Last night the topic of procrastination came up in a conversation I was having with a client. Her thoughts being “if I could only overcome procrastination, then I’d be all set”. My question to her was – “is that really true?” We often think that procrastination is a horrible habit that keeps us from getting what we want. And, it is true that if we procrastinate and don’t take any action, the likelihood of reaching our goals is slim. However, the key to getting where you want to go is looking underneath the procrastination. That is, what is fueling the procrastination and what payoff are you getting by indulging in procrastination?
As I see it, people procrastinate for one of two reasons:
- What they say they want is something they “should” do but don’t really want to, so they avoid it.
- What they say they want is something they really want or choose to do but fear, doubt, or some other obstacles are getting in their way.
It is important to understand the distinction between these two scenarios because they hold the clue to whether overcoming procrastination is worth your while.
1) The “Shoulds”
We are all familiar with the first situation. The “I should…” scenario. There is something that you feel (or was told) you should be doing, but you don’t really want to. For instance, you may have been told that you should clean your house top to bottom every week. Your mother always did, so you just expect it of yourself. You hate to clean, but feel that if you only had the willpower and discipline, you could get yourself to do it.
In this case, overcoming procrastination isn’t going to serve you. Why? Well, first it is not something you want to do. Sure you want to keep your house neat and clean, but you simply don’t want (nor value) being a slave to a cleaning routine that would leave your house spotless. Second, whenever you hear yourself saying “if only I had the willpower and discipline…” you know you are setting yourself up for failure. While discipline and willpower are great qualities, willpower is not sustainable and therefore not what you need to truly achieve what you want. Discipline is also great, but if your ladder is leaning on the wrong wall, it doesn’t matter that you’ve set a strict discipline of climbing a rung a day. In the end, you’ve climbed the wrong ladder!
So, you see in these instances overcoming procrastination is actually a bad thing. What you need in the case of a big “should” is to drop both the procrastination and the goal you don’t value. Simply let it go, you don’t need to do it. If it is something that actually has to get handled (like occasional cleaning or doing your taxes) then either hire someone to do it for you (someone who loves to do it) or set up a structure that allows you to get the job done satisfactorily in the least time and effort possible so you can get back to the task of working towards the goals you REALLY want. Give yourself permission to stop “should-ing” on yourself.
2) The “Want To”
In this situation you really do want to do, be, or have what you say you want. Perhaps you have an inspiring vision for your business, but find yourself procrastinating when it comes to doing marketing activities. You keep putting it off because you fear failure (or success) or you are not sure what you should be doing. So, you procrastinate and don’t do it.
What you need in this instance is support and tools to overcome the procrastination. Perhaps you need a coach, mentor, or buddy to support you along the way. Maybe you need to break the overwhelming task of marketing down into manageable, bite-sized chunks you can tackle consistently every day. You might even need some structure in your day complete with schedule breaks (to treat yourself for taking action) to set yourself up to succeed.
The key difference here is that you really want what you say and overcoming procrastination is beneficial to achieving your goals. In this case you have your ladder is leaning on the right wall and employing techniques, discipline, and support will help you move forward toward what you really want.
To Overcome Procrastination or Not, That is the Question…
Take a look at the areas of your life where you currently feel procrastination. List them on a sheet of paper. Then, ask the question: Is this a “should” or do I really want this? From there you can drop the “shoulds” (you should feel a great sense of relief) and create a plan to move forward with the things you really want to.