I have a confession to make: I waited until the very last minute to write this column. I had a lot of excuses (I'm not feeling well, it's cold, I'm tired, I have a lot going on, blah, blah, blah). But that's all they are-- excuses.
No matter how productive I become, my old friend enemy procrastination still comes back to visit me from time to time.
Ironically, I had decided yesterday that I was going to write about procrastination and ways that I have overcome it in my life.
So how did I start writing this today and how are you reading it now? I used a simple little technique that has pulled me out of many time-wasting slumps in the past and kicked my butt into gear. It's a mindfulness technique that I learned from Steve Chandler's book Time Warrior.
One simple little question that forces you into action and helps make any task smaller. But before I get to the question, I'd like to look at why we procrastinate and the role that fear plays in it.
Why we procrastinate.
"One of these days I'm going to get help for my procrastination problem." --Unknown
There are so many things that we can procrastinate about and we can come up with so many different excuses for why we are not doing something. But the actual reason why we procrastinate is really quite simple: We believe that taking action will cause us a certain amount of pain.
Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, authors of The Tools, describe it this way:
Think of an action you've been avoiding. It could be any of the examples we've given or something that's specific to your life. Imagine yourself starting to take that action. You're going to feel something unpleasant. Concentrate on what you feel.
No matter what you call it, that unpleasant feeling is a kind of pain. Under this broad definition, fear, shame, vulnerability, and so on are all forms of pain.
"Objects in the mirror of the future appear larger than they really are." --Steve Chandler
Procrastination is almost always based on some kind of fear. Our minds make all our future tasks big and scary. So we procrastinate. We try to avoid the pain that we know is surely going to come.
Did you ever feel really overwhelmed when starting a new project and think to yourself, "There is no way I can do this," only to sit down with a friend and have her give you a simple first step to take?
Or how about when someone has come to you completely overwhelmed and you think to yourself, "Wow, it's really not that big of a deal..." and then told him how you would approach it and saw a big wave of relief wash over his face?
So, what if we could take that objective point of view for ourselves? What if we could actually be grateful for our fear, as writer Steven Pressfield suggests,
Are you paralyzed with fear? That's a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
The 3-minute solution.
What's on your mind right now that you know you should be doing? What's that thing that you keep putting off even though you know you should be doing it? How many of those things are there for you? If you're like me, there's a bunch of them.
Now when you think about all of them (or even just one big one), you get overwhelmed, right? Of course you do.
But what if you only had three minutes to work on it? Three minutes to take some kind of action, any action?
And here's where the three-minute procrastination solution comes to life:
Keep your life creative and simple: What needs to be done now in these three minutes?
As Steve Chandler explains,
Now knowing I only have a three-minute commitment I just do the thing I was procrastinating about! I just make that a policy! Just do that one thing-- you know what it is-- it's the thing you're thinking about right now.
Don't think in terms of patterns. None of this: "I always" or "I never " because those globalizing thoughts will never serve you. They will scare you and make you a pessimist.
Keep your life creative and simple: what needs to be done now in these three minutes? That's all you ever need to ask, and you'll never have anything like procrastination bother you again.
"So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don't sit there. If we screw it up, start over. Try something else. If we wait until we've satisfied all the uncertainties, it may be too late." --Lee Iacocca
What can you do in the next three minutes that will move something forward? What's one small action that you can take right now?
Take that action. Your future self will thank you.