What’s keeping you from getting there?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

The alarm goes off and you jump out of bed with the best of intentions. You have a long to-do list and today is the day you’re going to check those boxes. Check, check, check, check, then – oh. There it is — that one task — the one you’ve been avoiding. That one that has been looming over your head like a dark and thunderous storm cloud, carrying in its dark and grey shadows a sense of dread and trepidation. And with each day that passes without working on it, the bigger and stormier that cloud gets, to the point where it begins to wake you at night and give you that sick, pit-in-your-stomach feeling when you think about it. You know that you have to start on it. But instead of diving in and tackling it, you jump on social media, and before you know it, you are watching videos of cats jumping in the air when they spy a cucumber lying nearby. And at the end of the day — that sick sense of dread is still there. Can you relate?

Procrastination is a choice we make that can really eat at our drive for achievement. I like how Christopher Parker put it: “Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.” So true!

To procrastinate means to avoid doing something that we ought to be doing, and most likely, spending time doing ‘more enjoyable’ things in place of the task at hand. This avoidance can take the shape of spending time on less-urgent matters or simply running from the task completely. Achievement drive is a valuable competency of emotional intelligence and without it, we find it hard to accomplish our goals. People who are overflowing with achievement drive set high professional (and personal) standards and continually strive — yes strive — to not only meet those standards, but to go above and beyond. Those without it tend to do only what’s required of them and don’t like to stretch themselves to accomplish challenging tasks.

“Procrastination makes easy things hard, hard things harder.” — Mason Cooley

In grad school we were given the task of developing a research project around our topic of study and to go out and gather responses to a specific set of questions, recording the answers with a scientifically-based and statistically-reliable methodology. The project contributed to a good portion of our semester grade and was going to take more than a couple of hours to complete. “It’s a good idea that you get started on this one early”, our instructor stated. I immediately started worrying about what topic I would choose and whom I would include in my focus group. But instead of going home and at least brainstorming some ideas, I tucked the assignment away and tried not to think about it for the next few weeks. With each passing day the project grew bigger and increasingly fearsome than it actually was, until it seemed larger than life itself. This is an impossible assignment! I’ll never finish it on time! Before I knew it I was waking at night sick with worry, but when the daylight came, instead of working on it, I did everything else BUT the project so that when night came again, the dread settled in my bones like a life-sucking parasite.

At the last moment, literally, with about four days to go before due date, out of desperation, I dove into that assignment, and to my surprise, discovered it was very interesting and even — dare I say — fun? I wished I had more time to spend on it but due to my procrastination I only had a couple of days to work on what turned out to be my favorite assignment of the year.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” — H.P. Lovecraft

Remember when Indiana Jones had to step out into nothingness to discover the only way across the ravine? Sometimes taking the first steps into a daunting task can feel that way.

A good way to avoid letting it become seemingly impossible is break it down into smaller, manageable steps…and sometimes forcing yourself to put one foot in front of the other, stepping out into that hazy unknown. Letting a project sit too long untouched can slow down your traction. The sooner you can begin to chip away at a task’s monumental stature the sooner you’ll realize it’s not as prodigious as it seemed. And you might find you enjoy the views along the journey.

 

How to do this?

A simple place to start is to create an action plan:

  • Define the project and make note of the deadline.
  • Take a moment to anticipate how you will feel when you accomplish this project and jot it down.
  • Make a to-do list of the steps needed to take to accomplish the project. Set timelines for each step. These can be daily or weekly, depending on the length of the project.
  • Pick your team. Who will help you, whether it be for research, or task-sharing, or simply to lean into as a source of encouragement? Many hands make light work.
  • Push to the front of the line. Each day, if possible, work on this project first. Allowing yourself to do other tasks may take you off course and prevent you from taking necessary steps toward the goal.
  • Celebrate your accomplishments along the way. Each step achieved puts you one step closer to the grand finale. If it helps, create a visual display to show how much of the project you have conquered each step of the way.

Learning to break down large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks can help you avoid procrastination and become more results-oriented, pushing through the uncertainty that often goes hand-in-hand with something that feels overwhelming. Learning to become more action-oriented and thus develop achievement drive can help you begin to take more risks and work toward a higher standard of excellence. The downside is that you may not get to watch as many cat videos on YouTube. But the sweet taste of accomplishment that comes from reaching your goals and finishing projects will most likely be a bit more satisfying.

“Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.” — Thomas Carlyle

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