I read and love your blog. Your post on procrastination hit home because I am a procrastinator.
My director-level job involves deep-dive creativity, research, writing, deadlines, and teams. I’m good at what I do, not a lot of people are, and the revenue from my work actually keeps the company afloat. But obviously, my behavior is helping no one.
How can I lead myself out of procrastination and into better honoring my team members? I think a fear of failure tied to the creative process is at the root, but I can’t figure out more past that.
I have a feeling a lot of creatively-oriented professionals share my challenge.
Putting It Off Until Tomorrow Then I’ll Work All Weekend
Dear Putting it Off,
Congratulations! You’re a successful procrastinator.
Your email hit my inbox two days ago, but I put off writing this post until this morning. The anxiety of a deadline enhances creativity and productivity. I choose the term anxiety rather than stress.
Anxiety and stress:
Too much anxiety turns to stress. Too much stress makes you stupid and unproductive. I enjoy feeling anxious before I write, speak, coach, or run meetings.
Anxiety is momma taking your face in her hands and saying, “Pay attention.” Stress is a boulder that eventually crushes you.
Anxiety brings out your best, but stress brings out your worst.
Priorities and timing:
I suspect you’re busy while you procrastinate.
It’s not like you’re sitting around doing nothing. But when you procrastinate, you give attention to important trivialities. You answer email, go to budget meetings, or complete reports.
Important trivialities prevent you from doing the thing that pays the bills. It makes no sense, but we all do it.
Do important work when you’re at your best.
Schedule important trivialities during your least productive hours. Personally, I don’t expect anything important to get done in the early afternoon. Most adults are zombies between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.
When are you at your best? I’m at my best in the early morning and between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. Perhaps you’d feel good to arrive before others and do important work early in the morning?
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
When by Daniel Pink
Are you working every weekend or just the weekends before big deadlines? If it’s an occasional weekend, then take off Monday and Tuesday that week.
Let the urgency of a deadline pull you toward completion.
I sense that you’re tired of stressful weekends and would like an alternative.
I just called a leader who has moved from procrastinating 100% of the time to not procrastinating 75% of the time. Here’s what he said.
- Get a coach who will help you procrastinate less. If you’re paying someone, you’re more likely to follow through.
- Develop a system. Creative people chase shiny objects. Perhaps you’ll schedule important work on Wednesday and Thursday morning for two hours each. Maybe you work from home on Wednesdays.
- Prepare to do important work. Get all the parts together before doing important work. Do you have all the papers? Have you had necessary conversations?
- Remove distractions. Close your door and put a sign up that says, “Enter and you die.” Turn off the Internet. Pull the shades. Put on your army boots and drop down in the trenches.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
Defeating procrastination takes discipline.
Exercise discipline in short bursts.
Research says that willpower is like a muscle. It feels fatigue. You can avoid sweets all day, for example, and then when you’re tired in the evening, you eat ice cream out of the box.
You’re right. Creative people tend to procrastinate. So what!
You have discipline when you’re under pressure. That means you already have discipline.
The leader I called told me that not procrastinating feels really good. When he falls off the wagon, it feels doubly bad.
It’s a joy to get your work done before the last minute. Pat yourself on the back every time you get something done early.
Note: Last minute work isn’t your best work. One benefit of getting done early is time to improve your work.
It’s sad to face challenges alone.
Give others permission to kick you in the pants and pat you on the back.
You have my best,
What suggestions do you have for Putting it Off?
*I relax my 300 word limit on the weekends.