Leadership Perspectives

How to stop procrastinating

Marie Peeler

“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last-minute panic.”
Bill Watterson, creator of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.

He’s talking about procrastination and this quote would lead me to believe that writing a comic strip may be a lot like going to the gym, initiating a difficult conversation, or completing a report. It actually sounds a lot like writing a blog post.

Lots of people procrastinate. Some do so knowing the perils to their health and the quality of their work. Others live in denial, telling themselves that they work better under pressure, have plenty of time, or aren’t really procrastinating. The prolific writer Stephen King noted “The scholar’s greatest weakness: calling procrastination research.”

There is some correlation between personality type and procrastination. Those with the Myers Briggs’ ‘Perceiving’ preference, often prefer to keep options open and, therefore, may sometimes delay making decisions or performing tasks. But those with the opposite preference for ‘Judging’ often procrastinate as well and suffer even more from having deprived themselves of the closure they crave.

Dr. Joseph Ferrari, the author of several books about procrastination and task avoidance, says …everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator.”

Personality type can explain why some people prefer flexibility over structure or keeping options open over ‘cementing the deal’ but true procrastination is really all about the habits we form.

Here’s some new habits to help you stop procrastinating:

  1. Start each day by tackling and completing one meaningful thing. Success begets success so pick one definitive thing that you can complete that will give you a sense of accomplishment. Reading email is unlikely to do that, but getting a few calls out of the way might.
  2. Stop trying to feed world hunger all at once. It can be tough to wrap one’s head around “Create Q3 product launch.” Today, maybe all you need to do is “call agency to organize focus groups for product research.” Having a long range plan is great, but you’ll find yourself less likely to procrastinate if you focus on things to do today.
  3. Which brings me to Count your accomplishments. We get so focused on what we’ve NOT done and what is still waiting to be tackled that it can be downright overwhelming. This is the stuff that keeps us up at night. Taking time to reflect on what we HAVE done can provide powerful motivation for continued progress.
  4. Stop waiting to be in the mood. If you know that you write better at night or have less difficulty finding time to exercise if you go to the gym early then, great, follow your rhythm. But there are some tasks that you will never be in the mood for. Create the best possible conditions for yourself, then just get started. Often, sheer momentum will take over.
  5. Make a list. Yes, lists have found themselves maligned lately, but lists do work. The trick is not to put items on your list that you truly have no intention of doing… or that you won’t be able to do today. When you get into the habit of making realistic lists and completing them, getting things done becomes the norm.