#019 - PROCRASTINATION is the art of putting things off, and we all do it. The Procrastinator's Motto is: Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. Join Dr. Charles Boyer as we look for ways to get things done by taking that first step.
Hello there, and welcome to Keys for New Leaders, a podcast just for you – a new or newer leader who leads by serving others. This is your host, Dr. Charles Boyer, but my friends call me Charlie, and that’s YOU, my friend. I’m so glad you are here for this episode. I’m happy to invite you to join the growing list of subscribers, so if you haven’t already done so, take a minute and subscribe on your favorite podcast audio platform. If you’ve already subscribed, thank you so much! It’s so good to see the number of downloads keep growing as I do these episodes. But this isn’t about downloads and lists – it’s about YOU! Toward the end of this podcast, I’ll ask you three open-ended questions that will help you focus on today’s topic, and I’ll also include a Special Key, just for you! So, let’s get started.
This is Episode #19, and it’s all about PROCRASTINATION, the art of putting things off. We all do it, and some of us get really good at it. You know, I would have recorded this episode much sooner, but I kept putting it off! The Procrastinator’s Motto is: Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. Well, that’s it in a nutshell. But there’s really more to it than that. For some, it’s just a matter of doing whatever it is you have to do, but on your own time schedule. For others, it really becomes a habit that often morphs into some really creative excuses for putting off what needs to be done. And that, my friend, leads to being really stuck in the mud. Definitely not a fun place to be!
Procrastination has been around for a long time, probably as long as there have been people. It’s a peculiar word, and it comes from the Latin word, procras, which means “tomorrow.” I guess the Romans must have been pretty good at putting things off, too.
Why all the fuss about putting something off? What’s so awful about putting off something until later? Procrastination is a good example of our tendency to put short-term needs ahead of long-term ones. Some have said that we’re hard-wired more for short-term gratification. Over time, though, chronic procrastination isn’t just about productivity. It is a habit that can have destructive effects on our mental and physical health. At its core, procrastination has more to do with our emotions, not productivity. When we procrastinate, we waste time that could result in something meaningful.
If putting things off becomes a habit, then maybe it’s possible for us to break the bad habit by building a new habit that is more positive. There are many articles and “how-to” lists about stopping procrastination. They sound easy, but to follow the steps, we have to overcome a lot of our own inertia. Ah, yes – our own dynamic inaction at work.
One method of so-called “curing” procrastination describes a rather simple process of taking steps to gain more productivity. Described as the Ivy Lee Method, the five steps include:
1. At the end of each workday, write down 6 things you need to accomplish tomorrow.
2. Then, put these 6 items in order of their importance.
3. Then, tomorrow, focus only on the first task. Finish it before moving on to the second task.
4. At the end of the day, move unfinished tasks to the next day’s six tasks.
5. Repeat every day.
Really? Now come on! Tell me that your day is so predictable. That’s certainly not my experience. Things happen that you can’t possibly plan for. And the tasks that call for the leader’s attention are rarely so simple that they can be completed in a single setting. Let’s be a bit more realistic, here.
Time management techniques like this seem mechanistic to me. It sounds like a factory assembly line. Do this, then this, and do it every day for a month, and you’ll soon be performing at top level. Well, that may work for some, but it sure doesn’t appeal to me. It smacks of working with things, rather than with people. Sorry, my friend, but people just don’t perform like machines, and it’s a waste of time and talent to expect that kind of behavior of ourselves. No two of my days as a leader were ever alike. Ever. Are yours?
Brian Tracy wrote a wonderful book about procrastination and how to get things done. The book is titled, “Eat That Frog.” Now, that may not sound very appetizing, but he explains it this way: “…if the first thing you have to do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that it is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.” Well, I sure hope so! He goes on to explain that the “frog” is the biggest, most important, and likely the least attractive task before you. And, he says, it’s best not to stare at it too long.
Some years ago, Stephen Covey, Robert and Rebecca Merrill wrote what was then a best-selling book, titled “First Things First.” It was about time management, however they also emphasized the importance of building rich relationships, inner peace, balance and confidence. That approach still resonates well with me because it’s about real people rather than a list of rules to follow to better manage your time.
