Show me someone who doesn’t procrastinate, and I’ll show you a robot. Everyone procrastinates.
I definitely do.
One example: I’ve written more than five million published words. (Keep the long-winded jokes to yourself.) You might assume it’s easy for me to sit down and write, but at times it’s anything but. I’ll make calls, take care of admin tasks, do a little “research,” (in my line of work, any reading is research, right?), play with the office dog … Except for the office dog, I can rationalize that I’m being productive, but usually I’m just procrastinating.
Another example: I like to ride bicycles. Over the last five or six years I’ve ridden about 35,000 miles. I love riding, but sometimes I’ll do anything not to ride.
Makes no sense, right? Writing and riding are both things I love to do … Yet occasionally I find ways to actively avoid doing them. Putting off the tasks I don’t enjoy would make a lot more sense.
Or maybe not.
A little “research” (hey, this time it actually was) yields a number of reasons for procrastination: fear of failure or success, perfectionism, impulsiveness, lack of motivation, lack of self-discipline, etc.
That’s a nice list, but it doesn’t really help, since we all face these challenges. At times we all lack motivation and self-discipline. At times we all are impulsive or easily distracted. At times we all fear failure or success.
Each reason for procrastination is a part of what makes us human. We’ll never completely overcome any of those shortcomings.
So I put aside the research, and thought about myself. While I fall prey to everything on the list, for the most part I procrastinate when a task or activity seems hard — even when it’s something I love to do.
I love to write, but sometimes the thought of writing seems daunting, especially at the beginning of a ghostwriting project, when I need to find the right voice and the best way into the material.
I love to ride my bike, but sometimes the thought of riding seems daunting, especially in the first few miles, when it’s cold outside and my legs are stiff and my heart has just started to pound. I pant and gasp and wonder why I’m on the stupid bike … but then something magical happens. Somehow my aversion to “hard” goes away once I break a sweat.
Maybe it’s the endorphins kicking in. Maybe it’s because my legs have warmed up. Maybe it’s because I feel proud that I can do something hard and do it reasonably well.
Maybe it’s because regardless of the initial pain, once I’m actually riding I remember all the reasons I love to ride.
Strategic phone distraction is a classic procrastination method.
The same is true with writing. Finding the right voice may be hard, but is also rewarding. Looking at something I’ve written and thinking, “That was hard … but hey, that really works,” is one of the reasons I love to write.
Wanting to put off a difficult task is normal. Avoiding a challenge is normal. We all feel that way sometimes. I feel sure you have felt that way, too.
But I also feel sure you’ve put off a task, finally gotten started, and then once into it thought, “I don’t know why I kept putting this off … it’s going really well. And it didn’t turn out to be nearly as hard as I imagined.”
And here’s the thing: It never is.
Forget task lists and external motivations and mental mind games. When you’re struggling to get started, don’t think about the pain you’ll feel in the beginning. Focus on how good you will feel once you’re engaged and involved. Focus on how good it will feel to remember why you love what you do.
Get started with that in mind.
Never try to pretend the first few minutes won’t suck. They will. But once you break a sweat it will all be downhill from there — in the best possible way.