Too busy? Maybe you're procrastinating. - Next Action Associates

After a busy day, are you leaving the office tired and satisfied?  Or just tired?

You’ve spent the day in nearly constant activity.

And you may have been procrastinating the whole time.

“Huh?” you say, “I can’t have been procrastinating.  I’ve been really busy.”

Here’s the thing: when we’re busy we can easily trick ourselves into thinking that all of that activity means that we’re not procrastinating.  We’re busy, sure, but we’re not focused on the things that should really have our attention. If someone were to tap us on the shoulder and say, “that thing you’re doing, is that the best use of your attention right now?” we would hesitate to agree.

We’re busy procrastinating.

The explosion of digital channels and smart mobile technology makes it very easy to integrate busy-ness and procrastination.  There are a lot of “channels that lead to you.”  Email, sure.  But also Facebook and Twitter and instant messaging and LinkedIn and…

The inputs in these channels come at us thick and fast.  That makes it tempting to let the real-time arrivals drive us.   Procrastination is always only a click away.

Ask yourself: what are the odds that that e-mail at the top of your inbox is the best thing to focus on next?  If not and you choose to deal with it anyway, then you’re being driven by “latest and loudest,” letting your channels dictate your priorities.

Or maybe your procrastination looks like this: you’re snacking on quick wins.  This is what I quite often see when people say they’re “cleaning up email.”  They’re scrolling down into the older strata of their inbox, looking for things that can be handled quickly, ideally without much thought or energy.  But in doing that I’ll often see them scroll right past something that’s strategic, critical even.  But it’s too big, or too complex.  So it doesn’t get any attention.

If you’re struggling with procrastination, then what’s to be done?  To get it under control, we need to make getting moving on the right things as attractive and friction-free as possible.

Start by analysing your procrastination.  Here’s a spotter’s guide to the forms it might take:

1)     Procrastinating = Not Thinking.  I’m avoiding thinking about things I know I should think about.

Most of us avoid thinking about things that seem too complex, uncomfortable, or downright scary.  We fear losing control if we start to engage with them, which makes not thinking about them more appealing than getting started.

If this is what your procrastination looks like, then use the “fundamental process” from GTD to focus the thinking and make it manageable.  What’s the very next physical action you would take to move this forward?  What’s the desired outcome that that action will ultimately lead to?  No matter how daunting the thing your’re procrastinating about seems, you can answer these two questions.  Now you’ve finished the thinking and you’re ready to start doing.

2)     Procrasatinating = Not Doing.  I’m avoiding doing things I know I should be doing.

Our goal here is to make getting in motion as easy as possible.  Have a look at your next actions.  Are they physical actions?  Are they as bite-sized as possible?  If you’ve had “Draft white paper” on your actions list for a while, try replacing it with “Create outline of white paper,” or “Brainstorm ideas for white paper”.  Try and define actions that are just begging to be done.

Next actions like this are often effective in tricking us into sustained action.  Once you’ve created the outline, the momentum may carry you straight into drafting the first chapter.

Ultimately what we’re trying to do here is make the thinking or doing as rewarding as the procrastinating.  What we want to enable people to say at the end of every work day is: “given everything that the world threw at me today, I made the best choices possible about how to focus my time and attention.”

The work we do in Getting Things Done is not for the faint of heart.  We face procrastination head on.  We make you more aware of the choices you’re making.  You come face to face with your decisions; you know at any moment all of the things that you’re not doing.  That means that when you choose to engage with something, you can do it with the confidence that it’s the right thing to do.

You may well go home tired after a busy day.  But you’ll be satisfied too.

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