We’d just begun our coaching call. Sarah was explaining why she had not kept her word about meeting five new prospects that day… Again.
In a voice tinged with resignation, she said, "there wasn’t enough time." She rolled out all the things that had gotten in her way in the past few days. She waited for me to change the subject.
I didn’t change the subject. As her coach, I knew that this was the subject. And this was a major challenge to Sarah’s getting what she truly wanted for her Mary Kay business and herself. Sarah knew it. I knew it. And as her coach, I wouldn't be helping her if I let her off the hook.
"But I never seem to have enough time!"
“Your problem isn’t lack of time,Sarah,” I said. “You had time enough to make client calls. You were able to take an extra two hours on your lunch break to read up on your Mary Kay product catalog. You had time for a lot of things, but you consistently put off this one thing that you’d committed to, agreed needed to be done, and wasn’t all that difficult. So what's really going on?”
Sarah got defensive, saying she'd been prioritizing. Then she caught herself, and said: “I know this is important, but I just feel so uncomfortable dealing with meeting new people.” This was big for Sarah to admit and I was relieved to hear her own it. “Not having time” was a red herring and we both knew it.
I assured her that she wasn’t alone when it came to procrastination, and we considered a number of places throughout her management and leadership functions where this habit was showing up. We reviewed several other things she wanted that she wasn’t getting by allowing this habit to drive her. We had to agree that it was a problem before we could agree to work on it.
Tell Me Why?
There are myriad reasons why we procrastinate. And there are often telltale signs that we are indeed procrastinating even when we think we are being truly productive.
Do you stay busy doing low priority tasks despite the high-level, strategic work that remains undone?
Are you checking and re-checking your email without acting on them?
Do certain items keep getting “carried over” to another day on your To-Do list?
Are you perpetually waiting for a “good time” to tackle certain tasks?
If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you may be struggling with this issue.
While there are many underlying causes, here are seven that are particularly common and easily identified:
- You are feeling overwhelmed by a particular task
- You are afraid that you will fail
- You feel unwilling or unable to make a decision
- You are overworked or too tired
- You just don’t want to do it
- You are too disorganized and distracted to effectively budget the time
- You don’t want to commit to starting a task unless you know it will be perfect
Deferring some tasks, especially low-level or unimportant tasks, is not necessarily procrastinating. Part of the art of self-management is being able to prioritize and, where possible, delegate. It might also be a good strategy to intentionally hold off on high-level or critical tasks if you are not able to focus effectively due to fatigue or unavoidable distractions. But that should be the exception, not the excuse.
Sarah had developed the habit over the years of putting off unpleasant tasks simply because she didn’t want to do them. But that didn’t make them go away. They just collected in the background – adding to Sarah’s stress and further distracting her from being able to fully focus on any task at hand. It was a vicious cycle. Her upbringing and her work ethic made “doing things and being busy” essential, so she would immerse herself in “work.”
But for all the time she put in to being busy, she was perpetually frustrated by her inability to get the results she really wanted.
For some people, the greatest enemy to getting important things done is perfectionism. If it can’t be perfect, it can’t be done.
Okay, so stop that. It’s not going to happen. Nothing is perfect and striving for perfection is just another way of putting things off indefinitely. Sometimes, “good enough” is good enough. Leave room for improvement and innovation – but give yourself something to start with!
Plan Your Work, Write it Down, and Work Your Plan
The old cliché about planning your work and working your plan is a powerful maxim. I added the bit about writing it down because there is enormous power in putting things on paper. There is an extra force in making your objectives visible and “real."
Getting effectively organized and developing effective time management practices will not happen overnight. But today is a great day to start! Confronting your own particular procrastination demons will not be comfortable or pleasant. So be it – today’s a great day to begin! Create a realistic To-Do list each day with only 3 priority tasks. Put the least inviting one on top. As a Mary kay Representative you should use your "6 Most Important Things To Do Everyday" list.
Begin. Experience the pleasure of getting something you’d avoided off your list. It's a monkey off your back! Move on to the next. It gets easier with each little success.
Sarah did exactly that. It wasn’t easy and it did not all turn around in a week. But as I told her then — it’s a process, not an event. Over time she’s gained control over her time by gaining control of himself. By implementing key tools and methods for planning and prioritizing she is winning the battle with procrastination.
Does she still dislike certain tasks? Well, yes. But she’s getting them done, and a completed unpleasant task feels a lot better than one hanging over your head.