Manage episode 331430022 series 2360827
This week’s question is on defeating the habit of procrastination (and I have some rather brutal truths to reveal).
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Episode 233 | Script
Hello and welcome to episode 233 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein, and I am your host for this show.
Procrastination ah the bane of all productive wannabes. No matter how motivated you are when you retire for the night to have a productive day the next day, that pernicious procrastinator steals the day, and you find you’ve achieved very little, but you know how everyone of your friends on Instagram are doing, and you can talk about all the funny videos you saw on Tick Tock as if you were a professor of the subject.
But what is procrastination, and why do we do it? Those are two questions we need to answer before we can start helping move anyone away from those dark depths to a more brighter, focused and productive light.
Now, to kick start things off and before the Mystery Podcast Voice reveals the question, let’s look at the definition of procrastination:
“Procrastination is the action of unnecessarily and voluntarily delaying or postponing something despite knowing that there will be negative consequences for doing so. “
Now I want to give you another definition. That of self-discipline:
“the ability to make yourself do things you know you should do even when you do not want to”
Now the way I see procrastination is that it is the near opposite of self-discipline. Yet, no one wants to admit that—particularly procrastinators. The truth is is a little more complex than that, but it is a good starting point because these definitions can give us some clues on how to defeat procrastination.
Okay, with that part done, let me hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question.
This week’s question comes from Len. Let asks, hi Carl, I’ve been in full-time employment for over twenty years now, and I’ve always wanted to be more productive, but I’ve always failed. I’m never doing things that are important, instead I do the unimportant stuff. I think I am what some people call a “serial procrastinator”. Have you any ideas you could share that will help an old procrastinator like me stop?
Hi Len, thank you for your question and for being so honest.
Firstly, let’s deal with the “I’ve always failed” part of your question. Failure is not a finish line in itself unless you make it so by quitting. Failure is an education.
Whenever you fail at anything, you learn something—if nothing else, you learn what doesn’t work so you can start again with a different strategy. Failure has nothing to do with you as a person; failure at anything informs you what skills are missing, so you next time you try to can build those skills and strengths, so you don’t fail again.
I remember the first full marathon I attempted. I failed. I dropped out at mile 18. I just couldn’t go another step further. I was devastated. I thought there must be something wrong with me. But a little voice inside me said, this was only my first attempt, and I learned that I needed to set off slower and pace myself better, and I also needed to improve my strength and stamina on hills—you don’t run marathons around an athletics track. You run on streets, and they are rarely flat.
With that information, I spent the next six months learning to pace myself properly and did a hill session every week. The next time I entered a marathon, I finished it—with energy to spare! Did I fail? Of course not; I got knocked over, but I learned why and picked myself up and developed my skills and succeeded.
Remember, you never fail until you quit. You may get a few setbacks because the strategy you were trying didn’t work, but that is not failure. It’s a setback.
Okay, now on to your procrastinating.
I’ve seen a lot of clinical reasons why we might procrastinate, and I see many people in the media who will jump on these clinical definitions and tell every who procrastinates that it’s an illness and if you take this new super-drug, you will be cured. Well, I’m sceptical. I’m sure you can alter the chemical make-up of your brain to stop procrastinating and be more focused, but artificially altering your brain’s chemicals isn’t a long-term solution if you ask me.
But let’s go back to the definition of procrastination—delaying or postponing something you should be doing despite being aware of the negative consequences.
Why are you postponing what you should do? What are you doing instead? That’s where I would start. Let’s say that reading the news or going through Tick Tock or Instagram, is what you do, now here is the dilemma, Facebook (or Meta as they are now called) and ByteDance are big corporations that employ smart people to create a user experience that is designed to keep your eyes on their content. Much like soap operas and TV dramas—they want to keep you watching their content.
You are battling again with professional people who understand human psychology, and unless you remember this, you will always be sucked in.
It’s the same with the news today. The news media companies are in competition for your eyes and attention. They employ people to come up with click-bait headlines so you click their articles. For years journalism schools have been teaching students how to grab and keep your attention, and it’s very effective.
Now we mortal humans have not had any opposing training. There are no classes on how to resist click-bait headlines and the social media algorithms designed to keep us on their site. So, this battle is very much a one-sided one.
However, we do have one thing in our arsenal that is highly effective. And that is self-discipline. And the great thing about self-discipline is that it works very much like a muscle: The more you train it, the stronger it becomes.
