(This is a speech I gave recently as part of my Presentation Mastery pathway. I’m a member of Chiltern Speakers toastmasters club – you can find out more about us here https://www.facebook.com/chilternspeakers and about Toastmasters more generally here https://www.toastmasters.org)
We’re almost half way through the year. Have you lost those pounds you put on over Christmas? Can you play those chords on the guitar? Have you cracked the big goal you’ve been dreaming about for years?
Or have you been spending time with my old nemesis, procrastination?
Procrastination and I have spent a lot of time together over the years, so I know him well. When I want to get something important done, he runs amok. Whether it’s making coffee, searching for my dream car or even tidying the stationery drawer, he always distracts me with the least important tasks.
I’ve even come to characterise him clearly: me, I’m Batman, serious, well-intentioned. Procrastination is the Joker, mischievous and completely unpredictable.
Fortunately I’m not alone.
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2017/10/5-research-based-strategies-for-overcoming-procrastination 95% of people surveyed admitted to regularly putting off work (the author thought the other 5% were lying)
So it’s a human condition. We needn’t feel bad for it. But assuming most of you procrastinate at some time or another, here are some techniques I’ve found work well:
Firstly – make it a habit, rather than a goal
A goal might feel too big, or you’re uncertain about how to break it down into meaningful steps so according to James Clear in Atomic Habits, a habit is more effective than a goal. Once you’ve established it, the action is instinctive, and you repeat the it without having to summon up the energy to work on it.
Or, imagine the best case, you achieve your goal – what next? How do you maintain the progress you’ve made when you don’t have the lure of the big target and the rewards you set for yourself at the end?
If you develop a habit, you’ll program your mind to take the positive actions day in, day out, over the long term. Do you think Batman can wear a spandex onesie because he’s a billionaire in day to day life? No, he has the habit of working out regularly to achieve a finely honed physique.
That all sounds very well Jon I hear you cry, but habit or goal, I haven’t done anything!
Then my second piece of advice is to just get started
Do something, anything!
James Clear talks about the two minute rule: work on the most decisive action, e.g. take out your guitar, take out your running shoes, or do something fun, like riding up and down in the secret lift in Wayne Manor. Do the smallest thing to get started, and you’ll build momentum.
Then, once you’re into the swing of it, don’t let yourself stall. You can use the pomodoro technique developed by Francesco Cirillo, to break your work down into achievable segments.
How this works is:
- Clear your distractions,
- set a timer for 25 minutes,
- work and then stop for a 5 minute break.
- And repeat
But if you’ve tried these approaches and you’re still not getting anywhere, then my 3rd piece of advice is for you.
Check you’re focused on the right target
Did you attempt too many resolutions for example? Are you standing in the fast-lane of your life, traffic rushing towards you, unsure about which way to run?
Rather than fight it, instead you might actually embrace procrastination.
Brian Tracy in Eat that Frog invites us to procrastinate on the lowest value items: eat the largest ugliest frogs first, but let the others go.
Seth Godin, in The Dip, goes one step further.
He says that every project, career or relationship starts out exciting and fun. Then it hits a low point, when it’s really hard and not very fun.
At this point you’re either in a dip, which will get better if you keep pushing, or a cul-de-sac, which will never get better, no matter how hard you try.
So reflect on it for a moment. Are you focused on the right thing? Do you have the talent to see it through? Is your heart in it? If not, then the best option might be to quit.
And if you do, it’s OK, even Batman quit eventually.
So, when you get to New Year’s eve 2022 and reflect on the year that passed, will you be proud of what you’ve achieved? Will you have overcome what’s holding you back to make progress on what matters most to you?
There’s still time!
I hope to hear how you got on later in the year.
I ran an experiment with myself around Easter. I’ve always wanted to be able to play guitar, but wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do, what you have do, to actually play the guitar. Would I commit the time after the initial enthusiasm of getting the kit and strumming some chords?
My bro kindly lent me his acoustic to save me the outlay and see whether I could, in fact, make use of it.
Maybe because I had nothing to lose, maybe because my heart’s not in it. Whatever the reason, I never even picked it up.
And you know what? I’m fine with that. Now I know.