Life, these days, seems so achievement based. Even in the retelling of our weekends, it’s about what we did, not what we thought or felt. Maybe we should broaden our definition of “achievement” from strictly doing things to include pursuits like finding inspiration, gaining a better understanding, and rediscovering a forgotten joy. It’s amazing what we can uncover when we relax.
The funny thing about procrastination is that we hate doing it when we’re doing it, but it’s hard to stop. Though not impossible, if you really want to break the habit. To get unstuck as an Avoider, we like to start at “why?” Once we recognize why we put things off, we can develop habits to reverse our impulses. To find your procrastination style, take our mini-quiz.
When you put something off, what do you feel, think, and do? Pick one from each group.
What do you Feel when you’re procrastinating?
What do you Think when you’re procrastinating?
A. Oh, I really should be doing that. And that. And that, too
B. I’m only making it worse but I can’t help myself
C. Shouldn’t someone else being doing this kind of thing?
What do you Do when you’re procrastinating?
A. A little of a lot of things to keep all the balls in the air
B. Nothing, but I think about it
C. Grouse a bit and then forget about it
If you chose mostly A answers, read about Pinball Procrastinators, below. Mostly B’s, you’re likely a Paralyzed Procrastinator, and C’s are Put-Upon. If you had a variety of letters in your answer, look for yourself in all three types, because you’ve developed a hybrid style of stalling.
A. Pinball Procrastinator
You’ve got plenty of good ideas. They seem to spring up in almost every conversation, making you the go-to person for your less-generative friends. On the flip side, lots of good ideas mean lots to get done. And you definitely want to…if only you weren’t feeling so overwhelmed by it all. Sure, you’re busy, bouncing from one pursuit to another, but somehow you don’t end up doing what needs to get done now.
What’s really stopping you: Not knowing how to start or tackle the task.
B. Paralyzed Procrastinator
There are many entry points to this place of inaction. You might be backing away from something you know will be hard. Or you’re used to others criticizing or re-doing your work. Then again, you could have set the bar too high for yourself. All of these land you in the same situation: waiting patiently for the perfect moment to get it right, until you wait so long, there’s no time.
What’s really stopping you: Reluctance to be judged — by others, yourself, or both.
C. Put-Upon Procrastinator
You’re one of the most productive people you know. That’s why the label of procrastinator seems so not right. But if you lift up your pile of accomplishments, you’ll find a persistent list of not-so-interesting items that aren’t getting done. Is it paperwork? Writing thank-you notes? Taking down the recycling? The common element is that it’s boring, and, well, not that important to you. So you regularly put it off in favor of more significant stuff.
What’s really stopping you: Boredom, and a belief that it’s not a good use of your time.
Did you see yourself in one of these? Or a bit in all three? By admitting that you procrastinate, and digging into why, you take a giant step forward. But don’t be tempted to stop there. You also need to tackle how you procrastinate.
Consider these popular delay tactics — and some maneuvers to undo them.
• Productive procrastination. You’re busy-busy-busy getting stuff done, crossing items off your list…and actively avoiding you-know-what. But as long as you remain on-the-go, no one can say you don’t have a good excuse, right?
If you want to stop this: Put only the critical items on your to-do list, and don’t let yourself stray from your set agenda.
• Unproductive procrastination. Similar to productive procrastination, you push the unwanted to-do off your radar, but instead of filling your time with lots of other tasks, you simply go about your day as if the unwanted task didn’t exist.
If you want to stop this: Turn the task from invisible to unavoidable. Make it an obstacle that must be dealt with before you can move on to more welcome activities. For instance, you can’t pick up your new floating chair for the pool party until you go to the Post Office and buy stamps.
• Waiting for perfect. You can’t get started, or finished, if circumstances aren’t just so. So, you don’t.
If you want to stop this: Prove to yourself that you don’t need a perfect moment to perform. Use your scraps of free time, five minutes here or 20 minutes there, to make progress.
These solutions won’t feel good at first because you’re pitting your rational side against your emotional one. But the more often your rational side perseveres, the easier it will get. But there is one catch: You have to want to stop procrastinating for any approach to work.
