It was a frosty winter’s day and the rain was sleeting down as I looked out of the window on the ninth floor at work. My mind was numb as recognition that I had failed to write a report that I was tasked to do almost six months earlier, and worst of all I knew I was capable of writing it, yet what had held me back, what stopped me, why was I procrastinating? Suddenly the answer dawned on me. I was asking the wrong question, and it didn’t matter why I was procrastinating, what was important here was, how I was procrastinating. If I could tap into my strategy for procrastinating then, I would be able to develop a strategy for NOT procrastinating. And so I explored the question deeper. How did I procrastinate?
Well I knew that I didn’t procrastinate in writing my report at home, because this was about work. So it had to be at work and it couldn’t be when I was in all the business meetings, although I did consider whether they were all necessary. And it also wasn’t when I worked through my morning routine at work, because that’s what I was paid to do anyway. “So when was I putting off writing this report?” I persisted with questioning myself and again the answer seemed to jump out at me, it was when I was investigating the loss at work in the afternoons. Now it seemed like I was getting somewhere at last.
Ok, so now that I was clear about where and when I was procrastinating, my next step in overcoming this demon once and for all, was to understand what I was doing in order to procrastinate. Almost as soon as I had asked the question, the answer seemed to come flooding in, and I realised that what I was doing was investigating the loss, finding the loss and sorting out the loss, which at the time seemed like the most important thing to do. After all I reasoned, how could writing the loss report be as important as saving the company millions per annum. I stopped myself and said “what we are exploring here is not what is important here. What is important is about how you have been able to NOT write your report for over six months?”. And by the way, you have just procrastinated twice, while unpacking this”. In the moment that I realised this, I recognised what I had been doing in order to hold back from writing the report on loss. I had been thinking about it, I had been investigating and resolving the loss, and I had been trying to do the whole report all at once. Thinking, taking other actions and not chunking. These were critical in order to procrastinate. I truly felt that I was onto something.
What I was doing, in order to procrastinate, was now evident, so what next? Was I capable of writing this report? Of course I was! I had written many similar reports in the past and was blatantly clear that I could easily write this report, yet something seemed to be holding me back. “Why wasn’t I writing this report?” I questioned myself. Again I stopped myself and realised how easy it is to get distracted and go down the rabbit hole of blaming myself or beating myself up for not having written that report, two more strategies that must exist in order not to take action. Ok, so moving on, what next, now that we know we are capable of writing the report?
As I questioned what was important to me about this report, and what do I believe about this report, the penny dropped. Although it was important to write about loss, in order to help prevent the loss, what became abundantly clear and also my turning point around procrastination, was recognising that I abhorred loss, I despised it so much that wherever I saw loss, I became obsessive about eradicating it to the point where other things (like writing a report) didn’t matter. You see, when I grew up, my father always drummed into me, that I should finish all my vegetables on my plate, and I got the lesson only too well. Now it was ingrained in me not only should I complete that which I start, but I should take care not to waste anything. And so loss was my nemesis. Besides I rationalised, I am the only one seeing this lost therefore, I need to sort out this loss and to stop the company from losing millions. Finally as I looked at who I am in, when it comes to this, I recognised that it was important to me to see myself as someone who completes the things that he starts. As a direct result of a clash in my value system, I managed six months of procrastination in writing my report.
Suddenly clarity reigned, and it was like a six month veil had been lifted from my eyes and I could clearly see that the reason I had been procrastinating was because it was more important to me to sort out the loss, then it was to write a report on it. This, I was determine to change. And so any areas of loss resolution, I handed over to a colleague, and dedicated two full days to writing and completing my report.
My boss was surprised when I handed in my report and said that he thought I had forgotten about the report. Then all hell broke loose, the severity of the loss was quickly escalated to senior management, who intervened by bringing in a team of specialists to assist resolve all the areas
of loss that I had identified in my report, saving the company hundreds of thousands. And so my learning was that when we procrastinate, it may be an indicator that there is a higher learning present, and that when we seek out the answer in order to resolve the procrastination, then we may realise that what we want to do may be more important than not doing it.
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