I recognized a description in a novel of a character that reminded me of a few people I run across:
“Just about anything you haven’t done in life you were totally planning to do – you just haven’t done it yet.”
I want to but I haven’t – yet!
Procrastination is not a new thing. In very simple terms it’s the lack of self-control. You know you should do something or you want to do something – but you do something else instead. Something prevents you from following through and doing what you want to do or said you would do.
We do this because in spite of our good intentions we put a higher value on the now than on the then. We like the reward we can get right away more than a reward we might get down the road. So the NOW-you sets a goal (get a degree, lose weight, write that proposal) and makes plans for the THEN-you – the you that is down the road in the future somewhere. The THEN-you likes these goals and the rewards that comes along with them but the only one who get it down in the NOW-you. And the Now-you likes rewards now!
This results in a bit of friction between the NOW-you and the THEN-you. The THEN-you wants to get the proposal out but the NOW-you has on-line gifts to purchase and send. You know that the proposal will bring in a new client but shopping is fun. Saving for retirement is critical if you don’t want to work forever but folks in their 20’s, 30’s, and even 40’s are eager to get away this spring and take a nice vacation. We ae motivated to make changes and get things done but we also find it easy to fall into old familiar and comfortable patterns.
Is there anything we can do about this? Yes.
Find a way to bring the future into the present and reward the NOW-you today.
When you take action on a Then-you goal or task, it’s usually because the consequences that used to be in the future of not getting that task done are now in the present. Fear of a painful consequence (guilt, angry boss, missed opportunity) looming often is the factor that moves people to action. As soon as they act, the fear recedes. Just taking some action is often enough. If you want to stop procrastinating, figure out how to make it as easy as possible for you to get started. Momentum and motivation can often carry you through to completion.
Make a reward more immediate. Couple tasks you put off with things you want to do. It’s not hard to do at all:
1. Make a list of things you enjoy doing and are tempted to do. This is the WANT TO DO list.
2. Create a list of the things you should do but put off doing. This is the SOULD DO list.
3. Link a WANT behavior to a SHOULD behavior.
Also known as temptation bundling, you may find yourself only listening to audio books you love while working out or going to your favorite restaurant only when you meet with a challenging client.
Some things that people put off seem so insignificant. Does it really matter? Perhaps it is one of the characteristics of top performers that puts them head and shoulders above others. Working out may not feel like an urgent task but over time, working out regularly makes a big impact on your health. Keeping a clean desk isn’t really an essential task but eliminating clutter reduces stress and increases efficiency. Temptation bundling is an easy way to get to the tasks that are important but never feel urgent.
Use your desire for rewards and pleasure to pull you in – it makes it easier to follow through on the tasks that you put off. Then you won’t need to say that you haven’t don’t it yet – you’ll simply have done it.