By Linda Walker
Creative Geniuses tend to procrastinate. Or at least that’s one thing they complain to me about. Business owners wear many hats. Even if you love your business, there are plenty of less enjoyable tasks you’re tempted to put off. And since there are always new emergencies popping up, it’s easy to keep kicking them down the road.
If you do this often enough, you might even begin to think it’s who you are; you might think, “I’m a procrastinator.” Keep saying that and soon it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You begin to think it’s in your DNA. But that’s not empowering. Since you can’t change your DNA, you think there’s nothing you can do about your procrastination. It’s also completely wrong.
Procrastination is a habit. And you can replace a habit.
Let’s look at how you developed that procrastination habit and what you can do about it.
Procrastination Is a Learned Behaviour
Creative Geniuses often have difficulty making decisions. Your brain makes many random connections. This is the secret of your creativity but gives you too many options! Faced with uncertainty, you hesitate. Once you hesitate, you’re easily distracted. Your brain isn’t activated by importance. It’s interest, passion, urgency and excitement that get your attention. In fact, you’ll do anything to avoid boredom, no matter how important the task. If you’re bored or uncertain, your go-to approach is to delay or divert your attention to a different task.
Unfortunately, delaying or diverting your attention to a different task is very “rewarding.” When you put off a necessary but boring or uncertain task long enough, it becomes urgent. Your brain activates on urgency so leaving things until the last minute is rewarding. (Yes, it’s hard on you and the people in your life in the long term, but right now, “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?” has become your motto.) Over time, this became a habit of procrastinating.
You Can Replace Your Procrastination Habit
What is a habit? Habits are anything we do automatically. There are good habits and bad habits (does anyone else feel like we have way more bad habits than good habits?) A habit is a series of routine behaviors you complete when a trigger occurs. Completing that routine gives you a reward. It’s very difficult to stop a habit. To do this, you need to identify the source of the habit. Is the trigger boredom, uncertainty, indecision, lack of planning, lack of focus, fear…?
Once you understand what trigger activates the routine, you can try to get rid of the trigger. For example, you could delegate boring tasks rather than put them off. Or you could plan better to avoid indecision. One client was always late to the office because he took so long to get dressed. He fixed that by planning all his outfits for the week on Sunday evening. He chose his shirt, tie and suit and even put underwear and socks in his shirt pocket. No more morning decision-making.
Sometimes you cannot stop the trigger. But by playing with the elements of the habit, you can replace it with a different habit. You do this by creating new behaviours you repeat each time you’re faced with the trigger. For example, if you can’t focus on a task now, don’t put it off because you “don’t feel like it.” Choose to schedule the task at a time when you will have more focus.
When you’re tempted to put off a task because of indecision, choose to use a decision tool instead. List the pros and cons of a decision and act on your analysis. (If the pros and cons balance out, you could flip a coin! Acting is often better than procrastinating.) If you’re putting off a task that bores you, delegate it. Or take a different approach. Go work in a coffee shop. Commit to an accountability buddy. Phone a friend and tell her you’ll have this task done in an hour. Call her back to confirm. Or invite others to do it with you. One client gathered coworkers in the conference room on Friday afternoon to finish their paperwork. Once everyone finished, they ordered pizza.
Focus on the Reward
When you want to create a new habit, pay attention to the reward. With the right reward you can replace procrastination with a more empowering habit. To create a habit, you must repeat your new routine each time the trigger occurs. Make sure the reward for this new routine is as good or better than the reward you get from procrastinating.
Notice the win. Reinforce the new routine by celebrating the win. Notice how you feel when you’ve completed the task. Recognize who you had to be to get it done. You’ve become someone you and others can count on! Celebrating reinforces the benefit you get from completing the task. We rarely celebrate procrastinating. Making a fuss about completing the task helps repeat the behavior in the future.
Procrastination as a habit, not a character flaw. After all, you have the power to change the habit and stop procrastinating.