Ready, Fire, Aim

We all procrastinate from time to time.  Some of us are naturally better at being motivated to get tasks done.  Others of us struggle with procrastination on a regular basis.  Why do some of us continually put off doing things that we know must be done?

Individuals are typically either locomotor oriented or assessment oriented.  When you are locomotor oriented, you are in action mode.  You are less distracted and you are driven to get a task done.  When you are assessment oriented, you are thinking and evaluating outcomes.  In assessment mode, you are more likely to find yourself stymied by questions like, “Am I doing this right?”, “Will the outcome be favorable?”, “What if this is not effective?”.   Assessment mode leads to doubt, distraction, avoidance and inaction.

The best way to get someone to shift from assessment mode to locomotor mode is time pressure.  We all know that a looming deadline is the best insurance for getting a task completed.  But looming deadlines and waiting until the last minute to get things done just leads to stress and even more projects getting backed up.  It becomes a never-ending cycle.

The trick is to NOT procrastinate.  That is easier said than done, especially for people who have made procrastination an art form.

Here are some tips and strategies that may help you in your own personal war against procrastination.

  1. Soothing sounds – Many studies exist that show music can be a real motivator. Find some background tunes that inspire you to push forward through a task.
  2. Use minor distractions to avoid larger ones – Are you tempted to answer emails, check your LinkedIn or visit a favorite website?  Just say NO by engaging in a more benign activity.  Get up and stretch, take a short walk, etc.  Don’t get sidelined into time consuming distractions.
  3. Use a timer to keep you on task – Force yourself to work in small increments by setting a timer for 20 minutes and diving into a project constraining yourself to work at least until the timer goes off.
  4. Move! – Sometimes a stretch, a walk, a jog can get creative juices flowing. Just don’t let the walk turn into a marathon.
  5. Limit today’s to-do list – I am always working through a to do list. However, I often find there are things on the list that aren’t imminent.  Make sure your to do list isn’t so daunting that you feel defeated before you get started.  Delegate the things you can!  Your daily to do list should be achievable and not a life goal list.
  6. Email/Phone call black out time – Assign a time of day that you take one hour where you read no emails and you take no phone calls. You may not need to do this every day, but when you have a task that must be completed, you cannot let your inbox dictate what happens that day.
  7. Create a false parameter – “I will write at least 500 words.”, “I will call 5 clients”, etc. Do not waiver until the parameter is met.
  8. Avoid “Just one more thing” thinking – You don’t need to know every single thing to start a project. You don’t have to research every single scenario in order to begin.  Sometimes you just need to start and the rest will follow.
  9. Keep track of your status – Today’s to do list is important but so are more long term tasks and goals. Keep track of the small things and use some sort of organizational mechanism to track your progress.  Seeing what has already been accomplished can motivate you to keep moving forward.
  10. Overcome Fear! – Ultimately when you read about the origins of procrastination, the root cause is fear. Shifting your thoughts from the negative to the positive can be enlightening.

Overcoming fear is the most difficult and esoteric item on the list.  Is it possible that the task you are avoiding could lead to a negative outcome and therefore you stall and evade?  “What if I fail the Series 7 exam?”  “What if my clients leave if I transition to a fee-based practice?”  “What if clients don’t see the value in financial planning?”  “What if I fail?”   We all want to be perceived as the expert at what we do.  None of us want to lose clients.  We all want to be successful.  However, many of us don’t want to take the risk of any set back or any small failure.  The truth is becoming the expert always requires mistakes, failures and setbacks.

Use some of the tips on the list to help overcome your procrastination.  Maybe as you begin to take tasks on in a more proactive way you will feel less stress, become more motivated, be less fearful and become more successful.   The bottom line is get started!  Sometimes you have to get ready, fire and the aim will fall into place.


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