My entire life can be divided into 3 phases.
Phase 1: Blissful Avoidance
I am at school. I am good at maths. I just get maths. I avoid languages, I avoid arts, I focus on maths and physics and computers. I get by without doing any work. This phase lasted until age 21, the final year of university.
Phase 2: Lucky, and Avoiding Responsibility
I am at university, I am in my early years of management consulting work. My university had just gotten all excited about 2 things: team work and oral presentations. I knew how to get the good students to work with me. The deal was that I would do the end of project presentation and some of the easy writing, they did the hard work.
I didn’t know I was procrastinating. I didn’t see myself as avoiding work. My own vision of myself was blind to the fact that I consistently let others step in to finish the work. I use the word blind deliberately. I must have been very frustrating to work with because I was beautifully deluded.
Phase 3: Realisation
The third phase began when I started my first company as an entrepreneur. I thought I could sell but was the corporate logo that sold. I thought I was productive but it was the others who produced. I didn’t get things done.
I was good at making a good first impression. I was good at thinking fast and helping others get excited about possibilities.
Finally I realised: I was a walking bundle of excuses. My name was Procrastinator.
The origin of the word is in two latin notions:
- Pro means forward
- Crastinus means of tomorrow
It is the art of moving anything really important off to tomorrow and replacing that activity with unimportant activity of all types.
What is unimportant?
Here’s the definition of procrastination activity. For a behaviour to be considered procrastination, I believe it should meet the following 3 criteria:
- needless and
By the way… Doctor Freud would suggest that blogging a definition of procrastination is clearly an act of procrastination.
Getting Serious about Personal Productivity
There is a fourth phase to my life. It starts when I started writing. There is no more brutal indicator of procrastination than the total number of words written per day.
I blog, I write articles, I write chapters for a future book. I use Scrivener to do my writing. It tracks words. It tracks how many words I need to do to finish, how many words I should write today. Have a look at an overall project statistics from Scrivener.
Stephen King says “A writer is a producer of words.” It is simple:
- If you produce words, you are a writer;
- If you don’t produce words, you are not a writer.
There is nowhere to hide. If I have watched 6 TED videos, my morning statistic says 0 words produced. If I go out for 4 coffees, my morning statistic says 0 words produced.
I know what an unproductive day looks like. I can recognise the features of a zero day.
What’s the opposite? What is a productive day? What’s in a ‘Get Things Done’ day?
My 3 Power Tools of Get Things Done
- The Nike method (Pomodoro technique)
- Forgive yourself by re-labelling “Creative idleness”
- Do Absolutely Nothing for 10 full minutes
The Nike method (Pomodoro technique)
Nike’s slogan is “Just do it”. I often use a slightly more aggressive form of this slogan: Get started.
Do the first minute. If I start writing, I will not stop until I have hit 500 on the word count. I won’t edit, I won’t stop. I will keep the keys moving. Sometimes I will write “I will keep writing, I will keep writing” because there is no intelligent idea ready. What always happens is that the resistance inside me (Steven Pressfield is the master on Resistance) fights the start, but once I show that I am going to stay at the keyboard, it relents and allows some ideas to form and to flow onto the page.
The Pomodoro technique is the best how-to guide to how to implement “just do it” into your life.
Forgive yourself by re-labelling “Creative idleness”
Guilt about wasted mornings will kill afternoons. I fail often. My days are littered with grand plans that ended up as candy crush saga and clash of clans on my iphone.
One powerful way to ruin the afternoon is to know that you should have done better in the morning. The powerful way to ruin the morning is to know that you should have done better yesterday. Guilt is a killer. It is an invisible shackle that holds us stuck fast.
I forgive myself. I call my morning a “creative idleness” session. I call yesterday a “creative idleness” session. I may not have produced words, but I did give myself some experience that might serve.
As I entrepreneur, I learnt to tell myself “4 years ago I took the best decision the ‘Me’ of 4 years ago could have taken”. I cannot change the past, I have learnt from it.
Tom Peters says, “The only source of good knowledge is bad experience.”
Do Absolutely Nothing for 10 full minutes
This is brutal for me. This is the nuclear tool. If I have really not been able to get some discipline in my day with tools 1 & 2, I go for the nuclear option.
Do absolutely nothing.
Set a timer. 10 minutes. Do absolutely nothing. Watch your urges and impulses, accept them… but do not act upon them. Sit still. Watch the struggle in your mind. Your inner voice will get very angry and passionate that you must, must do something. Don’t. Wait. Hold.
This energy of desire to do something… allow it to build and build. When the timer signals 10 minutes, then release this energy of desire to take action upon the important task, the phone call you have been avoiding, the conversation with your loved one that you meant to have yesterday.
This are 3 Power tools. How are you going to use them?
Procrastination is Perfectionism in other Clothes
Procrastination is a cunning version of Perfectionism. Human beings are not perfect, yet our inner voice wants us to be. If we can’t be perfect, why start? Well, we are human beings – we are not here to be perfect, we are here for the journey. The journey begins with steps. Steps off the sofa, into the world. Into the world selling, writing, speaking.
(and here are 1113 words for me!)
Ha! (here are 1114!)
Featured photo credit: Deadoll via flickr.com