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Better Work Better Life Blog

overcoming procrastination

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about people struggling with procrastination. The pandemic has taken a lot out of us, and we are all a bit worn down. When we put off doing what we “need” to do it makes us feel undisciplined and lazy.  The self-compassion experts tell us that just makes things worse.

Instead of beating yourself up, it is much more effective to figure out why you procrastinate. Then you can take positive action to overcome the obstacle. Procrastination is typically NOT about discipline!  When the system is right and you understand what is happening then it takes much less willpower to move into action.

Procrastination Strategies

If simply intending to do the task worked, you wouldn’t be reading this. There are a number of less-typical strategies you can try to see what will help YOU blow through YOUR procrastination obstacles.

Figure Out Why You Procrastinate – There are many reasons people procrastinate. Figuring out your reason(s) is the first step to overcoming them.  Is it self-doubt or do you just need more information?  Do you need more time for the information to percolate in your head, or do you simply need the stress of the deadline to activate?  Are you unclear if the task is important? Or do you just hate doing it?  Understanding the cause of our individual brands of perfectionism helps us move into action.

Make the First Step Small – focus on getting started. Don’t worry about finishing. Set one mini-goal to get you to sit down and start.

Trick Your Brain – Start with an easy task to stimulate your brain. Take advantage of the “pleasure seeking” chemicals and as soon as you finish the easy/fun task move to one of the “harder to complete” tasks.

Identity Motivation –Use a character trait you like about yourself to help you activate. i.e. – I am a learner, I have perseverance, I am a problem-solver. Then ask:

  1. What kind of situation is this?
  2. Who am I?
  3. What does someone like me do in a situation like this? If you consider yourself to be thoughtful – then you’ll ask yourself – what does a thoughtful person do in a situation like this? If you consider yourself to be a problem solver then you’ll ask yourself – what would a problem solver do in a situation like this?

Body Doubling – Body Doubling is having a partner share your space to help keep you on task. They don’t need to do anything in particular. Their very presence helps move you to action.

  • Meet a friend at the coffee shop and work on your “hard” project alone – together.
  • Meet a colleague in the conference room and set your Pomodoro timer.
  • Ask a family member to sit with you while you are getting started.
  • Hire a NAPO Professional Organizer or other consultant to work on your project with you

Change Location – A unfamiliar space can provide just enough stimulation your brain needs to move into action. Weather permitting try working outside, a new coffee shop, or even a new location at work or home. Simply changing chairs at your kitchen table may be enough to shift how your brain is processing the environment.

Freak Yourself Out – Creating controlled stress can help. Make a list of the top 3 consequences of not doing this project. Now make another list – top 3 consequences of not doing this project on time. Not failing can help move you into action.


This is a combo repeat blog post with information from Chapter 4 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon.  Next post we’ll look at the burden of procrastination.

Why Am I Procrastinating

Why Do You Procrastinate? You aren’t the only one asking yourself that question! Without an understanding of why you are procrastinating, it’s hard to figure out what to do about it.

I realized this when I studied my own procrastination tendencies. I learned I usually procrastinated when I needed more information for the next step. Once I understood that behavior, it became easier to figure out how I could learn what I needed to know. Procrastination would also occur when I need more time to think before moving into action. Now that I understand my “why,” my procrastination is manageable.

Read through this list and consider which of these causes explain why you procrastinate. It is often more than one.

What Is Your Why?

Self-doubt — Lack of confidence is a real stopper. It makes sense that it is hard to move into action if you don’t believe in yourself, or you don’t believe what you’ll deliver is going to be good enough. You are probably really hard on yourself. It can be helpful to realize everyone has a degree of self-doubt. It’s what you do about it that drives outcomes.

Need more information — It’s hard to do something when you don’t know how to do it. On the other hand, doing too much research is procrastination in itself. The goal is to find the right balance of information to move you into action. Awareness and asking yourself “what else do I need to get started?” is helpful.

Need processing time — Sometimes you just need time for things to percolate. That good idea you had in the shower this morning? It probably wasn’t a new idea. You were creating the space for that idea to come to fullness. Do you do a better job solving the problem after you “sleep on it?” That is good procrastination!

Need stress — Many people use deadlines to create enough stress to move into action. In last month’s blog post on stress and productivity, we learned about the correlation between stress and performance and that without enough stress, we don’t move into action. Deadline stress can be your solution to getting work out the door. If this is your choice, stop beating yourself up and accept who you are. One warning here: Do you hear yourself saying, “I just didn’t have enough time to do the job I wanted to do?” Some people use procrastination to self-handicap. Delay becomes an excuse for not turning in their best work, or even a way to avoid feedback.

