I once attended a business-training meeting in Honolulu with a CEO from out of town. After the training concluded, my wife and I were invited to accompany this man, his family, and a small group of friends on a chartered boat the following day. I was honored by the invitation and, admittedly, I was also excited for the wonderful opportunity it would be to get to know this man on a personal level.
We lived about an hour from the harbor, but we planned to leave our home especially early to ensure that we would arrive on time. The following morning, however, I got caught up in other things, and our departure time kept getting pushed later and later as I rushed to complete these “important” tasks. Ironically, I can’t even remember what it was I was working on at the time, but what I do remember, what I will never forget, is standing on the dock with my wife, watching the boat coast around the point and out of view.
I had procrastinated, and I had—literally—missed the boat.
Procrastination threatens to rob us of those things that are most important in our lives and business.
As the saying goes, “Time waits for no man.” In short, when we procrastinate, we risk missing the boat.
Don’t Miss Out
More important than missing an actual boat is missing out on implementing those so-called “stupid ideas”—those ideas that have been pressing on your mind but you haven’t found the time (or had the guts) to do anything about them.
What if the key to success, creativity, and “the next big thing” lies in the potential of those stupid ideas? Don’t let procrastination kill your potential.
Drawing from my book, The Power of Starting Something Stupid, the following are six steps to help us overcome procrastination so you can make your stupid ideas (innovation, dreams) a reality.
Step 1: Make Time
We must consciously set aside time to work toward our most important goals. According to Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” By this measure, if we do not make time for the things that matter most, the other less important tasks of the day will inevitably seep into every minute available to us, leaving no time leftover for the most meaningful pursuits in our lives.
You must never find time for anything, if you
want time you must make it.”
— Charles Buxton, British social reformer and philanthropist
Step 2: Simplify
Overcoming procrastination is not, I repeat, not about cramming additional work into your day—that would be unsustainable over the long haul toward success. Rather, overcoming procrastination is about simplifying your life to make space for the activities that matter most.
The famous artist Hans Hoffman once said, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” Likewise, the ability to overcome procrastination requires eliminating the unnecessary tasks in your life so that there is room to engage in what is most necessary to achieving your high-potential goals.
“Things which matter most must never be at
the mercy of things which matter least.”
—Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Steps 3 through 6 are what I call the Four Ps of Overcoming Procrastination in starting your stupid idea: Make your idea Public, Planned, Pleasurable, and Painful.
Step 3: Make Your Stupid Idea Public
Tell someone else what you’re trying to do. There is great power in the right kind of accountability.
Effective accountability is achieved in different ways for different people. Some find power in sharing their plans through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the like. These individuals are inspired by the amount of gravity a large and very public accountability group provides. On the other hand, it can be equally effective to simply tell a trusted friend.
The key is to find people to whom you feel accountable. Notice that I did not say someone you know will hold you accountable. If there is a person or group that you’d feel deep regret facing after breaking a promise, that is the perfect form of accountability for you. It is infinitely more effective than someone who is simply willing to crack the whip in your behalf.
“Leaders in every single institution and in every single sector … have two responsibilities. They are responsible and accountable for the performance of their institutions, and that requires them and their institutions to be concentrated, focused, limited.”
—Peter F. Drucker
Step 4: Plan Your Stupid Idea
Dreams don’t get done until they’re due. It is easy to find time to do everything else, except follow our dreams. This is because other important things in our lives have due dates—bills are due, assignments are due, even babies are due. If your dreams are never due, they’ll never get done.
To effectively overcome procrastination, create a specific performance plan for your goal.
• Break your overarching goal into smaller, more manageable ones. These smaller goals are what management gurus refer to as “S.M.A.R.T.”:
° Specific: Goals must clearly express the expectations required for successful completion.
° Measurable: There should be a system in place to effectively measure progress.
° Attainable: Goals must be realistic.
° Relevant: Goals should be a significant step toward your ultimate end in mind.
° Time-bound: Goals must be assigned a deadline.
• Set aside specific time to work toward your S.M.A.R.T. goals. It’s not enough to simply say, “I’m going to work toward my goals for three hours this week.” It is more effective to say, “Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 8 to 9 a.m., I will work on these specific steps.”
• Engage your accountability team in your plan so that when due dates for specific tasks arrive, you will be required to openly report on your progress. If followed effectively, this process will help you get stuff done.
If followed effectively, this process will help you get stuff done.
“The great majority of people are “wandering generalities” rather than “meaningful specifics.”
Step 5: Make the Process Pleasurable
In order to stay on track and avoid falling back into procrastination, you’ve got to reward yourself along the way. Pleasurable rewards must be things that are immediately available, such as going to the movies, spending time with people you enjoy, or eating at a favorite restaurant. Don’t reward yourself with a vacation, for example, unless the vacation is happening immediately.
The pleasure doesn’t have to be elaborate. For instance, if the Internet is a consistent portal to procrastination, but you can’t live without it, tell yourself you can’t log on to the Internet until you’ve completed a certain task. If you’re a fitness buff, tell yourself you can’t exercise until you get that task done—that’ll get you moving.
“The reward of a thing well done is having done it.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Step 6: Make the Process Painful
Assign a negative consequence if you don’t complete specific tasks on time. This consequence can be in the form of having to do something you don’t want to do, or it can be losing a privilege or possession you really love. Either way, the negative consequence must be significant enough to be a compelling motivator.
You may want to consider joining a movement such as stickK.com; that is, if losing your hard-earned money is coercive enough to keep you committed. StickK.com is a revolutionary service designed to help people overcome procrastination and get stuff done. Essentially, you go to the website, set a goal, and then put some money on the line to incentivize you to achieve your goal. Users can even select a “referee” who will hold them accountable and gather a group of supporters to cheer them on.
“The pain of discipline is far less than the pain of regret.”
The Irony of Procrastination
The ironic thing about procrastination is that it is rarely fully enjoyable, because the time spent in procrastination is simultaneously time and energy spent in worry, anxiety, and regret over what you know you should be doing instead. Thus not only does procrastination keep us from achieving the greatest dreams of our lives, but when we procrastinate, our time is tainted and not as fulfilling as it otherwise could be. And that’s no way to live.
No more tomorrows. Today’s the day.
Richie Norton is the author of The Power of Starting Something Stupid, from which this article was adapted. He is the founder and CEO of Global Consulting Circle, a Hawaii-based boutique international business development company. Visit www.RichieNorton.com or www.RichieNorton.com/Blog.
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