Are you the master of starting lots of projects? Do you choose to do other tasks that seem easier when you know there's something else you really should be doing with your time? Let's face it, we can be experts at getting everything done but the most important task at hand — that's usually the one that hangs over us for days, weeks, sometimes even months before we get started. And the longer it festers, the longer we feel like ____ (I was gonna say poop, but you go ahead and fill in the blank).
Ahh, friends, it's time to face the monster in the closet: Procrastination. LBH (Let's Be Honest, as a close friend likes to say to me when it's time to get real), even the best of us find ourselves procrastinating in some area of our lives every now and then. Whether it's cleaning your room, updating your contacts, going to a networking event, or even just returning a simple email that's permanently taken up residence in your inbox, I think it's fair to say that we all know too well the side effects of procrastination: guilt, shame, remorse, anger, regret…am I striking a chord? (I'll imagine your head is nodding yes, Betsy, yes I get it!)
One area in particular that procrastination tends to butt its way into is projects. Now, I love projects, in theory. There's spirit in the word itself. When I think of projects I get all excited and motivated and inspired to conquer the world. Unfortunately, this fire can dim when the reality of starting the project sets in…and that's when procrastination rears its ugly head. The project suddenly seems like Mt. Everest — too big to conquer — and before I know it, an embarrassing amount of weeks have gone by and I haven't even made a dent. Sound familiar? Or maybe you're the type of person who charges head first into a project, undaunted by its size, only to find yourself trudging through quicksand once you're in the middle of it because follow-through is your weakness. And you know what they say about quicksand — don't fight it. Just sit still until someone rescues you. In other words…procrastinate.
I've never put it into practice, but I think it's safe to say that the quicksand advice is right on…when it comes to actual quicksand. But, I'm here to give you the tools to rescue yourself from metaphorical quicksand. That's right — you're going to be your own hero and save yourself, and your project, from the evilness of procrastination. Here's how: fragmentation.
It doesn't sound like much of a weapon, does it? But when it comes to projects, there's real power in breaking them down into smaller, bite-sized tasks, which we at Capes Coaching call Action Ideas. Now, if you've worked with me in the Path Class, you know that we define a project as anything that could take more than 24 hours to complete, and that projects are not allowed to live on to-do lists without being broken down into all the possible action ideas you can think of to complete them.
For example, if my project is to complete a first draft of my new website so that I can get feedback on it from people I trust, these might be some of my action ideas:
- Confirm Matt can do the design by the goal date
- Make a list of all the things to change from my old site
- Research websites I like
- Determine a color scheme
- Update my bio
- Email my mom and ask her to review the site copy
- Take new photos for the site
- Call my friend Marina to ask her about her site
- Pick three people I trust for feedback
- Choose a favorite font
You get the idea. Now, I'm not inventing the wheel here. We all know how to do this, but the truth is that we can be a little lazy, right? It seems so much easier to not do anything at all, or to put our attention towards something new and exciting, than to simply put a little effort into making a project digestible. Look at that list — you know how long it took me to come up with it? Minutes. That's the reality of doing this work. And once it's done, the project doesn't seem so unconquerable anymore. In fact, just looking at my list makes me excited to start doing things and crossing them off. And isn't that the point of a project, to complete it?
Mark Twain once said, "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day." And author Brian Tracy wrote a whole book about it called Eat That Frog!. What I gather Twain meant was do the most important, most challenging task first thing in the morning and the rest of your day will be easy. And isn't that true? When you've just buckled down and done the thing you want to do least first — c'mon LBH — the rest of the day IS easier.
So, my challenge for you is to take on a project that you've been putting off, or have stalled in the middle of. Break it down with your newfound weapon — action ideas — and give procrastination the kiss off. I want to hear your success stories, and if they involve any frog eating, all the better! Get to it!