This is the fourth in a five-part series on the causes of and antidotes to procrastination. I’ve previously addressed how your fears, feelings, and knowledge can lead to procrastination, posts which you can find in these three spots.
What you believe is a fourth and powerful cause of procrastination.
A favorite Theodore Roosevelt quotation is, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.” I might quibble with that quote: I could conceivably run a 7-minute mile some day, but I suspect that acting in accordance with the belief that I could do so would be well over half the battle. There can be little doubt, however, that out beliefs are compelling, because …
Consciously or not, we tend to act in accord with our beliefs. Right now, I don’t believe there’s any chance of ever running a 7-minute mile, so I won’t bother training for that effort. If I did believe, and if that goal mattered to me, I likely would have been out running this morning.
More than just can or can’t, I’ve identified seven categories of beliefs that can lead to procrastination.
These are the 7 P’s of procrastination:
- Practicality You may have experience that leads you to believe that procrastination works. A problem ignored often dissipates … except, of course, when it gets worse for the lack of attention. As a litigator, I knew that there was always a chance that a deadline would be extended or a meeting would be rescheduled, so it didn’t make sense to prepare too far in advance. Practicality can turn into procrastination.
- Pressure Have you ever heard the procrastinator’s rallying cry? “I work best under pressure!” If that’s your belief, you’ll wait until the deadline every time.
- Priority You may think you need to do something else first: clearing your desk so you can think clearly as you work on your project, eating something to get your energy up, going through your email so you won’t be interrupted while you’re working. Sometimes another task is the priority, and sometimes it’s just procrastination in action.
- Period You may choose to not even start a project because you won’t have enough time to finish it. Some tasks do need to be completed in a single sitting, but most don’t. Pretending otherwise justifies procrastination.
- Perfection You know you can’t be perfect. But you may feel the weight of what’s at stake in the service or mission you’re undertaking and the resulting need to be as close to perfect as possible.
- Problematic You may believe that the task in front of you is going to be hard. Rather than doing it, we delay and dread. And yet, we’ve all had the experience of dreading and delaying until we have no choice but to do it, and then we find out it wasn’t so bad after all.
- Popeye Principle The last belief is what I call the Popeye principle: “I yam what I yam.” I’m a procrastinator, that’s just how it is. If you believe that, of course you’re going to procrastinate.
The best way to avoid these beliefs is to question yourself when you think you have a reason to put off doing a task.
Do you really need to do something else first? What piece of the task could you do in the time available? What if you don’t get the last-minute reprieve, or what if the task takes longer than you’d thought; wouldn’t a head start be nice?
When you’re questioning yourself, ask what instead of why.
Trying to figure out why you believe a task is going to be so difficult or why you’re dreading it just extends the procrastination. An accountability partner can be invaluable when you’re getting started, as long as you ensure that a check-in doesn’t turn into a coaching session.
What belief(s) prompt you to procrastinate? I’d love to hear your ah-has.
About Julie Fleming
Julie A. Fleming, JD, ACC, principal of Lex Innova Consulting, teaches lawyers to use innovative and effective measures to build a strong book of business and a lucrative practice. A former patent litigator, she is the author of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling, Seven Foundations of Time Mastery for Attorneys, and the forthcoming Legal Rainmaking Myths: What You Think You Know About Business Development Can Kill Your Practice,as well as numerous articles focusing on topics such as business development, practice management, work/life balance, and leadership development. Before launching her consulting business, Julie practiced law for over a decade in firms of 3 to more than 2100 attorneys, specializing in patent litigation. A graduate of the Emory University School of Law, Vanderbilt University (B.A.) and Georgia State University (B.S.), Julie is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and currently serves as Vice Chair of the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law.
Jory has invited me to write on how to grow a solid business, and I’d love to hear your questions! What frustrates you? What challenges would you like to transform into opportunity? What are you curious about? Comment on this post and/or send your questions directly to Julie@LexInnovaConsulting.com. Please let me know you’re a friend of Jory’s. Can’t wait to hear from you!