“Procrastination is the thief of time” – Edward Young
This is something I heard from an acquaintance (in a late night party) and found quite interesting.
The discussion was around Procrastination and how and why we do it.
Loosely defined, Procrastination is the tendency to do more pleasurable things while avoiding something which is ‘perceived’ as less pleasurable, thus delaying an impending task. Though all of us suffer from it, most of us manage to tackle the unsavory task and finish it before it’s too late. Sometimes we ‘cross the line’, delaying some tasks to the point that they start impacting us (important decisions at work, starting an exercise regime, spending time with the family, a health check etc).
As per Neuroscience, the thought of doing that task (which we are procrastinating) gives a sense of ‘pain’ (and reduction in dopamine) so we avoid that imagined pain by focusing on a more ‘important’ task which is less painful. Of course, we explain that away as a prioritization of work or the assurance that ‘there is enough time to do it’
Ok….so we are not machines, and it is fine to play around with our work as long as it is within control. But is there an easier way to manage these ‘difficult’ tasks?
So here comes the simple process on making this easier:
- Let’s pick up one job you feel you have been procrastinating. Let’s say you have to prepare a speech for an upcoming event, where there would an audience of 500 people. You truly believe it’s important to make a positive impact in that event.
- You are delaying it, as each time you think of it, you sense a feeling of anxiety and fear, imagining facing the audience and God forbid, making a mess of yourself.
- So each time you should be quietly sitting down to pen your thoughts, you start on some other ‘important’ work, explaining away that you have enough time to write the speech, and will find a way.
- Obviously, there are moments of leisure, when you feel anxiety about the pending task, but are unsure about where to start.
So, there are three simple steps (as explained by my friend) to start working on it right away:
- Zoom out: Visualize the scene where you are presenting at the event, as though you are looking down at yourself from the ceiling. Then zoom out and see yourself becoming smaller. See your past and imagined future emerge in front of you like a map, with the event at the center. Notice how insignificant the event is as compared to your whole life. Deepen the feeling that what happens on that day will have a negligible effect on your life. Realize that the actual purpose of that experience ( of presenting at the event) is for you to enjoy and learn.
- Zoom in: Now zoom in and go closer to that event. Move to the point where you start preparing for the event. What is the first step you need to take? Maybe to sit down with a pen and paper and a hot cup of coffee? Write the topic on the top of the page? Write the first few thoughts that come up? Realize that the ‘imposing task’ actually constitutes of simple, small steps which are very easy to do.
- Action and Reward: Just act on the first step, without bothering about the next steps. The first step should be small enough to be done within 20-25 minutes or less. Once you finish the first step, sit back and reward yourself (could be a mental ‘pat on the back’ or indulging in a chocolate etc). You have achieved! Now think of the next step you need to take and keep moving forward. Realize that true joy lies in focusing on and completing the small steps one by one.
If you find yourself getting overwhelmed by the ‘magnitude’ of the job, again Zoom out to realize the insignificance related to your whole life. Then Zoom in to focus on the next step in the process.
So why does this work?
Seemingly, we relate fear or anxiety with a task if we have the fear of failure (starting on an exercise schedule, public speaking, getting married, and disciplining a team) or fearful consequences if the task is not done (achieving sales, spending time with children, health check). So we delay the task as we want to do it properly.
Even when we finally get down to doing it, the ‘overwhelming importance’ of the task makes us doubtful of where to start, so we fumble and wait.
Zooming Out and Zooming in (done repeatedly if required) could possibly re-position the task in our minds, allowing us to take action on it.
Do try it out, and tell me if it works!