This week we I’ll be talking about another topic which every one of us likely suffers from, from time to time - PROCRASTINATION. We’ll look at what it is and its causes and list a few techniques and tricks that can be used to burn it to the ground and let you move forward with what you have to do.
Last week was my longest episode at 29 minutes so I’ll try and keep this one short. In that show I talked about what I like to call, COLLABO-HATERS – or BAD COLLABORATIONS and how to avoid them. The episode ended up quite long as in my experience there are a lot of them about.
If you’ve not experienced them then lucky you, but check it out as maybe, just maybe, it will help you to protect yourself in future. I still, despite my best efforts, find myself working with difficult or untrustworthy collaborators but I am very well prepared to face them down these days. If you’re considering collaborating, just make sure that 1/ The person you are working with is brilliant and will bring something useful to the table – if they don’t then frankly, you should just do it yourself, and 2/ That their personality and values are in alignment with your own - This is as vital as the first but is the more difficult to identify. I also have a collaboration agreement template which you can download for free in the episode 20 show notes.
Incidentally, I took on the subject partly because it was on my mind, but also because of the success of season 1 episode 12 TIMEWASTERS AND HOW TO AVOID THEM. This podcast has a broad listening base but it appears that these, TELL IT HOW IT IS, episodes are very popular. Later in the season I’ll be examining the topic of toxic personality types and will post a few warning signs about them for the unwary amongst us. That’s going to be an awesome episode but now - at last - let’s talk about - PROCRASTINATION.
Benjamin Franklin said, “You may delay, but time will not.”
And don’t we know it? Time just nips away at us every day and with every moment that passes I am aware that I will never see it again. As deadlines loom in fact, my stress levels can increase and make my INABILITY TO TAKE ACTION even stronger.
I remember when I was at school, well I remember vaguely through the mists of time, to be honest, but I do remember - that there was one sure way to step up and get things done – and it’s identified in this quote by American cartoonist Bill Watterson “You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last-minute panic.”
I jest of course as the trouble with last minute panic, is that it’s rarely going to generate your best work - in fact, it’s barely going to cover the bases. I still however sometimes find myself pulling out a task just as it’s due and scrabbling about to complete it.
Creatives like film pros and other artists have the additional problem of having to be creative sometimes on demand and the process of creativity for me at least - is rarely a one-shot thing. I mostly create and then I review, then possibly seek advice on what I have.
I then move on to a second draft for example if it’s a script or a refining recut if it’s an edit. The process of revising our work is a powerful one but that can’t begin until we complete that first draft, and as anyone who’s been through this process knows, that first draft is usually the most difficult.
My favourite quote on this topic, which is attributed to Ernest Hemingway and I use very often is that “the first draft of everything is shit”. Once you understand that basic premise and the power of the statement based on the works of the man who said it, it makes tacking your own first draft a lot more attractive.
Time and again, and I’ve used this analogy in another episode, just after I shoot something, but before I edit, I find myself locked in a PROCRASTINATION LOOP. Checking social media and cleaning the house suddenly become the most vital tasks on my to-do list and I generate a sense of urgency for doing them first. In fact, I can find any number of far more important matters like organising the contents of a drawer, or surfing on eBay for stuff I don’t need which, had I not had a specific, perhaps imminent task to do, would probably be significantly less important in my mind.
My procrastination in a situation such as this is fed by fear. I worry that what I have filmed is no good, or will not cut together as I’d imagined, and 9 times out of 10 this is completely unfounded. If it’s not unfounded btw your procrastination is maybe based on a worry or knowledge that there’s something tricky in there you are going to have to sort. Just remember that things are rarely perfect first time about. You can always revise and improve in future passes.
And to dunk that one in the net, here’s a quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci who said: “It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.” He’s not wrong.
In the novel David Copperfield, Charles Dickens writes that “Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.” So like many of the subjects that I tackle here, proven of course by the previous one by Da Vinci, procrastination is not just a problem of the modern age, and although I am sure that social networking HAS contributed to the problem, we must also remember that Dickens didn’t have the advantages of the easy to reach research and inspiration that the internet offers us now.
