Perfectionists are great procrastinators. Stalling until the last minute, they tear into a project with dust flying and complaints about insufficient time. Perfectionist-procrastinators are masters of the excuse that short notice kept them from doing the quality job they could have done.
But that’s hardly the only variety of procrastination. For others, it comes with a gnawing feeling of being fatigued, always behind. They try to tell themselves that they’re taking it easy and gathering their energies for a big new push, but procrastination differs markedly from genuine relaxation—it saves no time or energy. On the contrary, it drains both, leaving behind self-doubt and self-delusion instead.
We’re all busy. Every day promises a giant to-do list of people to see, projects to complete, emails to sift through and calls to make. Henri Nouwen’s classic book Making All Things New likens our lives to “overstuffed suitcases that are bursting at the seams.”
Feeling like there is forever far too much to do, we say we’re really under the gun this week. But working hard or even heroically to solve a problem is little to our credit if we created the problem in the first place. When most people refer to themselves as being under the gun, they want to believe the pressures and problems are not their fault. In most cases, though, the gun appeared after failure to do something in good time. Instead of being proactive early, they procrastinated until the due date became a crisis deadline.
One of the best escapes from the prison of procrastination is to take even the smallest steps toward your goals. People usually procrastinate because of fear and lack of self-confidence and, ironically, become even more afraid when under the gun. There are many ways to experiment and test new ground without risking the whole ball game on one play.
Experience has shown that when people go after a big goal all at once, they invariably fail. If you had to swallow a 12-ounce steak all at once, you’d choke. You have to cut the steak into small pieces and eat one bite at a time.
So it is with prioritizing. Proactive goal achievement means taking every project and cutting it up into bite-sized pieces. Each small task or requirement on the way to the ultimate goal becomes a mini goal in itself. Using this method, the goal becomes manageable. When mini mistakes are made, they are easy to correct. And with the achievement of each mini goal, the positive feedback motivates you to take on the next mini goal.
So step forward and do it now and do it right. To stop procrastinating and to be more proactive, do these nine things:
1. Set your wake-up time a half hour earlier tomorrow.
Use the extra time to think about the best way to spend your day.
2. Memorize and repeat this motto: “Action today, not tomorrow.”
Handle each piece of incoming mail only once. Answer your email either early in the morning or at the end of the day. Block out specific times to make phone calls, take phone calls and to meet people in person.
3. When people tell you their problems, give solution-oriented feedback.
Rather than taking on the problem as your own assignment, first, ask what’s the next step they plan to take, or what they would like to see happen.
4. Finish what you start.
Concentrate all your energy and intensity without distraction on successfully completing your current major project.
5. Be constructively helpful instead of unhelpfully critical.
Single out someone or something to praise instead of participating in group griping, grudge collecting or pity parties.
6. Make a list of five necessary but unpleasant projects you’ve been putting off, with a completion date for each project.
Immediate action on unpleasant projects reduces stress and tension. It is very difficult to be active and depressed at the same time.
7. Seek out and converse with a successful role model.
Learning from others’ successes and setbacks will inevitably improve production of any kind. Truly listen; really find out how your role models do it right.
8. Understand that fear, as an acronym, is False Evidence Appearing Real, and that luck could mean Laboring Under Correct Knowledge.
The more information you have on any subject, the less likely you’ll be to put off your decisions.
9. Accept problems as inevitable offshoots of change and progress.
With the rapid pace of change in society and business, you’ll be overwhelmed unless you view change as normal and learn to look for its positive aspects—such as new opportunities and improvements—rather than bemoan the negative.
There is no such thing as a “future” decision; there are only present decisions that affect the future. Procrastinators wait for just the right moment to decide.
And if you wait for the perfect moment, you’ll find yourself running in place, unwittingly digging yourself deeper into your rut. Get out of your comfort zone and go from procrastinator to proactive and productive.
Make your personal motto: “Stop stewing and start doing!”