Episode 11: January 8, 2008
by Stever Robbins.
Mike wrote in with the following question:
Hey! I'm really trying really hard to stop procrastinating my work, but it's so hard to find the motivation! Could you give me some hints and tricks to help stop the demon of procrastination?
Great question, Mike, and it's really important, so I'll answer it. Later.
First, though, I simply must mention our sponsor, Web-based meeting software you can test-drive free at gotomeeting.com/podcast.
Putting Things Off
The neat thing about procrastination in January is that New Year's resolutions and procrastination go hand-in-hand. You can procrastinate all year by saying "next year, I'll make a resolution." Then, in January, you make the resolution and promptly procrastinate actually doing it. And voila--life is great! You feel like you're making progress without the inconvenience of actually doing anything.
Here's how I procrastinate my resolution. "Yay! I'm going to diet. Oh, hey, there's still a cookie left. I can have that now and start dieting tomorrow. I know I shouldn't, but ... (munching a cookie) Yum!! Cookie! (long pause) ... I suck." I do this every year and somehow keep thinking it will work. Hopeless! What am I doing? I'm trying it alone, I'm living in a fantasy world, thinking only of my end goal ("diet or not") and then flogging myself with guilt. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Get An Accountability Partner to Make Yourself Accountable
What if we turned all that around? Let's find support, focus on reality, measure progress, and drop the guilt. Enter Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world's top executive coaches and an expert in behavior change. He's graciously offered to let me share a technique you can use both to overcome procrastination and keep your New Year's resolutions.
First, you need a friend. Any kind will do. If you don't have one, make one from scratch or use a mix, that's what social networking's all about. Choose someone you trust and whom you can talk with daily.
Next, each of you choose a bunch of goals you want to reach. You can choose work-related goals, such as "fill out my expense reports on time," personal goals, such as, "lose 15 pounds," or organization goals, such as "throw away 15 pounds of old expense reports." Choose anywhere from 1 to 20 goals.
Set Achievable Goals Together
For each goal, figure out a way to measure whether you're actually doing the work it takes to meet that goal. For expense reports, the measure might be how many expense reports you filled out on a given day. For losing weight, the measure might be how many snacks you had during the day. And so on. A measurement has to be a numeric measure or a yes/no question like "Did you throw away at least one old expense report today?" Make sure that you're measuring the actions you need to take to reach the goal, not the goal itself. So for losing weight, don't use a measure like, "How much do I weigh?" Use a measure like, "How many snacks did I have?" "How many calories did I consume?" "How many times did I exercise?" ... things like that.
Use Check-Ins to Monitor Progress
Now you set up a daily meeting. Make it short--you won't need more than 5 or 10 minutes. Have your friend ask you about each of your measures. Answer honestly. Then switch, and you ask your friend about his or her measures. All you do is ask for the measure, with a supportive attitude. There's no criticism or judgment, only support and encouragement. The goal is to give you each a chance to be accountable to someone else.
If you find it helps, you can also write down your answers and track your progress. I don't do this. Just saying to someone out loud, "er, yeah, I had, um, seven twinkies today" tells me everything I need to know.
A sample session might go like this. My goals are to produce this podcast, learn to be more grateful, and stop complaining:
Friend: How much time did you spend working on your podcast today?
Stever: 45 minutes
Friend: How many times today did you feel gratitude for something going well in your life?
Friend: How many times did you complain (to yourself or others) during the day?
That's all there is to it. My friend just listens supportively. This exercise forces you to really track your progress. You find where you're sticking to your goals and where your efforts are falling off. You can always ask your friend for help, but that's optional. You're smart. Given the right measurements, your brain will automatically help you change. What makes this work is having accountability from someone who also offers unconditional positive support consistently. Do this daily if you really want the benefit.
Since it's New Year's, start with your New Year's resolutions. Grab your resolutions list. If you've already burned it in a fit of secret rebellion, rewrite it. For each resolution, choose your measurements. Then grab your friend and start reaching your goals! Make your meetings short, make them simple, make them steady, and you'll be successful. So says Stever.
In future episodes, we'll explore other ways to beat procrastination. If you want to learn more about Marshall and his many excellent coaching tips, the website has a link to a 20-minute interview where he shares two different "buddy coaching" techniques for improving performance. We also have a link to several suggested measures to get you started with the buddy system.
If you have questions about how to Work Less and Do More, e-mail your question to firstname.lastname@example.org, go to the Get-It-Done Guy section of www.quickanddirtytips.com, or leave it on voicemail at 866-975-5377. Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!