James Clear, in an article that I will link to in the show notes, says that “Human beings have been procrastinating for centuries. The problem is so timeless, in fact, that ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle developed a word to describe this type of behaviour: Akrasia.
Akrasia is the state of acting against your better judgment.
It is when you do one thing even though you know you should do something else. Loosely translated, you could say that akrasia is procrastination or a lack of self-control.
The modern definition presented on a quick Google search is “the action of delaying or postponing something.” with synonyms such as dithering, delaying, and stalling.
I list all this here, but I have a suspicion that if you are listening, that you know EXACTLY what procrastination is. Some of you may even be listening to this podcast when you KNOW you should be doing SOMETHING ELSE. Hopefully, this episode will get you back into action.
So that’s what it is, but the bigger question is why do we do it?
Do you think that you procrastinate because you are disorganized, lazy, or, worse, or because you just don't care enough! The chances are that this is simply not true. Procrastinators are very often smart, capable, hardworking people - they just can't get things done on time and can't seem to figure out why. There’s an article in Psychology today that asks 9 questions that could help you get to the bottom of your own why, and the answers may reveal the real reason behind your procrastination.
- When faced with a task, do you think of all the ways it could go wrong?
- Do you picture how important people in your life might react if you failed?
- Do you believe it's better to not try at all than to try your best and fail?
If you answered "yes" to these three questions that may mean, like I have described in my edit analogy, that you have a FEAR OF FAILURE is behind your procrastination. The thought of putting in effort but still failing makes you anxious, so you choose avoiding and to procrastinate instead.
The next three questions are:
- Are you overwhelmed by the possibility of new responsibilities if you are successful?
- Do you subscribe to the idea "If I do well, then others will expect more of me"?
- Do you feel your success will lead to other people finding out the "real you"?
A "yes" to these three questions, may mean you fear not failure but SUCCESS. Procrastination protects you from the higher expectations and greater responsibilities that may come with succeeding. Like those who procrastinate because they fear failure, you keep yourself safe from facing your true limits by avoiding the challenges and putting things off.
- Do you believe that if you're going to do something, you should try to do it perfectly?
- Do you find it difficult to persist when things aren't going just right?
- Would you rather avoid doing something than do it imperfectly?
If you identify with these, then perfectionism may underlie your avoidance. Because you believe that things should be done perfectly, the result is that NOTHING GETS DONE AT ALL. When faced with a task, you become overwhelmed and frustrated - paralyzed by impossible standards.
While the reasons for procrastination may vary, the results are often the same - a seemingly endless cycle of anxiety, avoidance, and shame. Nothing gets done, and you can't enjoy anything with that guilt hanging over your head.
I’m talking here like I’ve never tackled the topic before but of course I have. It’s difficult to do a podcast on the subject of productivity without some crossover between the episodes, and many of the techniques I will present here to overcome PROCRASTINATION are covered in depth in other episodes. Indeed the first topic of the season, that of drive will feed in directly to what I am saying and for some of you that identified with the final 3 questions there, top of the list of reasons for procrastinating is likely to be Perfectionism which I tackled in Season 1 episode 5.
You can always go back and listen to those episodes, but since you’re here let’s get into some solutions you can apply right now and discuss ANTI-PROCRASTINATION STRATEGIES.
- This advice will be of no surprise to any regular listener of the show, but write it down. You can proactively tackle your work by writing down the tasks that you need to complete and specifying a time for doing them. Seriously. In all things, procrastination or not, remember that if you write a task down, you are 80% more likely to do it. I write it down on whiteboards in my office and at home so that it’s in sight and in mind.
- Several studies show that self-forgiveness can help you to feel more positive about yourself and reduce the likelihood of procrastination in the future. So forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past and move on.
- For some people the promise of a reward is helpful. If you complete a difficult task on time, reward yourself with a piece of cake or a coffee from your favourite coffee shop. That’ll make sure you notice how good it feels to finish things!
- The principle behind self-help groups is that peer pressure works. Find a fellow procrastinator or a friend and ask them to be your ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER. You can set each other monthly, weekly or bi-weekly tasks or goals and hold one another accountable. This only works if you both take it seriously though and see last week’s episode on bad collaborators to ensure they don’t drive you nuts at the same time.
