Have you ever looked at images of ‘Procrastination’ on Google? I have. When I was researching for this article. I’ll be completely candid. I was actually procrastinating on writing this article and was thinking of twenty reasons not to start writing it and ultimately thought if I looked at some inspiration I could get started. Damn — that worked.
Here are some of my favorite images that came up:
Source: procrastination.com [What, there is a website for the word?]
And probably my personal favorite:
We are almost all fully aware that we are procrastinating and yet we still fall victim to it on a daily basis. Sometimes there is a fear of failure (I might fail and therefore it’d be better if I didn’t do it at all). There is the fear of success (what if I do really well and then I have to keep doing it again?). There is the lack of interest in the project which prevents us from getting started. Sometimes there are skill deficits if you aren’t sure what to do or how to do it (will they find me out?).
And yet, with almost every single project we find ourselves procrastinating, we still manage to get it done — and usually on time. Even those of us who say we do not like to operate under stress or pressure usually delay the project until we are in that panic and deadline-driven state of mind. And then we are able to perform…or we are forced to perform. Ultimately, nobody else is feeling that pressure and stress that you put on yourself when you procrastinate on that project. So why do we do this to ourselves? Especially since procrastination is proven to be a contributor to higher stress, reduced quality of work, and even receiving lower salaries?[i]
There is a better way.
One reason that we procrastinate is that the “reward” for the project will not be obtained in a measurable amount of time. It is very difficult for humans, in general, to have a realistic sense of future time. And since the reward of a project is not received until sometime in the future, it is difficult to muster up the motivation and desire to get started.
“A large gap between the time when we complete a task and the time at which we will receive the reward for completing it can cause us to discount the value of this reward, which means that its motivational value will be significantly reduced.”[ii] So what do we do instead? We find ways in which to obtain rewards in other ways. Processing a quick email generates an instant sense of satisfaction, or “reward”, which is why we often turn to processing email instead of turning to the larger project, such as researching and drafting a legal brief.
Email handled. Done. Reward.
Scrolled Facebook. Read interesting posts about friend’s vacation. Done. Reward.
Chatted and vented with co-worker about the need to work on larger project. Done. Reward?!
Ooooh, a text message — I’m wanted and needed. Read. I’ll respond later. Done. Reward.
Additionally, “the relationship between the time it takes to receive a reward and the perceived value of that reward is usually inconsistent, as the rate of discounting decreases over time. Essentially, this means that the farther into the future a reward is, the less the increase in time matters, when it comes to lowering that reward’s perceived value.”
The constant will power or self-control to stay on track is challenging, to say the least. The big hairy audacious project is not due for another 3 weeks, so it doesn’t need to be handled today. Right now. I can write an article on procrastination instead (yes, even I am avoiding a big hairy audacious project I need to work on.)
What’s the solution? How do we overcome procrastination? For the majority of people, it is a constant journey to work on productivity and with that comes procrastination. It’s not as if you learn the tools to stop procrastinating and you magically never have to think about it. It is a daily mindset change to be conscious of why you are procrastinating on the current task at hand and then use the tools to get through it and get started. Here are four top techniques to use on a frequent basis to get through the imminent struggles and just get started on that big, hairy, audacious project:
1. Get an accountability partner. Inform at least someone, or the world, of what you need or want to get done and by when you will do it.
2. Complete the biggest task first. Thirty minutes of emails and then get cranking and force yourself to stay focused for at least an hour.
3. Set a timer and take breaks. After 30 minutes of email, set the timer for 60+ minutes of focused work on the big, hairy, audacious project.
4. Go into airplane mode. Turn off all pings, dings, and interruptions and stay focused.
Having an accountability partner who is able to help with bi-weekly or weekly check-ins, strategic planning, reprioritizing of projects, breaking down projects into manageable tasks, and re-routing priorities will significantly help anyone in managing and reducing procrastination.
Sarah Tetlow is the founder of Firm Focus, LLC which focuses on productivity consulting for attorneys and other legal professionals. She uses her past experiences, organizational and strategic thought process, education, and training to help law firms reduce their bottom line and operate more efficiently. More importantly, attorneys see a reduction in stress and anxiety and an increase in focus and new business. Sarah began her career in law in the early 2000’s after graduating from UC Santa Barbara with a B.A. in Law & Society. Sarah has experienced first-hand the stresses that attorneys endure in trying to manage multiple projects. They also have the daily necessity to react to more pressing needs in a matter of minutes, causing frequent mind-shifting and multi-tasking. Sarah’s mission, and the reason for starting Firm Focus, is the desire to see a change in the industry. To help attorneys and other legal professionals experience control over their day and mitigate the poor habits caused by the workload.
Sarah can be reached at email@example.com or (925) 808–9995.