By Trudy Chapman
Chapman Coaching Inc.

Procrastination — we all do it, to some degree. I’ve been exploring my own procrastination and found out a few things.

Like…I don’t really procrastinate… except when I do.

Generally speaking, I am a doer. When something needs doing, I jump on it, preferring “the doing” to “the waiting to do.” I’m also a list maker. There’s nothing so sweet as the checkmark beside items noted on a list. THAT’s satisfaction!

And yet, my creative process occasionally requires procrastination. I remember when I was in university, I would research a paper well in advance of the due date, and would feel the approach of the due date with increasing weight. But I could not write until I was ready. It never went well if I forced the words out, no matter how close the deadline. Somehow, I understood that I needed time to process before I could allow the words to tumble out of my brain and onto the page. Finally, I’d have poured out the words in fully formed sentences and paragraphs, just in time for editing and a quick, final polish. Whew. Such was my process through my undergrad and my masters. Occasionally nerve-wracking, but largely successful.

Thankfully, the deadlines in the national newsroom of CBC Radio did not allow me to linger. Such is the nature of broadcast news! I rarely spun my wheels in my consulting work either. Deadlines for clients were treated with the same focus as I’d had in the newsroom — a missed deadline meant dead air. Unacceptable!

As a result, I never really gave procrastination much thought until recently. I’ve now invited people into my life who do put things off, regularly, and I’m trying to understand so I can be supportive but get things done without upsetting anyone or pushing them too hard. Thanks to some reading and life experience, I now have a new perspective on procrastination, and that’s helped a lot.

Neil Fiore in “The Now Habit” defines procrastination as “…a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.” In his view of the world, procrastinators are not lazy or bad planners, but anxious about what might happen if they acted on an issue that was in their lives. Not acting allows them to side-step the issue, at least for a while. This notion — that anxiety drives procrastinators, not ill-will or laziness — has helped me understand these cherished people in my life.

In addition to seeing procrastination from a different place, Fiore provides concrete tools to help procrastinators get a move on and address issues.

First, it’s about perspective. He talks about how people can make issues a bigger deal than they might otherwise be. Imagine a 10-foot plank just lying along the floor. A person can walk along that no problem, but raise the plank up and suspend it between two buildings and the whole situation changes. The person is frozen with anxiety and fear of acting. Ironically, people often raise the plank on themselves by linking the task to their self-worth or some other principle or issue close to their hearts. Psychologically making the task more than the task serves to create anxiety and freezes action.

So, how can we move when we put ourselves in this place? By imaging a fire in the building on one side of the plank (just like a looming deadline)… the anxiety of the fire unfreezes us and we make it across the plank. Understanding how this all fits together is a key to making the mental switch to overcome anxiety and initiate change.

Second, Fiore outlines how the way in which procrastinators talk to themselves matters. He suggests that procrastinators can become producers if they change their language in the following ways:

Procrastinator
I have to.
I must finish .
The project is so big and important .
I must be perfect .
I don’t have time to play. 

Producer
  

I choose to…
When can I start?
I can take one small step.
I can be perfectly human.
I must take time to play.

Finally, this new language lies at the core of what Fiore calls the Now Habit – a series of steps that enable people to begin to change, to focus on quality work rather than quantity, and become more effective getting things done with sufficient time off for play and rest.

It’s a good book. Helpful. Useful. Insightful. Have a read.

This book review was originally published on Trudy’s blog at Chapman Coaching Inc. Trudy is an executive and life coach in Ottawa, ON.