I still remember the thrill. I had a project that recurred monthly, and with each successive month, I’d leave myself a little less time to complete it. Time after time, usually with only minutes to spare, I’d finish. I felt on top of the world. I was addicted to procrastination and the adrenaline rush that came with squeezing the vice tighter and tighter.
Until something popped.
Sitting in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express in Boulder last May, I was expressing my frustration at missed opportunities to my coach, Jonathan Mead. In his typical calm tone, he asked the question that has changed my life, “What if you had more margin in your life?”
In that moment, I realized that procrastination was robbing me of my margin – my room to identify and pursue opportunities.
It clicked. I was ready to break the habit.
Here’s the deal. If you’re happy with where you are and not interested in new relationships, new opportunities, or learning new things, then procrastination is just fine. If you’re not, then you must realize that the price of procrastination is your future.
Picture it as a massive lock on the door to your dreams. Because that’s exactly what it is. Embrace the lock. Love the lock. Whatever. It’s still a lock, and you’re stuck behind it. You still good with that?
I didn’t think so.
Ready to bust open your lock and start opening the door?
Awesome. You just need to find two keys:
– One to open the lock of general procrastination, freeing your mindset, and
– One to open the locks for project-specific procrastination.
Identify the type of lock. Insert the right key. And open the door.
Your keys may be slightly different than mine. That’s ok. Dig around until you find them. And then keep your key ring with you at all times.
Key #1: Mindset
Six words: I like having things done early. I repeat that mantra to myself endlessly. It’s plastered all around my work area. I focus on the positive feeling that comes when I know I have margin. That “high” is better than the adrenaline rush of stress, and there’s no crash or guilt afterwards.
Another essential element of this key is being organized. Otherwise, how do you know what you need to do and when you need to do it? My system is centered on two tools: the Weekly Review (for planning and priorities) and Remember the Milk (for day-to-day task management). Just about any system will work if you use it consistently.
Key #2: Specific Projects
Even with the best of intentions, we can still get stuck. For me, it’s usually when a project is so massive or complex that it’s overwhelming. This key is to break it down, specifically with a timeline. If it’s really huge (six months or more), I may start with just identifying the main phases. Then I focus on just the first phase, planning out the workflow on a weekly basis. Then I isolate the next week and plan the tasks, entering them in RTM with the appropriate deadlines and priorities. Now I know I don’t have to think about the big picture until my next Weekly Review. I can just keep my head down and complete the tasks.
That’s usually enough to unlock the door. When it’s not, my goal shifts to simply moving forward. I’ll look for the simplest, easiest task in the batch and start with it. I force myself to stay focused until it is completed. When I look up, I usually realize that I’ve completed well more than that and have regained my confidence.
Remember, procrastination is the thief of your time, robbing you of your margin and the opportunity to pursue new opportunities. It may be fun to hang out with the thief on the adrenaline rollercoaster, but you’ll eventually realize that the same rides get old after a while. Instead, find your keys and see how many new doors you can open.
This post is part of an open blog roundtable. If you’d like to participate, write a post on your blog before Wednesday, January 19, and post a link in the comments here. On Friday, January 21, I’ll post a round-up with links to everyone who participated.