This is part of my Thought Piece Series where I explore topics related to leadership and provide both answers and questions. My intention is to start meaningful conversations that help us move forward. Today we’re talking about procrastination.
This piece is about me gaining insight about an obvious answer to a problem that I had ignored for a long time.
I am a person who works well under pressure. In fact, I work so well under pressure that at times, I will procrastinate in order to create this pressure.Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Hands up. Who can relate to this?
I’m a self named “productive procrastinator”. What on earth is that? Well, when I’m avoiding or haven’t started something I need to start, I find small, easy, sometimes brainless, tasks to do. The admin, cleaning up, that filing I’ve been putting off (oh the irony of procrastinating by doing a task you’ve been procrastinating about). Things that are actually on my to do list, but generally lower down on importance or priority.
The benefits are twofold
- Avoid the negative spiral. I don’t feel crap about myself (during or afterward) because I wasted time watching TV or scrolling on my phone, or faffing about pretending to work.
- Create a positive spiral. I love to tick things off my to-do list = Dopamine hit! I’m being productive = feel-good factor. I’m succeeding at something = confidence. These 3 things help me get matched, ready to face the harder challenge.
I know I can take on the bigger challenge, and mentally I’m ready for it.
But this works. And, it has limitations. It takes time.
While I am proud of this method, and it generally works for me, sometimes you just have a deadline and need to get on with things. For example, writing this blog. It goes out every week and that consistency is important.
Side story that’s relevant
I just signed up for an online event, an evening with Rutger Bregman. It’s about his book Human Kind, A hopeful history. The basic premise is that most people are good. I first heard of him after his bizarre interview with an American news network (the interviewer was bizarre) about what he said at Davos, and after signing up to hear about his new book, I went back to the clips of him at Davos.
He’s the historian that spoke up about the obvious answer to inequality in the world. Not philanthropy. But taxes, specifically taxes for the rich (not just the middle class). Check him out in this clip (and there are more to find on YouTube).
It’s something that actually make sense economically and rationally:
Can’t see the video? Find it here on YouTube.
Get financial contributions from people who have a surplus and use it to pay for the things we need to help those who have a deficit – without relying on the goodwill of a few people or when they feel like it.
Tax is a structural solution – and we use it in many countries around the world. It’s an obvious answer
But wait, what’s this got to do with procrastination?
It’s all about my method about dealing with my procrastination. It’s about the obvious answers that we keep ignoring.
I have a method and it takes time and requires my will to get the job done. But I get to feel good about myself. Unfortunately, as a structural solution, it has flaws because I’m not always feeling so generous or in the mood to do something for the benefit of others. Sometimes I “don’t wanna do it”. More often, I forget, or I’m busy with a long list and don’t get around to that bit yet.
But there is a structural solution that I’ve been skirting around: a fixed amount of time each month that I dedicate to these tasks. A fixed day that these tasks are due. A person who collects it from me and holds me accountable. Like taxes and tax collectors.
I don’t like rigid structures.
I like flexibility and freedom.
I believe I’m good and that I will do it.
And yet, I’m human. Evidence is not on my side.
The obvious solution for me is to have that schedule. To fix a time, and to spent that time on that day doing that task.
That unavoidable thing that you just do, without thinking. It’s routine.
Philosophically I still object. However, the data proves that the structure works.
Since I hired Steph to help me with my comms, and we introduced a rhythm, some structure, and accountability, I’ve been consistently producing my blog posts. I produce the content, she produces the visuals and keeps me producing.
I was erratic before. And yes I think I did some great work before, it wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t done consistently (just like philanthropy).
We might not always like the obvious solution at first, but if it works… just do it.
Now let’s turn to you, dear reader.
I have an assumption that you are human like me. You’re pretty great at dealing with most of the challenges that come your way. But I bet there’s one problem that you can’t quite crack. One thing that is niggling at you.
Take a deep breath and ask yourself, without judgement:
What’s the solution you keep dismissing?
What’s the obvious answer, that you look past BECAUSE it’s staring you right in the face?
Go try it.
It might just work.