- Next try some of my anti-procrastination systems from episode 9 – FOUR GREAT HACKS TO BEAT PROCRASTINATION. THE ONE TOUCH RULE, THE TWO MINUTE RULE, THE 5 MINUTE RULE AND THE 10 MINUTE RULE. These in their various forms will force you to tackle tasks as soon as they arise, rather than letting them build up and overwhelm you. They are very effective techniques which I use every day.
- Another article in Psychology today which I’ll link to in the show notes suggests that you should “Rephrase your internal dialogue. The phrases "need to" and "have to," for example, imply that you have no choice in what you do. This can make you feel disempowered and might even result in self-sabotage . However, saying, "I choose to," implies that you own a project, and can make you feel more in control of your workload.”
But there’s a couple of specific things that I find particularly useful in keeping that procrastination habit at arm's length.
- The first is to Minimize distractions. Turn off your email and social media, utilise the do not disturb function on your phone and avoid being near a television or a PlayStation or whatever app or toy you like to use to distract you. My particular habit is Youtube addiction and I have to be very careful when researching these shows that I don’t end up watching cat videos or lens and kit reviews instead.
- The second is that there’s a book called EAT THAT FROG by Brian Tracy which is easily one of the most famous books on productivity and overcoming procrastination out there. I’ll link to in the show notes – but in simple terms, it suggests that you do your most important (could be difficult, awkward or stressful) job first. If you get those tasks that you find least pleasant out of the way early it will give you the rest of the day to concentrate on work that you find more enjoyable. In the book, Brian Tracy comes back to this 4-part combination over and over.
- 1 Select Your Most Important Task
- 2 Begin Immediately.
- 3 Work on It Single-Handedly.
- 4 Finish It!!
- In total, he outlines 21 great ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time so if you want to get into this even further, check it out. Just don’t let investigating anti-procrastination techniques in effect become your procrastination “crutch”. Just remember the 4 rules.
- Select Your Most Important Task
- Begin Immediately.
- Work on It Single-Handedly.
- Finish It!!
- It IS that simple.
AMAZON AFFILIATE LINKS - EAT THAT FROG
As a wee additional for you
- Keep a To-Do List to prevent you from "conveniently" forgetting about unpleasant or overwhelming tasks.
- Prioritize your To-Do List using the techniques described in Episode 3, which was the third of this shows preseason episodes. It’s available right now on your podcast app.
- And I’m quoting here from some article I found but can’t lay my hands on, Become a master of scheduling and project planning. Use tools to can help you to plan your time effectively, and reduce your stress levels.
- Tackle the hardest tasks at your peak times. Do you work better in the morning or the afternoon? Identify when you're most effective, and do the tasks that you find most difficult at these times. See the episode on mental energy to understand more about this, your most valuable, and finite resource.
- Set yourself time-bound goals. Seriously folks. Putting stuff in your diary will make all the difference to your drive. I’ve done several episodes on goal setting and the 1st of this season is all about drive so if you need a boost. Check them out.
- And finally, utilise the plethora of available task and time-management apps. I recommend Google calendar and TO-DOist and again I’ve done an episode on this so look back and have a listen if you want more suggestions.
Alan Dean Foster says that “The thing all writers do best is find ways to avoid writing.” If you recognise that in yourself, then I hope that this episode has been helpful to you.
Like all the techniques, tips and tricks I recommend here, I actually use these things and they work. I also RECOGNISE when I am procrastinating and I think that in itself is very valuable. If we can’t be honest in ourselves about this sort of thing then we really aren’t going anywhere.
As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”.
CALL TO ACTION
And your call to action this week is to take your tasks, and if they are in your head, please, for the love of god write them down. Then use the system presented by Brian Tracy in EAT THAT FROG and
- Select Your Most Important Task
- Begin Immediately.
- Work on It Single-Handedly.
- And Finish It!!
That’s all you have to do to beat procrastination and get yourself moving forward again.
Remember the words of the late American author, Janet Dailey “SOMEDAY is not a day of the week.”
Thanks once again for choosing to spend your valuable time here with me. Please take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’, BEAT THAT PROCRASTINATION and join me NEXT TIME on Film Pro Productivity.
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Thanks: A Himitsu
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