Mazaltov! You're Engaged!
Just Get Engaged [with a Task] to Get it Done
If only I had started sooner.
I’ve got to take that thing off the back burner of my life.
I work so much better under the pressure of a deadline.
I wish I had time to do this.
I’ll do it tomorrow.
But I don’t wanna…
When It’s Not About Time Management
Procrastination has been around forever. Everyone is procrastinating on something. I bet when you think of attacking your procrastination habits, you think you need to get a better hold on your time management.
Yes, sometimes we push off tasks because we just run out of time to do them. But I believe that a more common cause for procrastinating is a difficulty managing how we feel about the task, rather than how we manage our time around the task. It’s more often about emotional management than time management.
Think of something you’ve been putting off for a while. I’m willing to bet there is a negative emotion around the task. It’s overwhelming. It’s scary. You’re afraid of failure, rejection, embarrassment or even success (What if I succeed? Can I keep it up?)
No, I don’t mean travel back to the time you got that assignment and had plenty of time to work consistently. I mean that, in order for us to understand how negative emotions like fear stop us getting stuff done, we need to look back at ancient brain mechanisms that are still in effect today.
t’s like this - The emotional part of our brains (the amygdala) is more primitive than other parts (especially the part that gets stuff done, aka the prefrontal cortex). The amygdala is often guided by instinct left over from the era when we were running from tigers and other life-threatening dangers. Mother nature is smart. We have this automatic protection feature that kicks in when we think we are in danger: Fight, flight or freeze. Either we flee the tiger, fight it or freeze and hope it thinks we’re already dead!
The problem is, nowadays our brains still interpret some feelings as dangerous, as threatening as if there were a tiger chasing us. When there are negative thoughts and feelings tied to tasks that we dread, this automatic and maladaptive protection system kicks in. If we don’t fight it, we flee from the task by avoiding it or we find ourselves feeling “frozen” and unable to begin.
So our brains are tricking us. It’s time to trick them back. If you’ve been following me for a while, you will know that one of my favorite sayings is about eating the elephant one bite at a time. If we can break up the task into smaller steps, and focus on doing just one step at a time, we can fool our brain out of that anxious feeling and it’s accompanying protection mechanism.
Here’s how to do it. Break down the task into its individual steps. Then do a gut-check. For any step that you still feel like procrastinating, break it down even further. Then just do the first step aaaaaand ...
... Mazaltov. Now you’re engaged!
Yes, the bride and groom are only considered married after the wedding, but once they get engaged, they’re already on their way. Once you are engaging by doing small steps toward your goal, you’ve passed the hurdle of starting!
Here’s How It Looks:
A client of mine had trouble getting started on developing a great idea she had for her business. Every time she would intend on getting started, she found herself doing other things for her business around the house, or just plain time-wasting on social media. She feared she wouldn’t be able to turn her good idea into a good workshop.
Here’s how we broke it down for her at first:
1. Build the workshop.
2. Price the workshop.
3. Set a date.
4. Set a venue.
5. Market the workshop.
We then did the gut-check and…nope. #1 was way too big a step to easily get started on. So we broke it all down even further. Here’s how we broke down the first two steps.
1. Build the workshop.
a. Choose the audience
i. Answer questions from workshop book.
b. Review notes to search for relevant topics.
i. Sit down with notes, pen and and a pad of paper.
ii. Write a list of topics.
c. Decide what she wants participants to come away with.
d. Decide how long she would need for each take-away.
e. Write content for each take-away.
i. Book off time in calendar for each take-away.
ii. Sit down with a coffee at computer.
iii. Open the document on Word
iv. Type a heading based on the chosen take-away.
v. Just type whatever comes into her head.
vi. Edit and organize the typed ideas.
vii. Write final draft.
viii. Repeat for all take-aways.
f. Develop interactive activities for some of the take-aways.
2. Price the workshop...
End the Pain
Take a look at this graph by author and productivity expert, James Clear.
In his article on procrastination, the Action Line is where you start a task. He writes “There is something important to note here. As soon as you cross the Action Line, the pain begins to subside. In fact, being in the middle of procrastination is often more painful than being in the middle of doing the work. Point A on the chart above is often more painful than Point B. The guilt, shame, and anxiety that you feel while procrastinating are usually worse than the effort and energy you have to put in while you're working. The problem is not doing the work, it's starting the work.”
So what emotionally charged task are you procrastinating? Make it easy for yourself to get
engaged by just taking that first tiny step. It should be small enough that it does not provoke fear, anxiety or any other feeling that could trigger fight or flight. And remember, when you're engaged, you’ve already started!
Comment below on what that first step is for you...