A while back, I launched a new, improved website for my executive coaching and team facilitation practice. I was both excited and relieved. So was my web designer, since it took me 18 months to do my part. It took her just three days to take the site live and send her final bill.
One could argue that this project – outlining the site, writing copy and selecting the images – should have taken me no more than a few weeks. And in reality, that’s how long it took, once I got down to it and stopped beating myself up for procrastinating.
But was it really procrastination? I was doing a lot of thinking, scanning websites, talking to people and processing it all. My progress wasn’t visible to the casual observer (nor to me, for that matter), but I realized later that I was definitely working on my site. A colleague of mine calls this “making milk.” Cows look pretty darn lazy, but there’s lots going on inside.
I don’t like the label “procrastinator.” Even though it’s defined as “one who delays action,” I’ve never heard it used as a compliment. Psychologists say about 20% of us are chronic procrastinators. They describe us using harsh terms like self-deception, self-defeat, lack of control. Even worse, Free Dictionary says that it comes from “habitual carelessness or laziness.” Ouch. No wonder we feel guilty and anxious when we put things off.
So how do you know if you’re truly procrastinating or you’re busy “making milk?” Pay attention to what’s going on in your head.
- Are you consumed by dread? Do you drag your feet because the task seems onerous? How often have you seen managers who just can’t pull the trigger on an under-performer? There might be legitimate reasons for delaying, but often they’re just dreading the difficult conversation, followed by finding a replacement and getting that person up to speed.
- Do you have an emotional barrier? Fear of failure is a common one. So is fear of success. A friend of mine took forever to get his PhD. He was the first in his family to even go to college, and his deep-seated beliefs about himself had him cleaning the holes on his wingtips before sitting down to work on his dissertation.
- Are you an “immediate gratification” type? It’s incredibly easy to get distracted by something more appealing, like watching Ellen Degeneres’ stand-up routine on the topic.
If you answered “yes” to any of these, you’re probably procrastinating. Executive coaches (like me) have all sorts of annoying tips – break the task into small pieces, start with something fun, reward yourself along the way, and so on. You’ve heard them all before, and they work. So use them!
On the other hand, if you notice yourself observing things, being curious, gathering facts and seeking opinions, your thoughts are probably evolving and the project or task is taking a different and probably much better shape. This is “making milk.” I guarantee that when you finally get going, the task will flow, and just like Bessie, you’ll be proud of what you produce.
What do you think? Can procrastination be a good thing? Comment now – don’t put it off!