More often than not, solving, or resolving, a problem is a rather trivial exercise—once we know what the problem is.
—Gause and Weinberg, Are Your Lights On? How to Figure Out What the Problem REALLY Is (see Bibliography.)
Treating procrastination as a symptom of laziness or lack of discipline doesn’t work because those are not the causes of procrastination. Rather, they are symptoms, just like procrastination itself is a symptom, of a deeper problem. That problem is usually either:
1. You were never taught the habits of productive work.
2. Fear: of change, success, failure, etc.
Often, it’s some combination of the two.
Fear-based procrastination is a complex subject and I discuss it, and the solution to it, in Chapters 11 through 28. Most of us experience some level of fear relative to the goals that mean most to us. Let’s begin, however, with problem number 1: procrastination as a behavioral issue. It may be that the behavioral “fix” described in this and the following chapters will be enough to help you solve your procrastination problem.
Productive work begins, as you now know, with Mission Management and Time Management. Once those are accomplished and you have a schedule in keeping with your core values, your next challenge is to be able to stick to that schedule. This can be reduced to three simple Productivity Behaviors:
1. Showing up to work exactly when you are supposed to.
2. Instantly starting the work you are supposed to be doing.
3. Staying focused on the work for an hour or more.
These Behaviors—showing up, getting right to work and keeping at it—are the essence of productive work. They are also the points at which procrastination happens, and, consequently, the points at which it can be attacked.
Being a Compassionate Self-Observer
Note: This is an important exercise, so take your time with it.
Find a quiet place to think and write (writing is optional). Now, review your school/work/activism personal histories, and think about the role procrastination has played in them. In particular, think about the role procrastination played in preventing you from reaching your goals or finishing important projects.
If procrastination did interfere with your success, answer these questions:
• Did you work as hard as you wanted to on the goal or project? If not, why not? (Hint: the answer is probably not that you were lazy.) Think of other projects you’ve been involved in, in which you were energetic. How did they differ from this one?
• Did you really care deeply about the project? If not, why not? (Hint: the answer is probably not that you were uncommitted.) Think of other projects you’ve been involved in, to which you were deeply committed. How did they differ from this one?
• Did you follow through on all the details? If not, why not? (Hint: the answer is probably not that you were undisciplined.) Think of other projects you’ve been involved in, in which you were focused and organized. How did they differ from this one?
• Look beyond the project to your other projects, and your personal life. Were there things going on beyond the project that could have interfered with your ability to work hard on it, or work in a committed and disciplined fashion?
Answer these questions truthfully but without self-blame or shame. In doing so, you will probably see that there were understandable and forgivable reasons for your disappointing performance. You might even see that not all of the reasons were your fault. In the case of a failure at work, for example, your boss might not have given you all the resources and support you needed to succeed.
Even if you think you screwed up, however, do not be hard on yourself. Like everyone else, you’re not perfect, and are bound to screw up in big and small ways. In the future, whenever you feel you’ve failed at something, your response should be one of compassionate understanding: “Too bad, but I did my best under difficult circumstances. Let’s think about how I can do better next time.”
Of course, this equally applies when you witness others struggling. If appropriate, remind them that they did their best under difficult circumstances and help them figure out how to do better next time.
Remember: kindness and compassion, to self and others, not only heal—they empower.