Lack of clarity  —When you’re not clear what is important, you end up spending time on low-value tasks and putting off or not doing important work.

Distaste for the task — It’s hard to be motivated to do a task that you hate doing. If this is the case, consider alternatives. Can you delegate this to someone on your team? Can you pay someone else to do it? Can you take it off your list?

Perfectionism — Does the need to be perfect keep you from doing what needs to be done? We’ll look at this in more detail in future blog posts, but remember – perfect is the enemy of done.


This is an exert from Chapter 4 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon.  Next post I’ll share strategies to help overcome procrastination.

The brain cannot do its best productive work when overstressed, anxious, or under threat. 

Productivity, Stress and Flow Brain Model

A lot is written today about stress and anxiety. We know exercise, meditation, and good sleep help reduce stress. However, little is discussed about the effects of stress and anxiety on our productivity. In a nutshell, the brain cannot do its best productive work when overstressed, anxious, or under threat. (Excerpts from Chapter 3 of Productivity for How You’re Wired.)

Here’s the neuroscience:

Neuroscientist Paul MacLean’s Triune Brain Model provides a straightforward model to understand the impact of fear and stress on the brain in conjunction with evolution and the hierarchy of brain functions. MacLean describes the brain in terms of three regions:

Brain Stem: From an evolutionary perspective, the brain stem is the oldest part of the brain. It controls bodily functions without thought or effort. This part of our brain operates on “autopilot.”

Limbic System: Next in evolutionary age is the limbic system. This is the emotional center of our brain. It is home to the amygdala, the part of the brain that houses the fight, flight, or freeze response. We have some control over our emotions, but under threat or too much stress, the amygdala automatically “hijacks” our thinking brain and takes over.

Prefrontal Cortex: Newest, and least on autopilot, is our Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), our thinking brain. It is here we plan, anticipate, think, and learn. The PFC is where innovation and creative thought occur. It houses our working memory and supports our ability to organize information and draw conclusions.

The PFC and the amygdala compete for control of the brain. When we are our most productive selves, we are functioning from the PFC. However, when there is too much stress, anxiety, or fear, the emotionally driven amygdala kicks in. We move from thinking and being productive to a fight, flight, or freeze state.

When under treat, anxious, or overstressed, our productivity tanks because we’ve moved from our thinking brain to our emotional brain.

Flow

Doing one’s most effective work occurs when a person is in flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the architect of positive psychology’s flow state, defines flow as “a powerful and rewarding psychological state that makes extra effort seem worthwhile.”

When in flow work feels like play, time flies (and stands still,) and productivity soars. To be our most productive selves, to be in flow, we need to function from our PFC, our thinking brain.Finding Productivity Flow

When under too much stress, anxiety can be paralyzing. You may relate to that feeling when you get a note from the boss saying “come see me,” or a long-time client calls and says “can we talk?” Just when we need to be at our best, we freeze up and our emotional brain takes charge.

Without enough stress, the brain struggles to move into action. Waiting until the 11th hour to begin a project causes enough stress to move the brain into productivity flow.

Strategies for Getting and Staying in Productivity Flow

The emotional limbic brain almost always wins unless we learn how to manage it. To be in productivity flow we need to employ strategies to help us manage the stress.From overstressed to productive

Knowledge is power! When you start to feel anxious or lose focus, it’s empowering to stop and think — I know what’s going on here. When you realize that what is happening in your brain is the normal physiologic stress response, you can take back control. Deep breathing, a walk, or other calming activity can help, but sometimes simply understanding what is happening is enough to pull you back into productivity flow.

Productivity for How You're Wired

I am so happy to share with you that my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired is out!

It truly has been a labor of love.  My most sincere hope is that it will help people work and live better.

Many have asked how they can buy the book. It is available on Amazon.  If you like it, I hope you’ll leave a review.

As a loyal subscriber, you’re invited  to my Virtual Book Launch Party and Book Signing.  It will be on Wednesday September 28th between 4pm and 7pm Eastern Time.  Please put it on your calendar and plan to drop in for as much or as little time as you like.  I have some fun activities planned.  We might even play a game…with prizes!  For those of you who want your books signed, I’ve figured that out too.  I think you’ll love it.  (Zoom link to follow).

In my last blog post I introduced you to the concept of Structure Preference – how much structure you personally need to do your best work.

In this week’s post we’ll use that information to guide you in finding the way you work best.  Knowing what’s unique about how you work can guide you as you craft productivity systems that fit how you’re wired.

David Keirsey, Professor of Psychology, and co-author of the seminal book Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, streamlined the Myers-Briggs® by identifying personality types based on two specific personality characteristics. He theorized that the way one processes information influences behavior. He believed SENSORS are most affected by the way they function in society, while INTUITORS are most influenced by their decision-making processes.

