getting on then.”

My list, my questions and my belief that this was a hard and scary undertaking were suddenly removed and I had support waiting at the newly-planned ‘check-in’ meeting, so why did I feel like the ground had fallen away from under my feet? It had burst my beautiful procrastination bubble!

Have you ever waited, played safe, avoided something uncomfortable, in short; procrastinated? I never thought for a moment I was procrastinating, I was being organised, prudent, whatever you want to call it. I was busy working hard on planning and organising and what-if-ing. I’m not sure if it was simply the fear of meeting the bank manager with nothing to show him, but it is true that, once I started, the entire project took on a momentum and flow of its own that no list could ever have prepared me for.

Are you busily working on something that isn’t moving forwards? Do you have goals and dreams that never quite get off the ground? Do you plan to start as soon as x, y & z are in place? Then you are in good company! This blog offers you a brief insight of what procrastination actually is and gives you 3 steps for getting from time-wasting to triumph.

Did you know there were different kinds of procrastination? According to Neil Fiore, author of The Now Habit there are at least 4:

Fun Procrastination: Avoiding that dreaded task when there are so many fun things to do. It may be more fun to watch YouTube Fail Videos than getting outside your comfort zone so your brain helps you out with a shortened attention span and hey, where did today go?

Plenty of Time Procrastination: Why start now when tomorrow looks so attractive? Your brain supports low tolerance levels by reminding you how much time you still have.

Perfectionism Procrastination sets expectations so high that fear of failure looks much smaller from up there. Your brain keeps you happy in details and avoids the horror of an imperfect outcome, while you look and feel highly efficient and hard-working.

Anxious Procrastination pushes you hard but wastes your time with scheduling beyond your capabilities resulting in stress, poor time-management and minimal self-recovery time. The human mind doesn’t distinguish between real or perceived threats, but reacts subconsciously to anxiety with a ‘Fight or Flight’ reaction that turns off rational thinking, floods the system with stress chemicals and hormones making you hypersensitive and ultimately stuck in an exhausting cycle of (often internal) pressure to perform, depleted ability to perform and overwhelm.

So, what kinds of procrastination was I happily stuck in? You got it: I am a Plenty of Time Perfectionist making the fear of trying and failing very real, so why would I rush into anything and risk that? Was that a conscious thought? Nope! Did I set myself an incredibly important, yet impossible, list of tasks to convince myself I was working towards my goal? Yes!

Apparently, 95% of us all procrastinate in some way and I’m not sure how much I believe the 5% who say they don’t. Why? Because we are all human and our brains are programmed to keep things simple and comfortable. Our inner Saboteur whisper a multitude of excuses into our ears with the intention of protecting us from all risk of getting hurt and they repeat our inner-voices; our ‘truths’, to keep us safe. My ‘truths’ included, “There is a clear right or wrong way of approaching something so important. The consequences of getting this wrong are huge. This ‘foreign’ environment won’t accept me. If you’re going to do a job, do it right. A good Mum puts her family first, I can wait.” And the list goes on…

And then two little words rocked my world: Just. Start. My Saboteurs went wild, but I did what I told the Bank Manager I was going to do and the rest is, as they say, history. Clarifying my goal and set a deadline plus having someone keeping me accountable really was the key to getting unstuck from both the Perfectionism and Plenty of Time Saboteurs.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” My coach challenged me as my Saboteur voices returned yelling ‘Don’t do it!’ As I thought back, awful as they were at the time, I could identify positive outcomes from all the worst things that happened to me through my ‘hindsight-lens’. I realised my ‘To-Dos’ were rather ‘What-ifs’ of things I had no control over. We made a list of what I did have 100% control over and the exercise really empowered my choices.

So here are the 3 steps for beating procrastination that helped me move from exhausting busyness to a successful business:

  1. Recognise your Saboteur voices for what they are. Observe what they are telling you and what their positive intention is. Ultimately, they want you safely in your comfort zone and, comfortable as that is, nothing ever grows there.
  2. Decide what you have full control over. You have full control of your thoughts, words, actions, beliefs, values and much more! Decide what your goal is and what makes it so special for you, make it SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound) and make choices that move you forwards.
  3. Keep accountable and supported by a coach or a trusted partner to keep you on track, focused and motivated. Set deadlines, announce them publicly and celebrate the wins and learning from each step along the way.

What resonates with you? With hindsight, when have you put something off for ‘all the right reasons’? When did you last beat yourself up for not being productive enough? What do your Saboteurs tell you and what would you like to say to them?

Are you ready to test the Procrastination Hypothesis? Let’s bring these Saboteurs into the open, challenge their intentions, be accountable and support each other.

Get in touch and let me know your results, if only to hear that it’s not just me! :0)

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