Next week: Meet Linda Hollander, self-professed pinball procrastinator, who shares her worst procrastination moment.
Remember that time when you were barely keeping your head above water, and all signs pointed to sink rather than swim? We’ve all been there in one sense or another. And maybe we were fortunate enough to have someone extend us a hand, prompting a mix of relief and gratitude. And possibly surprise. For those of us who get stuck acting like Lone Leaders, seeking or accepting help doesn’t come easily. But when we do, the reward is two-fold. Because helping someone out of a jam is just as satisfying as being helped.
Oh, there are so many things that give us the jitters when it comes to asking for something we really want, like a date. Or a promotion. Or a loan. Or time off. And we all tend to handle it in one of three ways:
The safe-but-sorry route: Find reasons not to ask and stay stuck.
The close-your-eyes-and-jump route: Ask before you have a chance to talk yourself out of it.
The confident route: Swapping out fear of rejection for motivation.
We’re partial to the confident route. It diminishes the scary part — those forces working against your confidence (What if she laughs at me? I’m not important enough. I don’t have what it takes. I never have the right answers.) And at the same time, it builds up the forces that will propel you forward. In short, you prioritize your needs over your fears.
Here’s how it works.
1. Ask yourself questions to look at your situation differently. The answers may take some digging, so give yourself time to ponder. Talking the answers through with a trusted friend might be helpful, too.
To lessen fear about the other person’s reaction
• What’s the worst that can happen if I ask?
• What’s the likelihood of that happening?
• If the worst does come true, how long will it take me to recover and come up with Plan B?
To lessen fear about yourself
• What am I worried about doing or not doing when I ask?
• How can I avoid that?
To build up your motivation
• What will my regret be if I don’t ask?
• Do I want to live with that regret?
2. Now paint yourself the best picture possible. You know how easy it is to imagine what can go wrong. Flip that. Spend at least 10 minutes imagining what life will be like if your request is granted. Nice, right? Is it nice enough to ask for? If not, keep daydreaming until your picture becomes irresistible.
3. Once you’re psyched to take action, spend time preparing.
Think about what you’re going to say
• Find common ground to start the conversation on a friendly note.
• Be clear on what you want to ask for. It sounds obvious, but in stressful moments it’s easy to become flummoxed.
• Have an unselfish reason for your request. If you’re asking someone on a date, it might be to “get to know you better.” If it’s for a raise, make it about your performance on the job, rather than the new car payments you have to make.
• Don’t apologize or soften your request with a phrase like “you may have thought of this….”
Think about how you’re going present yourself
Body language speaks volumes about your self-confidence. This short checklist can help you audit your unconscious movements. (If you want to supercharge your presence, consider the astonishing research from Harvard Business School’s Amy Cuddy.)
• Smile often — and sincerely.
• Look people in the eye, but don’t stare at them.
• Sit or stand straight.
• Uncross your arms.
• Don’t fidget (nail biting, hair twirling, jackhammering knee) or touch your face.
• Keep hands out of your pockets.
Practice full out
• Think about how you act when you’re feeling confident in your life. Do you smile and laugh freely? Do you naturally pause so others can speak? Bring this to your performance.
• Talk to the other person as a fellow human being, not someone who holds power over you.
• Practice asking for things that hold less consequence for you — and learn from each request.
• Make a list of things you don’t want to do during the encounter. Give it to a friend who you’re comfortable practicing in front of so he or she can nudge you when a “don’t” pops up in your run-throughs.
• Try out Unstuck’s “Mirror, Mirror” tool, where you can record and playback different versions to help you decide on your approach. You can download the free Unstuck iPad app here.
4. Finally, just before you make your request, do something to calm yourself (listen to a favorite song, watch a funny video, drink a cup of tea, play with your pet). Then exhale, smile, and ask with confidence.
There’s not much worse than feeling like you can’t change a bad situation. It’s confining. And demoralizing. To stop feeling stuck like a Deflated Doer, we need to shake things up a bit. It’s amazing how fast our motivation returns when we start considering possibilities outside the norm. Here are 5 quick(ish) fixes that can help get you re-inspired. Or try out Unstuck’s “Shake Up Your Routine” tool. You can download the free Unstuck iPad app here.
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