Just about everyone procrastinates sometimes, and once you get into the habit of procrastination, you may find it’s difficult to escape. Procrastination stems from five root causes, and when you know what’s getting you stuck in procrastination, you’ll also discover how to break the habit. This is the third installment in my series on conquering procrastination. If you missed the first two installments, you can find them here and here.
How are you feeling right now?
Your feelings are a great barometer for your likelihood of procrastinating. Feeling tired, bored, disengaged, or anxious can prompt you to check email time after time after time, just looking for something that catches your attention and creates a spark. Uncertainty can prompt you to do extra research that’s helpful, or it can keep you in procrastination’s limbo land for a deadly long time. And feeling blue or being depressed wipes out the drive to get things done.
(If you think you might be depressed, or if your anxiety is at a significant level or persists over time, see your doctor. These conditions may call for intervention that goes beyond anti-procrastination tactics.)
Even positive or action-focused emotions like excitement or anger can lead to procrastination.
If you’re feeling bubbly and high-energy, buckling down to work may be the last thing on your mind; if you’re stewing over something, you’re unlikely to pull your attention back to your to-do list easily.
Here’s how to get moving if you realize that your feelings are pulling you off-track:
- Race yourself! If you’re feeling bored or disengaged, set a timer for 15 to 45 minutes and commit to finishing your task (or some identified subset of it) before the timer goes off. You might also set an unreasonably short deadline—can you write an article in 10 minutes? Maybe not, but you’ll get a good start and you might just surprise yourself.
- Block time. If there’s an activity that you dislike (bookkeeping, compiling expense reports, or invoicing your clients, for example), set aside a consistent time each day. Especially with smaller tasks that are annoying because they are never truly complete, you may find that doing a bit at a time will keep you from facing a huge backlog, which often creates boredom, anxiety, or dread—and then procrastination.
- Change your environment. If you’re tired, disengaged, or bored, a change will do you good. Try working off-site, at a coffee shop or in a library. Consider your electronic environment as well: if you’re prone to checking email or playing on Facebook, create a closed electronic environment so that your access is limited. Investigate focus apps such as Freedom and SelfControl, which block access to the Internet for a predetermined period of time. Even a short break, during which you might take a quick walk, dance to your favorite music, or grab a cup of coffee, will help you to return to your work with renewed vigor.
- Let Scripture be your guide. As I recommended in addressing fear-based procrastination, choosing a few verses that speak to your feelings can ground you. More than once I have reminded myself that no matter how tired I may feel, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13)
- Check in with a partner. Sometimes all it takes to dispel the effect of an emotion is acknowledgment. You may continue to feel sad or elated or bored, but calling out that emotion and stating its lack of power to undo your day (plus creating accountability for yourself) can help you avoid unaware procrastination.
When you notice an emotion (positive or negative) that’s pulling your energy away from the tasks you’ve intended to complete, remember that you hold the power to choose your response.
Will you give in to procrastination, which typically doesn’t affect the underlying emotion but eventually adds on a layer of frustration for the time wasted? Or will you seek to acknowledge the emotion and create your own custom solution? The choice is yours.
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!