Procrastination, Accountability and Ice Cream

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I put the Pro in procrastination. It’s my super power. I want to make myself a cape but I never get around to it.

If I can put it off, I will. I am really good at making myself busy with lots of unrelated and non-urgent tasks when a deadline looms. Sound familiar? Emails top my list of distractions. Reading them, writing them and even thinking about who I haven’t emailed in a while. I follow that up with phone calls and then the obligatory desk tidying. (admittedly there is some social mediaing and doodling in there too) Soon enough, I’m sitting at an obscenely clean desk, emails done, cartoon animals doodled on my phone bill and no one left to call. Then the stress hits. Shit! That task that I have put off is now facing me, head on. Like those boxing or MMA posters where the two contenders aggressively stare each other down – except my stare down isn’t as intimidating. I feel threatened. Now I NEED to do it. Stress is now replaced with panic.

The first four letters in the word deadline are now screaming at me.

First off, there are those of you who thrive on the adrenaline rush of an impending deadline. You may be one of them. I like to call them “task masochists”. They greet a ticking clock with the enthusiasm of a kid with an ice cream cone. For the rest of us, when confronted with the looming spectre, we always pray to whom or whatever, promising that we will NEVER do it again. We will follow a calendar. Organize our time better, blah, blah, blah… only to do it again. Why???

Well, let’s go back on ourselves a bit. In the Frankenstein Condition I talk about the Lizard Brain (limbic cortex is the fancy name for it). It’s that part of the brain that loves trouble. It’s lazy and obnoxious.

It feels good to put off a task we don’t want to do. Instead we want to do something fun! Anything, really. The lizard brain, and your monster, love that. The dopamine courses through our brains and off we go day dreaming, netflixing, air-guitaring and ice cream eating. We’re 12 again and it’s glorious! Even for an hour or two. Then, like your parents returning home to witness your out of control house party, your adult returns. Voices yelling and fingers waving. Head down and bottom lip fully extended, you revert to reality.

How do we fix this? We always make amends, promise not to do it again, but why not reverse this way of thinking. Let’s get things done AND make the lizard happy. How about making a deal with yourself? Get that task done first and guarantee yourself a BETTER reward. There is a parenting strategy about delayed gratification where the child can get one cookie now, but if they wait, they can have 2. It works. I’ve tried it. Well, it worked with my kids. When I tried it on myself I just ended up eating the whole bag of cookies and forgot what I was trying to do in the first place. For this to truly work, you may need an accomplice, someone to keep you accountable. I remember my first photo exhibit. Sitting in a coffee shop one day I noticed some artwork on the wall. It was an exhibit of a local artist’s work and I remember thinking, “I can do that”. I had studied photography so that seemed like a good route.

I waved down the server and inquired. They book an artist per month and there was availability in August, 3 months away. I immediately signed up. There it was, my first photo exhibit booked! Problem was, I didn’t have work to exhibit. I’m not kidding. I had plenty of school work but nothing of substance. So I embarked on an artistic journey of exploration and panic. I knew I could do it, I just needed the accountability. My commitment to a date made it real. I have followed that strategy to this day. In fact, I wrote my book by telling people about it. It helped make me accountable. My point is, the exhibit happened. My book was published. I did it – and ate my ice cream too.

Your monster loves to put things off. It thinks the task is boring, it’s been done before, it’s not a good idea etcetera.

Bullshit.

The world needs you and is waiting to see what you do next. As Mark Twain wrote “ 20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” So, go out there, be accountable and kill the deadline!

 

Robert SmithComment