Do This When Procrastination Strikes
I read Psychology Today article a while back on the topic of procrastination. It described a senior partner in a Minneapolis law firm whose delays in filing performance reviews of his associates and in prepping for court resulted in a potentially career-altering reprimand. A well-liked, outstanding lawyer with perfectionist tendencies, Peter cyclically took on too many projects and then got overwhelmed.
With the help of a counselor, he was encouraged to “ . . . map out the sequence of steps he took to avoid a particular [activity]. Peter found he consumed five hours in diversionary activities to avoid a five-minute task. ‘I can’t believe I took that many hours to avoid a few minutes’ effort,’ he said.”
The authors describe procrastination as “an active mental process of diverting yourself from doing high-priority things in the delusion that tomorrow will be better—because you’ll know more, you’ll have more time or the sun will shine differently.”
While it’s highly unlikely that you suffer from true “chronic procrastination,” it is likely that you wrestle with it on occasion – for a variety of reasons.
The article recommends several practical techniques for responding to those times when you’re struck by the diversion blues.
First, “put the brakes on [the] self-talk that exaggerates the negativity of a task. If you put off doing something because, you tell yourself, it’s ‘too tough,’ stop the conversation. Then identify even a small part of the activity that’s manageable and start there.”
Second, “follow the 10-minute rule. Acknowledge, ‘I don’t feel like doing that,’ but do it for 10 minutes anyway. That gets you over the hard work of initiation. After being involved in the activity for 10 minutes, then decide whether to continue. Once you’re involved, it’s easier to stay with a task.”
As judgmental of Peter as we might be tempted to feel, we’d be amazed at the total hours we spend over a year diverting ourselves from tackling or completing certain tasks. These two strategies can cut those hours dramatically.
Do you often find that you’re disappointed with yourself for some real (or perceived) failure on your part when something doesn’t go as you’d hoped? If so, you may want to examine whether that behavior really serves you.
How to Cure “I’m-Often-Late” Syndrome
What percentage of the time that we’re late for a meeting or a phone call is it truly, fully, outside of our control? Certainly it’s very rarely. The vast majority of the time when we’re late, it’s because we don’t plan well enough. We didn’t leave early enough for our destination. We didn’t enforce time boundaries earlier in the day. Or we didn’t set expectations properly.
Here two important questions to ask of yourself:
- What do I have to do differently to be on time?
- What can my staff do differently to help me be on time?
And lest the question go unasked: Why should you strive to be on time with clients, prospects, fellow counsel and staff? Because being on time builds credibility and trust. Being on time also builds your confidence to ask and expect it of others. Conversely, being late creates a negative external impression in people outside of your office, and it lowers morale among your colleagues and staff when they can’t trust your word about when you’ll be somewhere or when a meeting will start.
When you’re punctual, you’re less stressed, more organized, and in greater control. And when you’re all of these things, your overall mastery of time-related activities improves as well – (e.g., getting your bills out on time, and estimating how long something’s going to take to complete).
We’re talking here about appointments and meetings that you initiate or agree to with someone, whether in person or by phone, whether formally or informally.
Here are four tips to help you improve your punctuality:
- Use calendar reminders and alarms in Outlook or whatever you use for your calendar. Some appointments only require a 5-minute reminder (if you’re placing a call, for instance) or a longer reminder depending on the circumstances (such as travel requirements).
- Let your staff know that you’re working on your punctuality. Have your assistant remind you of what’s coming up on your calendar. Ask your staff how they can help you be more punctual.
- Check the words that come out of your mouth, and revise them in the moment if necessary. “I’ll call you back in five minutes . . . I’ll head down to your office at 11:15. . . I’ll meet you there at 4.” Of course, the goal is to have the first words out of your mouth be accurate and achievable, but the first step, as with all behavioral change, is awareness.
- Don’t schedule appointments back to back without taking into account transition time (whether that’s travel time or prep time).
When you’re scheduling appointments (or making verbal commitments to be somewhere or call someone) on court days, let those folks know it’s a court day for you (or a depo day, etc), and that you might be constrained by those requirements. They’ll understand and accept that if they’re warned in advance.
Finally, what about meetings you don’t initiate but have to attend? If they start late, practice the skill of letting the organizer know that you’ll have leave at a specific time. While this can be tricky, you can learn to do it graciously and remain in control of your time. Because, as we know, if you’re not in control of your time, other people are.
We all want to be “happy.” And yet, how many of us have really taken stock of exactly what that might look like in our day-to-day lives AND have adjusted our habits and choices to achieve that result? Read more about how to get happier now.