Best Practice: Understand and Deal with Procrastination

[This book excerpt is from "Taking Care of Yourself:  Managing Your Priorities, Time, & Energy" in The Project Management Minimalist]
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 “Procrastination is a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.” -- Neil Fiore in The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play 

I created the chart after reading Neil Fiore’s unique description of how procrastination works…how it is part of a larger cycle of emotions, starting with perfectionism and driven by fear. (What an amazing insight!) Here’s an example of how it works. When you get that big, important project assignment, you are overwhelmed by a sense of perfectionism. This is your big chance and you want to execute it perfectly. This leads to a fear of failure that stops you in your tracks. You procrastinate. After procrastinating for a while, you begin criticizing yourself. The longer this self-criticism goes on, the greater your chances are that you’ll begin to experience anxiety and depression, loss of confidence, and an even greater fear of failure! The only way you can end the cycle is to use what Fiore calls “the now habit.” Fiore recommends applying a set of “replacement thoughts” in order to develop “the now habit.” Specifically, you need to make these replacements:

  • Replace “I have to” with “I choose to.”
  • Replace “I must finish” with “When can I start?”
  • Replace “This project is so big and important” with “I can take one small step.”
  • Replace “I must be perfect” with “I can be perfectly human.”
  • Replace “I don’t have time to play” with “I must take time to play.”
The theme here, as you can see, is to begin thinking of yourself as being empowered to take on the project on your own terms. I’ve highlighted the “… take one small step” replacement thought above because it is echoed by many other great thinkers as the best way to deal with fear. As Ralph Waldo Emerson says: “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain… Do the thing and you will have the power.” Then there’s this from Dr. Susan Jeffers in Feel the Fear & Do It Anyway: “The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it… Even if you just take a baby step or two… you need to act… Experience a small success, overcome a little piece of your fear, and build on that.” (My bold added. -MG) And finally from David J. Schwartz in The Magic of Thinking Big: “Here’s something to remember: Actions feed and strengthen confidence; inaction in all forms feeds fear. To fight fear, act. To increase fear — wait, put off, postpone… Jot that down in your success rule book right now. Action cures fear.” (My bold added. -MG)

The point is that action, in itself, is empowering. It energizes you. You aren’t frozen in place anymore, procrastinating. You are in motion, pushing through your own fear, even if it’s to take a small baby step toward completing that complex project. One empowering thing you can do to remove the fear that keeps you procrastinating, is to simply trust your judgment. I discussed this topic in some detail earlier in The People Stuff part of this book. The main thing to remember here is that you have a perfectly trustworthy “internal wisdom filter” that will generate plenty of good judgments for you if you get out of your own way and simply trust it.

(Above: How your “internal wisdom filter” works and why you can trust your judgment! For much more on this topic, see the section above titled: “Trust Your Judgment,” as well as my supporting podcast. – MG)

  Summarizing, to deal with procrastination, you need to:
  • Let go of perfectionism. (Be human, create something that may be flawed, and understand that most projects involve lots of polishing and revision. So it’s okay if this particular iteration isn’t perfect!)
  • Meet fear of failure head on and take some action, no matter how small, that moves your toward your goal.
  • Recast your internal “self-talk” so that you are empowered, not victimized.
  • Trust your judgment. You’ve earned wisdom through your experiences!
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 [This book excerpt was from "Taking Care of Yourself:  Managing Your Priorities, Time, & Energy" in The Project Management Minimalist]