– What tasks have you put off today?
– What important activities have you been postponing for ‘just after I finish with this’?
– How have the current coronavirus constraints, fears etc. affected your inclination to get things done?
– Have you referred to yourself as lazy recently? Or been called lazy by someone?
– Do you sometimes blame yourself and despair at not getting it all done?
Most of us struggle to get things done sometimes and procrastination is more common than we might believe. We endlessly attempt to fit in more and often curse our time management skills. Yet, studies haveclearly discovered that procrastination is more about managing emotions and mental states than about time management.
In my experience of coaching people for success over 14+ years, I’ve learnt that rocrastination is a subconsciously learned mind pattern which can be changed.
Our Brain & Procrastination
It all starts in our brain which naturally organizes all experiences and situations into two basic categories – reward or threat! Our brains also notice what could go wrong faster than prospective benefits. This gave us a distinct evolutionary advantage at a time when survival was dependent on our ability to predict danger. Today, this results in an innate negativity bias which comes in our way because it activates our subconscious threat response every time we perceive potential conflict, difficulty, uncertainty or even a possibly unpleasant task!!
A subconscious negative stimulus can take over valuable brain resources and lower our energy levels. It also triggers a strong need to balance out the negative by seeking gratification which we typically find in easier, familiar activities or temporarily in inertia.
The protection/avoidance mechanisms of our brain also activate much faster that our slower, deliberate, goal-oriented thinking. This can play havoc with our ability to initiate and sustain action! Before we know it, we are procrastinating again and soon we have a pattern that may develop into a habit! Fortunately, this can be reversed and adapted through practice and patient retraining.
What works, What doesn’t!
An important step before we can begin to work with procrastination is removing the associated blame or self-blame from getting things done. When we start from a place of blame we have already primed our Brain’s protection and avoidance mechanisms and triggered the vicious cycle of inaction. Historical approaches which considered procrastination as a ‘problem’ and aimed to “fix” people often backfire because they further aggravate the blame cycle. Coaching is one of the most powerful methods to create positive shifts in behaviour because it starts with believing that the client is whole, creative and
capable of finding their own solutions. Internationally acclaimed institutions such as ICF (International Coaching Federation) continually emphasize the importance of having positive regard for the client; strengthening the clients belief in their own abilities and helping them find their own solutions. The ICF competencies for coaches emphasize the importance of:
– Appreciating client autonomy, not imposing an “ideal” action plan onto the client.
– Supporting the client in reflection & reframing
– Using questions to elicit new insights and sharing observations to support new learning
– Sustaining a focus on the future goal
This helps coaches and clients create change that lasts by uncovering the root cause, the underlying
patterns and beliefs that stimulate procrastination!
Start with these!
Here are some brain friendly techniques that will help break the cycle. A Stockholm University study tested many of these strategies with positive results on a group of 150 self-reported “high procrastinators” over 10 weeks. Try out the ones that work for you.
- Consciously draw your attention to the positives. Think about the potential benefits of completing the task and imagine how good it will feel to get it out of the way. This will help your brain focus on the potential rewards instead of the toil of executing the actions.
- Reframe negative points as potential opportunities by beginning sentences with ‘How might I…’ or ‘What could be a way to…’ E.g. Instead of “This cannot be completed by Friday” think “What could be a way to complete this by Friday.” Reframing in this manner activates deliberate, goal-oriented thinking and bypasses the immediate mood repair focus of the brain.
- Set the bar low for the first steps. Once we start, the chances of finishing increase significantly since the typical brain seeks closure and completion to feel at ease. Clearly define the first steps and make them easy. This motivates the brain to get started.
- Meditate to change Brain structures. Research has clearly linked mindfulness meditation to strengthening of functional connections in the brain.
- Set small high-focus deadlines with zero interruptions. Use a timer to plan a set period of high-focus with no interruptions or distracting notifications. The brain finds it easier to focus deeply for shorter periods ignoring distractions especially when it knows a break has been planned to deal with those. Try 25 high-focus minutes followed by a 5minute break and a longer break after 90 or 120 minutes.
- Work with a coach. Going it alone is rarely a good idea. Since procrastination naturally comes in the way of getting things done, trying to resolve it without the necessary support can be a recipe for disaster!When looking for a coach make sure you pick one who is qualified with the right credentials and makes you feel comfortable.
Hope this helps you start your journey of getting things done on day one rather than one day.
– Works with CEOs and boards to measurably enhance strategic output and bottom-line impact of topleadership teams.
– Helps ambitious leaders significantly accelerate their professional success.
– Is co-founder and leader of QuadraBrain® Transformation Solutions which specializes in MakingComplex Change Simple!
QuadraBrain® helps deliver 100% success rates for business transformation using proprietary research (published).Shweta brings 20+ years of experience including a change specialist role in a Fortune50 organization andas CEO of a small business group. She has received numerous global honours including CEO Coach of the Year & ICF Young Leader award.