“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the step.”- Martin Luther King, Jr.
We all suffer from Procrastination, but some suffer from a more chronic case than others.
I recall my early days with my host organization Keep America Beautiful when they provided me with a paid assessment tool that helps one become more aware of one’s strengths. The first step was to read the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book from GALLUP and Tom Rath, named after the famous psychologist Don Clifton. Then I took the assessment.
It was fun — and certainly an eye-opener — to learn of some amazing strengths that I possess. I printed my results to be posted at my workstation to remind me of my capabilities, just like all other employees of the company. One important thing I gleaned from the book is that people should worry less about correcting their weakness and focus more on identifying their strengths and maximizing them for their benefit.
As we know, it may be helpful, if not necessary, for us to change our bad habits before thinking of how we can positively impact the world. This book did not condemn us from working on our weakness, but it exonerates us from solely focusing on our weaknesses and asks us to put first things first. I was not surprised to discover some of my strengths to be strategic, analytical and organized! But let’s assume I had gone through my self-actualization process with my identified strengths earlier, I would have been a trailblazer of top-notch ideas that worked perfectly in Africa. I will still give it a better go today.
Once upon a time from my world in Accra, Ghana, the land of freedom and democracy, I had so much on my hands that I seemed not to achieve much. I had a project with my NGO, started an IT program, wrote proposals, started a for-profit business, and supported my family with various other chores. Even though I prioritized and had a schedule for most of my activities, it seemed like something was missing. I was not able to meet most of my self-imposed deadlines. I could sit behind my desk for a week and still couldn’t complete a task. I felt I could come back another time to complete it. After all, I initiated it.
The funny thing is that I could take vacations over a long period of time, that I would have to go back to the initial phase to catch up. At that point, I felt that the force that prevented me from getting things done, even though I thought I would have nailed it when I really wanted to. You know, I am a Christian and believe in the power of prayer, but at this point I felt that wasn’t enough and I required taking some radical steps to get things done, at least by working strictly with schedules. I read widely and learned from my experiences with people. Now, since I visited the U.S. for my fellowship, I believe I have what works for me. My techniques are not different from what had worked for other people, but worth emulating to get things done while paying attention to details. I follow this religiously and it’s working for me.
After all the rain, there would be a bountiful harvest. Consider the following:
- Dig deeper
First and foremost, we need to recognize that procrastination is a self-sabotage. This resistance to take action isn’t some external factor, but something we are doing to ourselves. We need to look at the behavior closely, as if we were battling our inner demons. There’s always a deeper fear or insecurity within us for why we are stopping ourselves from doing the work. I became aware that I was feeling sorry for myself. I needed a hiatus from my suffering. But when I really looked at my plight, it was no big deal; instead, many lessons slowly started to emerge from my self-examination.
- The two-minute rule
In Dave Allen’s bestseller, Getting Things Done, he explains how we put off easy tasks that we could complete in a few minutes. Things like washing the dishes, replying to emails, and making quick phone calls. The rule he proposes is simple: If it takes less than two minutes, do it immediately.
- Baby steps
When we find ourselves in the midst of this war against procrastination, it’s best to break up goals or tasks into mini-goals and micro-tasks. Instead of telling ourselves we need to go to the gym five days a week for an hour each time, let’s set a target of going twice a week for 20 minutes.
To get back into my reading groove, I set a target of reading a page of a book for every night till I felt confident enough to get back into my usual reading pattern of 30 minutes per night. Now, I could finish one book in three weeks when I want to.
Unless and until we accept that procrastination is real and that it’s a problem originating inside our minds, rather than outside ourselves, we won’t be able to fight it. Resistance is real, and it is part and parcel of our working lives.
- Be kind to yourself
Set up a reward system and celebrate the little achievements that come your way. I for one choose to celebrate my accomplishment with a bottle of beer and some positive vibes. You got to choose what works on your side. The brain will store the good feelings we associated with the behavior, so the next time we are doing the task those same good feeling comes up. This is how I’m building positive habits for myself.
Are you ready to beat procrastination?