As you read this, you may very well be in the middle of some really bad news and some very challenging events. I hope that you, your loved ones, your friends and colleagues are safe and healthy. It's obvious that these days are far from normal, but viewed through the right lens, these days present tremendous opportunities for personal and professional growth. During these days of social distancing, it’s the perfect time to distance yourself from emotional reactions to your current predicament.
Although this is going to be tough to do, this disruption can be the impetus for you to discover ways to better serve your core customers. It can also be the time to learn how to change your typical behaviors and habits and reinvent yourself to be more focused and less distracted. Change is hard, and as I’ve said before, the only creature on the planet that likes change is a baby with a dirty diaper. My hope is that you’ll be able to look back on this time as painful, yes, but that pain would include growing pains.
We’ve been talking about setting goals, time management and prioritization in recent columns. When you begin to focus your attention on these topics you’ll rediscover the thief that is always lurking in your brain. That thief is a time stealer named procrastination. Procrastination is actually an emotional problem that is triggered by boredom and anxiety. Boredom and anxiety are negative things we naturally try to avoid and so we often choose to find activities that encourage positive emotions. Things like binge watching Netflix shows, or checking Facebook to see what your friends are doing, or doing small menial tasks are just some of the ways we can get a small hit of positive emotions. We choose these small hits of dopamine at the expense of expending energy on truly meaningful work.
It's interesting that the word “procrastinate” comes from the Latin term that literally means “put off until tomorrow.” Someone once said, “Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.” We get pretty good at deferring, delaying, and putting off until later. But if we are honest with ourselves, we really don’t like how we feel when we procrastinate, yet we get into this endless loop of procrastination that is hard to break.
The answer to combatting procrastination is to just start and take action. This is great advice but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. I find that breaking down your tasks into small, bite-sized portions works well.
For example, I am an expert procrastinator when it comes to writing this column. I have a deadline that I rarely meet and I’m sure it gives my editor, Anna Zeck, a lot of anxiety each month. I am learning that if I break down the process of writing this column into tasks that take five minutes or less, I can usually get through the whole process all at once simply because I just started and I took action. The way it looks is really simplistic:
- Open a new Word document.
- Write down the theme or title of the column.
- Copy and paste the research on the topic.
- Write an outline of the column.
- Write the intro to the column.
The five-minute threshold is the magic number for me when I need to get started on a column. Each time I complete one of the five-minute tasks I am conditioning myself into a positive sense of accomplishment. Psychologically, I am creating little wins that reward me with more confidence to continue. Each win makes me happy and motivated. I completely forget about the negative emotions that I had before starting the column and the whole process is a lot less painful than wallowing in procrastination mode.
I still find it hard to get started on some projects, so I’ve learned to follow the advice of Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom: “If you don’t want to do something, make a deal with yourself to do at least five minutes of it. After five minutes, you’ll end up doing the whole thing.”
Making a mental bargain with yourself can actually be that “just start” action you need to get moving on a project or task. As you move along on the project, look at your five minute tasks and check the boxes or cross them off your list. By doing this, you’ll have a tangible method for measuring your progress on the project and this will reinforce your confidence in yourself and create further momentum to finish. Small steady steps forward are the secret to beating procrastination.
What are some of the tasks and projects you’ve been procrastinating on? What can you come up with as your “just start” action? We have seen a tremendous drop in business due to the shelter-in-place orders here in Los Angeles. As an essential business, we remain open and are retaining all of our employees at this time.
The silver lining in this event is that we now have the time to do deferred maintenance (aka stuff we procrastinated on). Welders are getting tuned up, floors are getting painted, striping of work spaces are being redone, spray booth interior walls are being refurbished and many other projects are in play. We also now have our training requirements ramped up. I-CAR, AMi, and the OEMs have lots of online courses that need to be taken and can be done during this slow time at the shops.
My idea is to come up with a really good Total Preventative Maintenance program to implement so that I don’t procrastinate in the future. Perhaps you, too, can work on these projects as your first phase of beating procrastination.