It’s Saturday afternoon and I’ve just come to the realisation that it’s really time to write my next newsletter. What shall I do: start on it straight away or leave it till tomorrow? Arguments for starting today enter my mind, as well as arguments for putting off writing it till tomorrow. But… ultimately, my decision isn’t governed by my rational thought processes but by the urge to write. And during the past few days I’ve formed a general idea about what I want to write, but it’s only when I actually get down to writing that the newsletter and the complete message unfolds. And once again, writing turns out to be a mysterious journey of discovery.
I always give this ‘just start and be curious about what unfolds’ message to people who want to write a newsletter or column themselves, but who feel they can’t get down to doing it because they don’t have enough time. But when I dig a little deeper I usually get to hear that it’s not a question of having the time available, but more like ‘the message isn’t quite clear enough yet‘, ‘I’m not looking forward to the writing process’, ‘I’m just not a writer, ‘I can only start writing if I know where I can publish the column’, etc. And there are a whole bunch of arguments imaginable for delaying writing till tomorrow. And when tomorrow actually comes, you’ll find another reason not to write that newsletter or column. And you can carry on this process for quite some time without feeling the least bit guilty.
This ‘delaying behaviour’ is a common occurrence in daily life in both small-scale and large-scale activities. I’m guilty of this behaviour myself when I have to write price quotations. Why? Because it’s something I just don’t like doing very much. Instead of practising the time management principle of planning and executing these kinds of things first thing in the morning (which I constantly tell myself to do) I’d rather check my e-mail first. If necessary, I’ll also respond to these e-mails or I’ll follow a link to an internet page and read about some new insights, for example about leadership. These are things I enjoy doing. In the meantime… that quotation still hasn’t been written. And I’ve got more strategies I use throughout the day to help me not write that quotation. For example, first I need to take a drink, I have to start working through my ‘people I need to call’ list, I have to prepare lunch, engage in business activities that I do enjoy, listen to music, clear up my desk, daydream or make lists. Until I discover that the working day is all over. OK so I guess I’ll write that quotation tomorrow! There’s a very sophisticated-sounding word for this delaying behaviour: ‘procrastination’, which literally means ‘the tendency to put things off till tomorrow’. Still not totally clear what this means? Then have a look at this short cartoon film on this theme NOW!
As a result of this delaying behaviour, I start to feel the time pressure of having to write that quotation, which can make me feel slightly stressed, which in turn can lead to unreasonable behaviour (for example, being short-tempered) towards my girlfriend and children. But as so often happens in the human mind, I have no difficulty in justifying my actions with hindsight with a rational argument, ‘I perform best when I’m under pressure and have to work to a deadline’. This way, I delude myself to a certain extent and maintain the status quo. And I know I’m not the only one who acts according to these types of patterns. How do you deal with such situations? Which activities are you constantly putting off, what strategies do you use, what are the consequences, and which arguments do you use to justify them?
So how can we deal with this procrastination? Well, it helps if you’re aware of which activities you tend to put off doing and which strategies you use to do that. Through this awareness, you can consciously break through this delaying behaviour by… just starting. The longer you wait, the bigger the task will become (and your resistance to it). It can also help if you split the task up into smaller subtasks, and carry these out one by one. But be sure to make an agreement with yourself that you will spend at least 10 minutes on the task, and that you’re allowed to stop if it doesn’t get done completely. Ensure as much as possible that you’re in an environment free of any distractions (shut down your e-mail programme, for example, and switch off your telephone). And if you have to write a newsletter (or another document), my most important tip is: don’t spend too much time thinking about the first sentence, but just start writing and see what happens.
Your challenge this time is to write a newsletter about personal development and to send this to me. If your newsletter is the most imaginative I receive, I will publish it, together with your name, and your website if you have one (if you don’t want your name or website mentioned, just let me know). Your ‘stage’ has already been reserved for you so there are no more excuses. It’s time for action! Your entry must meet the following criteria: it has to be about personal development; it has to contain a reference to an appropriate ‘YouTube’ film; it has to include an assignment for the reader; and it has to be between 1 A4 and 1.5 A4 in length. The copyright of the text will remain completely with the writer.
Experience the joy of just doing!