This is the fifth in a six-part series on the causes of and solution to procrastination. I’ve previously addressed how your fears, feelings, knowledge, and beliefs can lead to procrastination, posts which you can find in these four blog posts.
When you start thinking about procrastination, you probably start with guilt or self-blame or the resolve to do something differently. As I’ve addressed in the previous posts in this series, though, procrastination is often caused by fears, lack of knowledge, and beliefs.
Until you address those underlying factors, any external fix is doomed to fail.
And yet, because we tend to be creatures of habit, just recognizing and addressing the underlying factors usually isn’t enough to eliminate procrastination. Understanding why you’re exhibiting a self-defeating behavior is the key to defining the most effective way to change that behavior.
Creating change requires action; disciplined action (meaning how you choose to behave) is the solution to procrastination. Sometimes the way you behave is also a cause of your procrastination. Lots of people have a tendency to do (or not to do) something that predisposes them to procrastination. The good news is that changing that behavior is a fairly simple fix.
Five common behaviors facilitate procrastination:
- Failing to use the tools at your disposal. These tools include your calendar, your task list, an automated reminder tool, even a string around your finger. My client Chris came to me with this problem. He had tried several fancy systems for getting himself organized, but after a brief honeymoon period, he abandoned each. The result is that he was never clear on exactly what he should be doing or what was his top priority at any given time, and so he would fill his day with busy but unproductive routine work such as clearing his inbox. Not keeping up with tasks and appointments let him put off important work until the priority popped up, usually in the form of a rapidly approaching deadline. When Chris started keeping his calendar and a full list of “to do” items, he was able to move on an advance planning scheduling.
- Failing to plan. If you start your day without knowing what your priorities are, that increases the chances that you’ll get dragged into other people’s priorities and end up not doing your own work.
- Confusing projects and tasks. I’ve previously mentioned this problem. If something on your list is a project rather than an actionable step, it will be difficult to get started because a project that isn’t broken down into actions is almost impenetrable.
- Indulging in shadow comforts. A shadow comfort is an activity that feels helpful but doesn’t actually address the underlying issue or problem. My friend Rose described how helpful it was for her to take a break while writing her sermons, but she had trouble ending the break and getting back to work. Her breaks consisted of popping on Facebook and viewing updates and photos from people with whom she probably wouldn’t keep in touch otherwise. When we examined the way her breaks affected her, she realized that she’d come to the end of her dedicated break time feeling just as bored or tired or disengaged as she when she started. Her breaks were shadow comfort and procrastination, and when she began taking in a quick walk or a power nap, she found that she felt reenergized and ready to return to work when her break time was complete.
- Accepting immediate gratification at the expense of true success. If you aren’t clear on your goals, you’re much less likely to do the messy and boring middle steps because you just don’t see how those things are connected with reaching a better state. When you go for immediate gratification, you very often delay reaching your goals, which becomes frustrating, which taps into the negative feelings and the fear of failure, and it’s a downhill slope.
Most of us have one or two habitual behaviors that lead us into procrastination. The list above isn’t all-encompassing, of course: the hallmark of procrastination-inducing behavior is that the behavior is intended to produce better results (for instance, “using the tools takes too long, I can wing it and save some time”) but instead it typically produces frustration.
What behavior leads you to procrastinate? When you recognize such a behavior, take immediate action to counter it. Seek clarity, use the resources that are available to you, and be sure your actions meet your objectives. Taking those actions will require discipline, but that discipline will produce freedom.
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!