If this… then that…

Have you ever put off tasks until tomorrow, next week, next month or never!?

Have you ever put off tasks until tomorrow, next week, next month or never!?

We all do. (Especially at this point in January if we’ve made a whole bunch of unrealistic resolutions!) Why do we put some things off, though?

Putting things off can often make us feel guilty, anxious or regretful. We might miss opportunities for not taking action quickly enough, waste time fretting about what we haven’t done, feel unproductive and that we’re not making progress. In the worst cases of procrastination, we can even damage our financial prospects, our health and our relationships.

If we’re to address our procrastination, we first need to understand why we’re doing it. What’s stopping us? If you’ve something that has appeared on your ‘to do’ list for more than three weeks in a row, it’s probably worth asking the question or discussing with a friend or colleague. ‘What’s stopping me getting this done – or even just getting started?’ Be honest. Sometimes it’s fear because we don’t know how to do something, or the stakes feel high if we fail, and sometimes it’s because the task we’re putting off about shouldn’t even be on the list in the first place and you can let it go.

Research shows the most common reasons for procrastination are feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, perfectionism, fear of failure, lack of energy and motivation. Procrastination can also occur when the goals are too big to tackle, too far in the future or so abstract that we can’t connect to the benefits of them.

There’s lots of reasons why we procrastinate but there’s one procrastination tactic that I’m hearing a lot recently. It’s the phrase ‘If this… then that….’ We’re waiting for something else to happen first before we can get started.

Examples of ‘If this…then that…’ are, when the new admin person arrives I’ll start this project, when the weather gets warmer I’ll start to eat healthily or when we’re all back in the office I’ll address the issues around that team members’ performance.

The challenge when we’re waiting on something else before we can get started is that we’re abdicating responsibility.

It might make sense to start a project when you have more admin support. It might be easier to eat more healthily when its warmer and you can’t hide under a big jumper and it might feel more appropriate to address poor performance face to face.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to ‘If this… then that…’, but I am asking you to challenge yourself. Is ‘If this… then that…’ legitimate or is it a way to procrastinate and put things off because of overwhelm, fear, perfectionism, lack of energy or motivation?

There’s a Chinese proverb that says: ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’ In the context of ‘If this… then that…’ it’s a nudge to question that if you want future success, the best time to act is now.

Three tips to help you start now

  1. The next time you put something off with ‘If this… then that…’, stop and challenge yourself. Is it legitimate or are you procrastinating?
  2. If you’re procrastinating, then ask yourself ‘What’s the first step to get started?’
  3. Set your timer for five minutes and make a start on the first step. At the end of five minutes, you might have had enough. It that’s the case then set five minutes to keep working on the task the next day. However, if at the end of five minutes you find that you’re in the flow – keep going.

Procrastinating is such a big deal for so many people I run regular get it done sessions in my membership community, the Lucidity Network. They are friendly group sessions where you focus on something that you need to get done. Being on a Zoom with others helps accountability and productivity. I’m opening the next get it done session to everyone. It’s on Wednesday 22 February, 10am – 12pm. If you’ve got something on your list that you’re putting off, if you suspect you’re procrastinating, come and join us and get it done. More details and sign up here.

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