As you read this, you might find yourself ignoring the voice in the back of your head reminding you of something you should be doing instead. Perhaps there’s work to do for a fast-approaching settlement conference. Should you be preparing for Friday’s staff performance review? Are there pre-bills in your in-box waiting for approval? In our coaching with lawyers and consulting with law firms, we see avoidance behaviors that occasionally hold even normally-productive attorneys back.
Usually these instances result from one of four problems:
1. They’ve committed to work that’s outside their immediate legal expertise and they don’t feel confident about completing it.
2. They feel they haven’t done the best job possible for their client. Perfectionism has gummed up the works.
3. They need to respond to the poor performance of an employee or peer. They feel uncomfortable in that managerial situation and thus put it off.
4. They’re caught in the vortex of their mental to-do list and are just trying to cope with the next pressing thing.
Timothy Pyschyl, professor of psychology at Ottawa’s Carleton University and an expert on the reasons people procrastinate, offers this simple but powerful strategy: make a 10 minute deal with yourself. Acknowledge, “I don’t feel like doing that,” but do it anyway for ten minutes. Then decide whether to continue. Once you’ve started, and have overcome the inertia, it’s easier to stay on task.
So, let yourself off the hook and stop feeling guilty about avoidance behavior. You don’t even need to analyze why you’re procrastinating; just make The 10 Minute Deal. You’ll make progress on the task at hand and you’ll silence that annoying voice at the back of your mind.