By the way, if you want to see how developing self-discipline can transform your life, I highly recommend David Goggins’ book: Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds and Jocko Willink’s Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual. Both books lay it on the line what can be achieved by developing your self-discipline and destroying procrastination.
However, for the last forty years or so, our lives have become more and more easy. When I think back to my childhood and visiting my grandparent's house, whenever they wanted to watch something on TV, they had to be there at the time the show was on. There was no streaming or recording. You either watched it when it was on, or you missed it. And then, if you didn’t like the next TV show, you had to get up out of your chair, go to the TV and turn over the channel. No remotes back then.
There were no robotic vacuum cleaners, and if you wanted to learn something, you had to go to a place called a library. No picking up your phone and Googling something for the answer. If you wanted to read the news you had to go to a newsagent to buy a newspaper—unless you were lucky and you lived in an area where the newspaper was delivered to you.
And if you were hungry, you had to get up and cook something. No home food deliveries in those days.
Back then, every day we had to exercise our self-discipline one way or another. Today, we can run businesses from our sofa with a phone. We don’t have to move anywhere.
All these conveniences have been eroding our self-discipline silently and ruthlessly and it’s no surprise that the word procrastinate has become such a popular word in recent years. I’m betting if I asked my grandmother twenty years ago if she knew what procrastination was she’d have looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language.
So what can we do to strengthen our self-discipline? Well, one of the best ways is to develop a simple, healthy morning routine. There are three things a good, solid, healthy morning routine does. It first wakens you up. You can start off by doing a few stretches. Begin with your neck, then shoulders, arms, stomach and then legs and feet. Spend around two minutes stretching every morning as soon as you get out of bed. Then drink a glass of water with half a lemon squeezed into it.
You can make yourself a cup of coffee or tea as well. Then sit down somewhere relaxing and do ten minutes of meditation or journal writing. And finally, look at your plan for the day.
Three things. Stretching (and or exercise), reflection—meditation or journal writing and reviewing—look at your plan for the day. Make this not only a routine but something stronger. A ritual. Something you will not miss—ever.
My morning ritual lasts around 40 minutes, although I give myself 45 minutes. Yours might be thirty minutes or even an hour. The time it takes is not important. What is important is that every day, whether you are working or not, you begin each day the same way.
Then, before you start the day, make your bed and clean up the kitchen.
Make no excuses (there are none) for not doing this. Not only will you feel great having a consistent way to begin your day, you are also exercising your self-discipline.
Another way I strengthen my discipline is to always take the stairs and avoid escalators and lifts (“elevators” if you live on the other side of the Atlantic) I do have an exception here. If the floor is above the 10th, I will take the lift. But fortunately, it’s rare I need to go beyond the 10th floor.
Quite often taking the stairs is faster than waiting for a lift anyway and I gamify escalators by taking the stairs and racing the escalator to prove it’s faster to use the stairs.
It takes time to strengthen your self-discipline, but the time and effort is worth it because as you gain strength here, your procrastinating habit will be receding.
The next thing you need to do to stop procrastinating is be aware of what you do when you procrastinate and when you find yourself doing that activity stop immediately. Ask yourself: What am I doing?! In an aggressive voice out loud.
What this does is interrupt the pattern you have wired into your brain that causes you to procrastinate. Interrupting patterns of behaviour is a great way to overcome any bad habit. You could also slap yourself aggressively across your chest as well when you say “what am I doing?!”
This pattern interrupt will begin the rewiring of your brain to remove the bad habit of procrastinating and start reinforcing a new, positive habit.
Finally, always have a plan. Sometimes we slip into procrastination because we do not know what we need to do next. Or, our to-do list is so long, it’s overwhelming and trying to decide what to do next causes so much anxiety we slip into procrastination.
Your plan does not need to be a micromanaged plan. All you need are a few real, meaningful objective tasks to be completed that day. Knowing what you need to get accomplished each day prevents procrastination because you feel the pull of your plan. It’s when you don’t have a plan you feel you are having to “push through” the day and that’s exhausting. Instead, have a plan. The plan will pull you through the day and that is far easier than pushing all the time.
I hope that has helped, Len. Thank you for your question. Remember, you are not failing, you are learning what doesn’t work. I hope knowing that all you need to do is to strengthen your self-discipline muscle and have a plan for the day and you will soon find yourself procrastinating less.
Thank you also to you too, for listening and it just remains for me know to wish you all a very very productive week.