In this Wisdom Note, let us consider how easy it is to put off our responsibilities and how we allow non-important interruptions to distract us from doing what is most important. This is an age-old issue, but there are so many distractions both online and offline, it is very difficult not to procrastinate, especially if you are not very disciplined in your focus. Perseverance is so important to make sure we continue on life’s trail toward the summit.
Perseverance is about as important to achievement as gasoline is to driving a car. Sure, there will be times when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, but you’ll always get out of the rut with genuine perseverance. Without it, you won’t even be able to start your engine.
Perseverance vs. Procrastination
The opposite of perseverance is procrastination. Perseverance means you never quit. Procrastination usually means you never get started although the inability to finish something is also a form of procrastination.
Ask people why they procrastinate and you’ll often hear something like, “I’m a perfectionist. Everything has to be just right before I can get down to work. No distractions, not too much noise, no telephone calls interrupting me, and of course I have to be feeling well physically, too. I can’t work when I have a headache.” The other end of procrastination – being unable to finish – also has a perfectionist explanation…“I’m just never satisfied. I’m my own harshest critic. Unless all the I’s are dotted and all the T’s are crossed, I just can’t consider that I’m done. That’s just the way I am, and I’ll probably never change.”
Do you see what’s going on here? A fault is being turned into a virtue. The perfectionist is saying that their standards are just too high for this world. This fault-into-virtue syndrome is a common defense when people are called upon to discuss their weaknesses, but in the end, it’s just a very pious kind of excuse making. It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with what’s really behind procrastination
The basis of procrastination could be fear of failure. That’s what perfectionism really is once you take a hard look at it. What’s the difference whether you’re afraid of being less than perfect or afraid of anything else? You’re still paralyzed by fear. What’s the difference whether you never start or never finish? You’re still stuck. You’re still going nowhere. You’re still overwhelmed by whatever task is before you. You’re still allowing yourself to be dominated by a negative vision of the future. In your mind, you see yourself being criticized, laughed at, punished, or ridden out of town on a rail. Of course, this negative vision of the future is really a mechanism that allows you to do nothing. It’s a very convenient mental tool.
I’m going to tell you how to overcome procrastination. I’m going to show you how to turn procrastination into perseverance, and if you do what I suggest, the process will be virtually painless. It involves using two very powerful principles that foster productivity and perseverance instead of passivity and procrastination
1. Break it down.
No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, whether it’s writing a book, climbing a mountain, or painting a house, the key to achievement is your ability to break down the task into manageable pieces and knock them off one at one time. Focus on accomplishing what’s right in front of you at this moment. Ignore what’s off in the distance someplace. Substitute real-time positive thinking for negative future visualization. That’s the first all-important technique for bringing an end to procrastination.
Suppose I were to ask you if you could write a 365-page novel. If you’re like most people, that would sound like an impossible task. But suppose I ask you a different question. Suppose I ask if you can write one page a day for one year. Do you think you could do it? Now the task is starting to seem more manageable. We’re breaking down the 365-page book into bite-size pieces. Even so, I suspect many people would still find the prospect intimidating. Do you know why? Writing one page may not seem so bad, but you’re being asked to look ahead one whole year. When people start to look that far ahead, many of them automatically go into a negative mode. So, let me formulate the idea of writing a book in yet another way. Let me break it down even more.
Suppose I was to ask you, “Can you fill up one page with words not for a year, not for a month, not even for a week, but just today?” Don’t look any further ahead than that. I believe most people would confidently declare that they could accomplish that. Of course, these would be the same people who feel totally incapable of writing a whole book.
If I said the same thing to you tomorrow…If I told you, I don’t want you to look back, and I don’t want you to look ahead. I just want you to fill up one page today. Do you think you could do it?
One day at a time. We’ve all heard that phrase. That’s what we’re doing here. We’re breaking down the time required for a major task into one-day segments, and we’re breaking down the work involved in writing a 365-page book into one-page increments.
Keep this up for one year, and you’ll write the book. Discipline yourself to look neither forward nor backward, and you can accomplish things you never thought you could possibly do. And it all begins with those three words “break it down.”
2. Write it down.
My second technique for defeating procrastination is also only three words long…”Write it down.” We know how important writing is to goal setting. The writing you’ll do for beating procrastination is very similar. Instead of focusing on the future, however, you’re now going to be writing about the present just as you experience it every day. Instead of describing the things you want to do or the places you want to go, you’re going to describe what you actually do with your time, and you’re going to keep a written record of the places you actually go.
In other words, you’re going to keep a journal of your activities. You are going to be surprised by the distractions, detours, and downright wastes of time you engage in during the course of a day. All of these get in the way of achieving your goals. For many people, it’s almost like they planned it that way, and maybe at some subconscious level, they did. The great thing about keeping a time journal is that it brings all this out in the open. It forces you to see what you’re actually doing… and what you’re not doing.
The time journal doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Just buy a little spiral notebook that you can easily carry in your pocket. When you go to lunch, when you drive across town, when you go to the dry cleaners, when you spend some time shooting the breeze with co-workers or family, make a quick note of the time you began the activity and the time it ends. Try to make this notation as soon as possible. If it’s inconvenient to do it immediately, you can do it later. But you should make an entry in your time journal at least once every thirty minutes, and you should keep this up for at least a week, preferably two.
Break it down. Write it down. These two techniques are very straightforward. But don’t let that fool you…These are powerful and effective productivity techniques that allow you to put an end to procrastination and help you get started to achieve your goals.
Focus on what you need to accomplish today, and then tomorrow you can focus on what needs to be completed tomorrow. Matthew 6:34 reminds us, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
In our note this week, we identified some causes for procrastination and set forth a plan to that will help you to recognize it and start on the trail to prevent it.