If you are anything like me, you are doing pretty well in life and getting done everything you “have to”. You keep your promises to others and don’t let people down. It is promises to yourself you are not keeping.
I suspect that not keeping promises I make to myself, and settling for doing ‘pretty well’, is costing me a thrilling and extraordinary life. If the work I do is valuable to others (and I am told it is) then my clients and potential clients are also paying a high price for these broken promises.
Most of my promises are broken by procrastination and neglect. I procrastinate where the work is not directly for someone else, and there is no clear deadline. I know I procrastinate, I know it does not serve me, and worst of all, I know a suite of tips, tricks, and tools for dealing with procrastination.
I successfully coach others to be productive, to be effective, and to avoid procrastination. Yet, I can still leave important things to the last minute and fill too much of my time doing attention-grabbing but less important activities.
Unless there is an obvious risk that the opportunity will be lost then I might not get into action at all, and the project may sit there until I conclude, in a mood of resignation, that it never was that important anyway.
I procrastinated starting this blog for nearly three weeks (and then after getting feedback on the first draft I procrastinated editing it for another two weeks). The source of my procrastination was twofold: fear that I would be criticised for poor writing about a topic no one cares about; and self-criticism of my being anxious about writing and blogging at all.
I have done many valuable personal development courses, I have run a successful company, and I am a successful executive and productivity coach. Despite my training and past successes, I still judge myself.
My internal dialogue runs something like this: “If I were really ‘worth my salt’ I would no longer be self-critical, I would not get anxious, and I certainly would not procrastinate. I would be in action, and I would be doing the thing that would make the biggest positive impact on my life and the lives of others. If I decided to write a blog, then I would just do it without hesitation or concern.”
Before drafting this blog, I spent some time reading blog posts and productivity books with their recommendations for dealing with procrastination and most offered something useful. Techniques, tools, and tips included: calendar, to-do list, Kanban, avoiding distractions, urgency-important matrix, prioritisation, planning, identifying the next specific action, and getting an ‘accountability-buddy’. These are useful, and I could train you to use any of them.
What is not addressed is that you and I already know what to do (or where to find out what to do) – the issue is that we don’t do what we know to do.
If we act consistently with how we perceive the world, and how we perceive the world is given by our way-of-being, then the missing factor is to notice and change our way-of-being. What can we shift in our being that will have us doing what we already know to do?
I spent some time thinking about my experiences of, and my attitudes to, writing. I remembered a time at high school when I submitted a creative writing piece to one of my favourite teachers and was accused of plagiarism. To this day I have no idea why my teacher thought this – in my world I had just submitted my best work.
When I shared this memory with my partner she casually asked me “what did you make that mean about yourself?” (how dare she ask me coaching questions over coffee!). After a moment, the penny dropped – I had made it mean that I am someone who is not worthy of respect.
If I believe I am not worthy of respect then it is logical to not want to ‘expose’ myself by putting pen to paper, never mind publishing my writing. I have spent decades afraid, not only of being treated with contempt but as importantly, of not being able to cope with being treated with contempt. In this context, is it any wonder that I have got anxious and stressed whenever I have used productivity tools to push myself into action, and have not stuck with using the tools?
So, if that is my past then what is possible for my future?
I can now see my teacher was just doing her job and that what she said did not mean that I was not worthy of respect (even if she did not respect me at the time). Today, living from a mindset of “I am a person who is not worthy of respect” is just not working for me.
If instead, I now choose to know myself as respect-worthy and as someone who does not automatically grant authority to the assessments of others, then I can put my knowledge into practice.
Well for a start, I have written and published this blog.
Ian Higginbottom coaches managers and leaders, to develop for themselves, more effective ways-of-being for producing value at work and more broadly in their lives. He works with teams to build community and to eliminate the waste of time and money caused by mistrust and poor coordination of action. Ian is based in Canberra, Australia.