Rather than trying to stick to some formula, I like to look for simple steps to help overcome the inertia and just get something started. It’s similar to the old story about how to eat an elephant – a bite at a time. Just for fun, you can check out a short website article I wrote awhile back about “How to Eat an Elephant.” Here’s the link:
Basically, getting started is really a process of looking at an enormous task, breaking it into smaller, more manageable chunks, and then – and here’s the hard part for all of us procrastinators – take that first step. Whatever it takes, you must eventually get off your blessed assurance and DO SOMETHING! However small or insignificant it may seem to you, it really is a big accomplishment to take that first step. Celebrate your accomplishment, but don’t stop there. You must also take the next step, and the next, and the next.
Brian Tracy also wrote about driving across a huge desert where oil barrels were placed five kilometers apart as guide posts. He said all he had to do was aim for the next oil barrel, and pretty soon, he had crossed the desert.
One barrel at a time, one bite at a time, one step at a time – they are all saying the same thing: begin with one small action step -- and KEEP GOING!
It’s also very important to know where you’re going, or what the end result will look and feel like to you. Yes, you MUST take that all-important first step, but also look ahead to the finish line. What or where is the end of the task or project? What will it look like and feel like when you are completely finished? Won’t that feel – and BE – terrific? It’s so important to do this. It helps to visualize fully completing your task or project. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re likely to end up somewhere else!
Maybe an example will help explain this. Here’s one from my experience as a teacher. When I was planning a concert with the band, I selected the music, knowing that we had – let’s say - eight weeks to prepare for the performance. We couldn’t wait until tomorrow to begin, and we sure couldn’t put off learning the music until the next week. I had to think about the end result - How would the band sound on the concert eight weeks from now? I’ll tell you, it sure didn’t sound that way on day one! I rehearsed the concert in my head and worked every day toward getting the band prepared to perform as I heard it in my head. And – it worked! Well, most of the time, anyway…
In a 2019 New York Times article, Charlotte Lieberman wrote about some healthy ways to manage your feelings that trigger procrastination. She advised us to
1. Be curious about the feelings you have when you put something off. What feelings get stirred up in you?
2. Ask yourself what is the next action you must take? It helps you look ahead and not stay stuck on that first step.
3. Place obstacles between you and what you are tempted to do rather than take action on that first step. Make it uncomfortable to do nothing or put off taking action.
4. Make the things you want to do as easy as possible. Build in some rewards for yourself when you take those steps.
It’s all a part of positive reinforcement to help you build good habits rather than continue the bad habit of putting off what you need to get done.
What about projects you can’t complete in one session? Many of the big tasks facing you just can’t be completed in an hour or two, or in one day. That’s when it is most important to study the whole task and break it down into chunks that you CAN complete. Take a bite of the frog or that elephant and make yourself finish that first bite. It gets easier after that.
Other steps along the way that help you keep from putting off what you need to do include gathering all the resources you will need – books, articles, reports, equipment, tools – so that you don’t have to keep interrupting yourself to go find what you need.
When working to complete a large and complex task or project, it’s also helpful to think of a big spiral, and in that spiral, you keep circling back to the task or project, each time refining it or completing another part of it, so that it gets better and better each time you work it. I use this approach lots of times, and it works well for me. Give it a try and see if it works for you.
Well, these are some ways that I’ve found effective at getting out of the procrastination trap. The most important point I can leave with you is to take that first step, whatever it takes to do that. Then, take another step, and another. Good luck and good stepping!
And now, here are those three questions I promised you. There are no right or wrong answers, only YOUR answers that are right for YOU.
1. When you have fully completed a task or project, how does that make you feel about yourself?
2. What is one thing you keep putting off that you really need to do?
3. What is standing in your way to take that first step to getting it done?
That Special Key I mentioned at the beginning of this podcast? It’s the Key of “E” for Extra – a little something for you to read and enjoy. It’s a short article I wrote about growing older, but it also includes a message about counting your blessings. Hope you enjoy it! Here’s the link:
In the next episode, we will talk about some ways for leaders to serve others BETTER. Whatever we do, we can always do BETTER. We’ll review some of the topics we’ve mentioned in previous episodes and add some different ways to help us get better at leading by serving others. I look forward to having YOU join us for that episode.
While we’re on that subject, I’m interested in what ideas YOU have after listening to these podcasts. Are there topics or subjects you would like to talk about or hear an episode about? I’d sure like to hear your thoughts and ideas. Leave a comment, a thought, an idea or suggestion on the “Comments” page of the Keys website. Here’s the URL:
Or copy and paste the link that appears in the transcript for this episode. Thanks – I look forward to hearing from you.
Until next time, take care, and stay safe and well, my friend.