Applying Keirsey’s concepts to productivity inspired my productivity styles: Catalyst, Coordinator, Diplomat, and Innovator. Use your structure preference to narrow your options. If you are Task Priority Focused chances are your either a Coordinator or Innovator.  If you are Relationship Priority Focused you’re most likely a Catalyst or Diplomat.   Review the chart below.

Can you recognize your Productivity Style?

Once you understand your more about yourself, you’ll understand more about how to set yourself up for success.

For example, let’s look at how people with different productivity styles approach doing a to-do list.

  • CATALYSTs thrive with simple systems. They keep it high level by using their list to capture ideas and identify most urgent tasks.
  • DIPLOMATs benefit from taking time to plan their work. Since their tendency is to verbally process rather than write, committing to the system is key. They make it fun by color coding and using creative labels.
  • COORDINATORs love seeing everything in one place. They plan their work and work their plan.
  • INNOVATORs like to plan but can get lost in trying to improve the system. They do best when they use their list to capture ideas and prioritize, and then quickly move into action.

Are you staring to think differently about how who you are affects your best way to do things? If you’ve ever felt like a square peg in a round hole, understanding how who you are impacts how you do things will shift your perspective so you can consider alternative approaches.

Book News:  The book WILL be out next week.  Available for purchase on Amazon next Wednesday, September 7th.  I’ll send a link to you next week when the book is available.

Save the Date: Virtual Book Launch Party – Wednesday September 28, 2022 from 4 p.m to 7 p.m.  Eastern Time.  This will be an open house so please drop in for a few minutes or longer, whatever is good for you. I’ve ordered these amazing custom bookplates so that I’ll be able to “sign your book.”  And we’ll have give-aways, readings, Q&A, and just celebrate.  Zoom link coming soon.

Welcome to The Better Work Better Life Blog – Here I share big ideas to help you think differently about your productivity, your work, and your life. My goal in this series of posts is to summarize the concepts I share in my new book (out next week) Productivity for How You’re Wired. My promise to you, as it’s been for the last 15 years that I’ve been blogging, is to write something short enough that you can read it in the moment.

Structure Preference to Boost Productivity

Understanding your structure preference will help you leverage your strengths and give you context to create systems that work for you.

The concept of Structure Preference grew out of my observations of successful clients over the past 20+ years.  Rooted in situational leadership theory, the same principles apply to organization and productivity. Connecting how you’re wired with how you work (and live) helps identify how much structure you need to be your most productive self. This is the crux of my soon to be published book, Productivity for How You’re Wired.

Why does structure preference matter?

  • It builds self-awareness and helps put in perspective why you are the way you are.
  • It shows you how to adjust a situation to make it fit you, rather than changing how you’re wired to fit a situation. (Think round peg/square hole or square peg/round hole!)

There are two elements to consider when determining Structure Preference:

  1. Priority Focus — how your brain prioritizes work.
  2. Situational Structure — the degree of structure in your work and life.

Individuals do their best work when their priority focus complements their situational structure.

  • Those with a propensity towards task focus excel in low and high structure settings.
  • Those with a propensity towards relationship focus thrive in moderate structure settings.

Your priority focus is inherent to who you are. While small tweaks to your priority focus may help a little, the power is in adjusting your situation to match who you are. Knowing you can adapt your structure to how you are wired is empowering. Understanding how to adapt your situational structure to your highest performing self is the game changer.

In Real Life:

The Covid pandemic did a number on many of my clients’ situational structures.

For those with a Relationship Priority Focus, losing a consistent work schedule, not having to physically be in meetings at specific times, and not traveling to and from the office moved them from moderate to low structure, which isn’t their best fit. By defining work starting and stopping times, creating a work–only zone, and implementing regular planning sessions, they were able to build in enough structure to move themselves back to their moderate structure sweet spot.

For those with Task Priority Focus, the change to routines, shifts in how work was done, and the inability to know what was coming next moved them from high to moderate structure. By identifying top priorities, scheduling team check–ins, and creating personal accountability systems, they were able to move themselves back to their high structure sweet spot.

Can you see how understanding your structure preference can help you be more productive?

Book News: I’m putting the finishing touches on my Book page and Amazon page now.  It’s not quite done but you can learn more here and look at the pre-order information here.  The paperback releases right after Labor Day! (That’s really soon!)  As I’ve learned, there is no pre-order on the paperback. You’ll have to wait until September 7th.  I am working on planning my Virtual Launch Party now.  I’ll share the launch party details with those of you who are receiving this Blog post in your email inbox. If you want to sign up to get on my list and be notified of the Launch Party details you can do that here.