Procrastination And That BIG Small Step

Over the past week, it seems like I have had conversations with so many individuals who are procrastinating about something in their life. The situations range from a job change to taking different actions with the care of a loved one to writing a book. I immensely enjoy these discussions because it's motivating to me to hear people talk about their passions and goals. Too many people accept the status quo for far too long, and when they are finally moved to take action, it's too late.

My struggle always comes in making sure I listen intently, and only offer insights or questions that are appropriate for their unique situation. Looking back over these encounters, I took some time to identify the similarities in their reasons (expressed or implied) for procrastinating. They include:

  • Wanting to build the entire plan before the first step is taken
  • Needing assurance that this is the right decision for them to make right now
  • Trying to make sure everyone will be "okay" or "happy" with their decision
  • Believing that if they take the first step they are forever committed to this new direction

I've written about procrastination on many occasions, but some of their comments gave me fresh insights into my own moments of resistance. Let's look at each of these reasons in detail, and how we might change our perspective to reduce resistance to taking these much needed actions.

Look at our own life’s journey for a moment. How much does it look like the original plan you created when you were 18, 25, or even 30?

Building the entire plan before the first step is taken. Rarely does the plan created at the beginning of a journey look similar to the actual one taken by the time you reach the destination. Look at our own life's journey for a moment. How much does it look like the original plan you created when you were 18, 25, or even 30? You may be in the career you wanted, but what about your travels, relationships, or a hundred other things. When I am procrastinating I have to remember that the greatest benefit of a plan is that it gets you started, not that it gets you to your exact desired destination. An almost constant course correction will be needed. As the icon of motivational speaking, Zig Ziglar, is quoted as saying, Go as far as you can see. When you get there, you can go a little farther.

Needing reassurance that this is the right decision to make right now. One individual I talked with wanted to go out and start his own business. Since he had a family my first question was about his financial situation and ability to live on one income for an extended period of time. Those types of "assurances" are always important to address, but there are others we spend too much time fretting over. For example, one individual worried that they wouldn't have the time to write as much as they wanted each day with their other responsibilities. As we talked further, we identified some changes they could make in their daily schedule to free up additional time for writing. The old adage, We make a decision and THEN we make it right, comes to mind here. After taking care of the essentials, look at how to align more of your time and energy toward achieving the desired outcome. The right decision can quickly become the wrong one if our actions don't change to support it.

Trying to make sure everyone will be "okay" or "happy" with their decision. I find that much of my procrastination is connected to a conversation I will need to have if I want to move forward with something. We want to know that the person will be supportive but there are few guarantees it will turn out exactly that way. We have to accept the fact that others may not fully understand our motives or desires, but they do trust our integrity and character. In time they will understand... if your maintain your integrity and character. As for all those other people who are on the sideline questioning your reasons... there's a reason they are on the sidelines. They have accepted the status quo as their lifelong goal.

Believing that if they take this first step they are forever committed to this new direction.  This one is a little harder because if you have 18 years with an organization, leave it to start your own business, and then fail, you won't be able to return to where you were. In most cases, however, taking a first step rarely results in a point of no return. One of the conversations I had last week included a man who wanted to move from a technician's position to a sales position within his company. The first step he needed to take was to talk with the sales manager of his territory and express his interest in a sales position. I was perplexed as to why this was such a hard step for this guy to take. As we talked more I realized that his concern was that he might not like a sales position once he was in it. I explained that there were just too many unknown factors at this point for him NOT to take the first step. The sales manager might tell him they didn't have any openings. The company could be looking at a restructuring of the sales team, and they might want a part-time sales guy who could also continue to do service work. And my friend might hear of the specific requirements for the sales position and say, "I don't want that." The first step in change is rarely a point of no return.

All those conversations affirmed what I believe so often about battling procrastination: It's that first small step that is so critical. And if we get it right, that step gives us information to take another small step, and then another one. The key is to focus on a low risk choice that gives you insight that, as the Ziglar quote said, "allows you to see a little farther." What's that BIG small step you need to take today? Is it a phone call, doing some financial calculations, or simply doing a quick internet search and reading an article. If the step still seems too big for you, call (800-853-4676) or email me. I'd love to help you identify the BIG small step that's easy to take.

What's the BIG small step you should take today to move your work or life forward?