Conquer Procrastination with Negativity
Let me warn you right off the bat - this is not going to be a post about how you should reward yourself after you complete a task. Nor am I going to tell you to stand in front of a mirror repeating "I am not a procrastinator" 100 times. Nope. If you are looking for that type of advice, you will not find it here. Instead, I am going to share with you the cold, hard facts concerning procrastination that I learned throughout the last 15 years as an attorney, and an unconventional way to conquer it.
Did you ever watch the television drama House? If you did, you know that Dr. House continually professed, "Everybody lies." Just as this is true (call me cynical), so is the fact that everyone procrastinates. Let's be honest here, everyone procrastinates. Sure, you can lie to others (and yourself) and say that you never procrastinate, but all you will end up doing is proving Dr. House's theory correct.
Excessive Procratinatination is Dangerous
A little procrastination is not going to kill you, nor will it have a significant impact on your life or career. However, if you find yourself putting too many things off or shelving essential issues for later, you could find yourself on the road to ruin. But you don't need me to tell you what you already know. You know anything in excess is bad. You also know that when you procrastinate too much, bad things usually happen.
Here is an example of a bad situation made worse by procrastination. Tim gets served with a lawsuit on November 23rd. "Great", he thinks. "This is the worst Black Friday ever." As he looks at the Summons and Complaint, he realizes that he has 35 days to respond. He decides that he is going to enjoy his day off from work and take advantage of some holiday shopping deals.
After returning to work on Monday and spending most of the day looking for Cyber Monday Deals, he remembers the lawsuit and decides that he has plenty of time to deal with it. And so it goes. Tim keeps convincing himself that the lawsuit can wait and that he has time. Who wants to deal with this during the holidays anyway?
Around December 15th he pulls out the complaint and ponders, "How much money am I even being sued for?" It is just too much for him to think about, so back in the drawer the complaint goes. Despite the complaint being out of sight, it is not out Tim's mind. He finds himself thinking about it all day and all night.
Finally, on December 22nd he pulls himself together, bites the bullet and calls a lawyer. Then he calls another. Then another, and so on. It turns out that the attorneys he called are either off for the Christmas holiday or simply cannot find the time during the busy holiday week to draft and file an answer to the Complaint. He does nothing. For a few weeks after the New Year, all is silent on the lawsuit front.
Weeks later he goes to buy lunch with his debit card. The card is declined. He can't understand why. He checked his balance the day before and has plenty of money in the account. He calls the bank and learns that there is a judgment against him and that his bank account has been frozen. Frantically, he starts calling lawyers. After a few hours of calls and online searching, he finds a lawyer who will help him. The only problem is that the lawyer is charging more than he would to just defend the case because he has to try to vacate the default and unfreeze the account.
If Tim had hired a lawyer back in November, this added stress (and expense) would be non-existent. Don't get me wrong, being sued still sucks, but now Tim is spending more money and has a mountain to climb to vacate the default judgment and begin defending the claim.
Everyone Has Stuff to Deal with that Sucks
There is no sense in denying it; everyone has stuff that they have to deal with that sucks and that they would rather ignore. The fact is that you will make the dreaded situation worse by not taking action. Nobody wants to be sued or to have to fire an employee, but life doesn't care what we want.
Typical Anti-Procrastination Techniques Don't Work for Everyone
Ok, so we know everyone procrastinates (big surprise), that procrastination can be dangerous, and that everyone has to deal with situations that suck, but we can we do about it? I have read a large number of books on procrastination. I have heard the suggestions about rewarding yourself after you do a task that you have been putting off, or using a Pomodoro timer or a host of other ideas. While these techniques may work for some people, they do not work for many of the clients that I represent, or for me for that matter.
Focus on the Negative
So, what's the answer? Do we just give in to the urge to procrastinate? Hell, no! We fight the urge. We fight like we are one of the 300 Spartans fighting off the invading hoard. But how? One technique that helps conquer the urge to wait until "tomorrow" is to immediately focus on what is "going" to happen (not what could) if we do nothing and procrastinate. You have to look at every negative outcome and make it real. Very real.
Going back to Tim's example, what might have happened if when he received the complaint, he started thinking about how he could lose his house, or his money, or the negative impact on his family. What if he really focused on the negative and made it real. So real that it started to feel like it was actulayy happening. There is a good chance that he would have found a lawyer and spoken with him well before December 1st.
It is a fact that we humans try to avoid pain at all costs. We can use that desire to avoid pain to aid in our battle over procrastination. If we take a moment to focus on an issue that we would typically procrastinate over, we can force ourselves to focus on the negative, make it feel real and then and push ourselves to take action. They key is to focus on the negative.
Think about it for a minute. If you get a letter from the IRS and quickly bury it under a pile of other stuff does it feel as real as if you hold it in your hand, feel the weight of it, think about what could be in the envelope and focus on all of the negative things that this letter could hold for you. I doubt it. By focusing on the negative, you have a better chance of forcing yourself to open the letter and deal with it.
Notice I say "force yourself" - this is because defeating procrastination requires strength. It often requires you to force yourself into action. The act of focusing on the negative and making it real can give you the push you need to take action.
I'm sure that many of you have been told that positivity is awesome and that you should always focus on the positive. Well, if you want to stop procrastination, I say, focus on the negative. I understand that we all march to a different drummer and that this technique might not work for you but if you have tried the usually methods, what is the harm in giving the one a try? In fact, you might find the power to push through your fears and to take immediate action to stop the future from becoming your present.
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