Like many of you, I am a go-getter. I take on tasks at work with gusto, especially editing and writing projects, which I particularly enjoy. Given my enthusiasm for large projects, I never would have imagined that I had a problem with the dreaded P word… procrastination.
After all, I don’t turn in assignments late, and I don’t even particularly run up against deadlines.
However, a while back I was working on becoming more mindful of my work habits and I became aware of two things: (1) I had a difficult time beginning work on a large project, and (2) whenever I would think about opening a document to begin work on it, I would find myself redirecting my attention to smaller tasks, like social media management (which is like a gas…it can occupy as much space/time as you will give it) and answering e-mail. Once I managed to dig into the work, I would become laser-focused on it, powering through page after page as though no other task existed. However, I knew that I needed to address the root problem: for some reason, there was some anxiety building up around actually opening the document.
Personal development great Earl Nightingale said:
Have you ever noticed that the longer you look at something you should be doing, the more difficult it seems to appear? That the longer you put off something you should do, the more difficult it is to get started? …What overwhelms us is not the work itself. It’s thinking how hard it’s going to be. It’s seeing it get larger every day. It’s putting it off and hoping that somehow, through some miracle, it will disappear.
After reading this passage in the forthcoming book Transformational Living by Earl Nightingale, I sat down and used a freewriting exercise to consider what, exactly, was preventing me from opening project documents sooner. I responded to the following prompt:
When I look at the project file on my computer, what emotions do I feel? Next, why might I feel this way? Finally, how can I reprogram my mindset to bypass any negative emotions generated from looking at the file?
From this mindfulness activity, I realized that the although I wasn’t consciously thinking, “This project will be difficult,” some part of my subconscious was anxious about the process of learning and navigating the unique requirements of the new project. I was not fearful that I would not be able to figure out these new requirements but rather that the process would be time-consuming (which is ironic…given that nothing is more time-consuming than procrastination), when I had a lot of other demands on my time. Once I identified the root of my anxiety, I was able to create a mental bypass: Before looking at the document, I took a deep breath, visualized the satisfaction I would feel from completing the project, and then double-clicked on the document before allowing a second thought (like about social media…or all my e-mails needing responses…etc.) to emerge.
It might sound silly, but this mental exercise has made all the difference for me.
Nightingale further notes:
I guess we all know that the longer you put off what you very well know you should be doing, the more you dread doing it. Finally, because of our procrastination, the job looms far larger than it did in the beginning until we finally, in a kind of desperation, pitch into it and discover that it really wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it was going to be. We should have done it at once, in the beginning, without wasting all that time—storing up that apprehension and being miserable sidestepping our responsibilities.
So today, I encourage you—open that document!