I have always believed I was a procrastinator. I tend to put difficult tasks off until when they are due. I always believed it was the pressure of the deadline that forced me to complete the task. College gave me a series of structured deadlines to learn new things. Procrastination can also add undue stress onto your system. Over time it will make you feel like you’re stupid and can’t get anything done. ADHD and procrastination seem to go hand in hand as well.
I’m sort of done with procrastination. It sucks and I know I’m smarter than this.
This month I’m speaking at two conferences and giving two different talks. The first is on remote working (a “soft” topic) and the other on an introduction to RxSwift – a fairly complex programming topic. I’ve known I needed to prepare these talks for several months and I have been doing the work. The remote working talk went off well. The RxSwift talk is upcoming and I’m sweating it. I want the people at my talk to get something significant out of it and not walk away feeling something was missing or it was a waste of time. When I finally made this statement to myself I realized something significant:
It’s not procrastination – it’s a failure to start.
I didn’t dive into the demo project for the talk because I felt like an imposter. How could I give a talk about a topic I am not an expert in? The reality is I needed to dive into code to incrementally learn the topic better to give people a leg up on their first try at RxSwift. This fear of being an imposter kept making me lose focus on simple things and putting them off.
I seem to have an enhanced behavior of finding something else to do instead of the “real work” when I encounter mental resistance. Mental resistance can come from not knowing a subject or the task feeling remedial. I tend to find other things to do instead like opening up a Facebook tab or checking the 14 different Slack instances I’m in for new messages. I know it is time to step back and re-center myself when I notice that my brain starts derailing like this.
When you find yourself slipping on a task or unable to commit to get something done I suggest doing the following:
- Break the task down into smaller bits and just get started on the first one. Just get started.
- Walk away. Literally – walk. Exercise is my number one tool to combat attention and focus issues. Grab your headphones and take a short walk around your office or neighborhood. Don’t actively try to think about your problem at hand – just take in the different atmosphere. You’ll be surprised how often an idea comes to you seemingly randomly during this process.
- Prevent the distraction by blocking the thing you’re using as a mental crutch. In my case it was logging out of Facebook and blocking the site on my machine. The behavior broke after several months on my work computer. If it’s something like wandering and cleaning your house, close your office door and leave a note to yourself to focus. Maybe try the Pomodoro Technique for 20 minute focus sessions.
- If all else fails stop committing to things you can’t get done. You’re not a failure if you don’t have time or interest. Dig deep in your head to see what’s important to you and your future.
Sometimes we don’t have a choice and we just have to buckle down and get something done. Reward yourself. Check off that box and celebrate! Sometimes the little successes are more important than the big ones.