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Physician Heal Thyself


Physician Heal Thyself. You’ve heard this from me before.  I have a coach.  In fact, I have a business coach, a personal coach and a coach supervisor / mentor.  Some people are surprised by this fact.  If I’m a coach, surely I have all the answers, right?  Wrong!!  Coaching is not remedial, fixing your problems and sending you on your way in one perfect piece.  Coaching is refining, honing and improving where you are right now – imperfect and always in development – just like me.

One of the things I love about teaching concepts and ideas in the online programmes that I create is that I get to learn and experiment alongside my clients.  This means that I find new ways of overcoming barriers myself and this is precisely what has happened in the last couple of weeks.

What I’m learning about procrastination

In my new membership programme, “Flourish”, we have been exploring the common barrier to creating a career you love: “procrastination”.  I believe that we can all procrastinate at times.  You may not be a professional procrastinator (and, believe me, I’ve met a few) but I bet that there are certain tasks or actions that lead you to procrastinate despite your best intentions.  You are in good company.

The first step in addressing your procrastination is to identify what makes you procrastinate.  For me, it’s generally three things:

  1. I am deadline-oriented and love the adrenaline of delivering high quality work to a tight deadline.  Consequently, I put things off until the last possible minute, telling myself that this is when I do my best work.
  2. I suffer from shiny object syndrome.  I love new things, experimenting and disappearing off down rabbit holes and this often leaves tasks languishing unfinished.
  3. I find it difficult to plan which means that larger projects can feel daunting and impossible to start.

The next step is to identify what you do when you’re procrastinating.  This is an important step because you really need to catch yourself in procrastination rather than be in denial about it.  I call these your “triggers”.  A common one these days is picking up your phone and scrolling through your latest favourite app.  When I’m working from home, I often find myself gazing into the fridge even when I’m not hungry.  There’s the “rabbit hole” – why am I reading Wikipedia when I should be doing tasks that are actually on my ‘To Do’ list?  And then there’s the tasks that stay on my ‘To Do’ list for a loooong time, being moved from one day to the next with insouciance.

You then need to look at the more deeply rooted reasons why you procrastinate.  For me, these reasons have been (and are) not having clear enough goals, not being connected to my future self and sensation seeking.  Other reasons could be overwhelm and anxiety, perfectionism, fear of criticism, fear of failure, lack of motivation, the list goes on.

That’s an awful lot of being honest with yourself!  But it does make you realise why procrastination can be difficult to tackle.

The final step is to find ways to overcome your procrastination.  Let me tell you that this is an ongoing challenge for all of us because our “whats, hows and whys” of procrastinating are deep-rooted habits.  This is why, like me, you can be a coach, know all the theory, have tackled your procrastination in the past and still slip back into it as easily as falling off the proverbial log (*procrastination alert: see below).

What I’m experimenting with

Each of us in the Flourish group took away at least one idea for overcoming our procrastination to try out and report back.  I have been trying a few things. 

Firstly, I’ve been using the technique of giving my projects a start date instead of a completion date to overcome the “deadline-oriented” procrastination.  This is proving useful, but I need to overhaul my project management tool in order to really achieve this one.  That overhaul task needs to go into my project management tool.

The shiny object is also a long-standing work in progress (see *).  I’m experimenting with creating bookmarks online and a separate email folder for things that have piqued my interest and I want to dive into.  I’m then planning to create a space in my calendar – one hour per week – when I can dive headfirst into those rabbit holes and have a foray in Wonderland.

BUT, the real revelation for me has been tackling big and boring tasks in small bursts.  I have been trying this technique with two outstanding projects that I never seem to start: creating a new narrative for my website (task too big) and dealing with the backlog of reconciliations in my accounting software (task too boring). 

Each day I have worked on each of these tasks for just 15 minutes and a few things have happened:

  1. I’ve made massive inroads into both tasks – this despite the fact that I thought I would need at least a whole day put aside for the website narrative;
  2. I’ve LOVED those 15 minute bursts – even the horrible boring accounting software one; and
  3. I have felt really creative in those moments.

What you can do

Well, if you have a big or boring project languishing, definitely try the short bursts experiment.  Apparently you can also achieve a lot in 5-minute bursts too.

Alongside that, have a think about the last time you procrastinated.  Ask yourself:

  • What is it that made me procrastinate?
  • What is my trigger activity for procrastinating?
  • What deep-rooted reason could be behind my procrastination?
  • What new habits can I form to help me overcome my procrastination?

As ever, please do let me know what you’ve experimented with and how it’s working for you.

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