Are you procrastinating on updating your website, writing a new listing presentation, completing an online course, or some other major project?
Procrastination is the No. 1 productivity killer for almost everyone, but I think it’s even more challenging for Realtors, for two reasons:
1. We don’t have a boss dictating deadlines to us, and
2. Our days are unpredictable, so it’s difficult to focus on projects that require our undivided attention.
Tim Pychyl – head of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University – has studied procrastination for over 25 years. Here’s what he has to say on the subject: “Procrastination isn’t so much about our ability to manage time, but it’s actually a form of escapism, a way to cope with challenging emotions brought on by certain tasks; emotions such as boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment and self-doubt.”
It’s not the task itself you are avoiding; it’s those negative emotions!
To illustrate this, just pause for a second right now and think about whatever major project you’ve been avoiding. How does it make you feel?
See what I mean? You’re probably feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Then you start beating yourself up for avoiding the project when you know it needs to get done. But this does nothing to resolve the problem. It only makes you feel worse.
The good news is that procrastination has nothing to do with your character, work ethic or level of self-discipline. You do not need to be fixed. You don’t need to repair any psychological scars from past failures, broken promise, or unachieved ambitions.
In fact, you can fix your procrastination problem right now with these five easy steps:
Step #1 – Forgive and forget
You don’t need to understand why you’ve procrastinated in the past. What’s done is done. Your emotions have been sabotaging you with distraction, redirection and misdirection. Simply accept this and leave it behind.
Step #2 – Take a tiny baby step
A tiny baby step is committing to work on your project for five minutes. Not an hour. Not half a day. Five minutes. Can you do that?
Here is the key: Do not wait until you’re in the right mood. Do not clean up your email first. Do not make that one last phone call. These are all stall tactics triggered by your fear of negative emotions.
Ignore all those distractions and, “Just do it.”
This could be as simple as opening up a document and writing a few preliminary notes for your website project. Or write a list of resources you need to update your listing presentation. The key is to start the work and commit to at least five minutes.
This may sound ridiculously simple, but it’s also shockingly effective. Why? Because taking that first step leads you forward. It breaks through the imagined brick wall you’ve created for yourself.
In the journey of a thousand miles, it truly is the first step that seems the hardest. But once you’ve taken it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that it was so easy. The first step leads to the second and the third. Then, all of a sudden, you can feel momentum carrying you forward.
This is why you need to make that first action as tiny as possible so that you can make it quickly with no friction and no mental or emotional negotiation required.
Five minutes is all it takes to get started.
Step #3 – Make an appointment with yourself
Once you’ve completed the first five minutes of your project, you’re going to want to keep the momentum going. But you have to make sure that what you need to do is easy to do.
One of the essential organizational skills I teach is the concept of “appointments with yourself.” These are times you’ve blocked off on your calendar to work on tasks. But here’s the key: You must honour every appointment with yourself in the same way that you would honour an appointment with your best client or even an appointment with your dentist.
Think about it. It’s 1 p.m. and you have a dentist appointment at 3 p.m. However, your client calls and wants to see a property at 3 p.m. Do you cancel your dentist appointment?
Of course not! You tell your client you’re booked at that time, and you schedule a different time to show the property. Why? Because you respect your dentist’s time.
So here’s an essential personal rule you need to adopt right now: I will honour every appointment with myself with the same level of respect as I treat an appointment with anyone else.
Once you set an appointment with yourself, it is non-negotiable and non-interruptible. If you can’t agree to those terms yet, do not make an appointment with yourself.
On the other hand, don’t get all excited and set up 17 one-hour appointments with yourself! This is a skill that you must practice and master, just like any other skill. For starters, book one more five-minute appointment with yourself, prove to yourself that you can honour it, and then set up another one for 10 minutes or longer. The more times you follow through, the easier it will get, and the more you’ll accomplish.
By doing this, you’re building a foundation for future success at defeating procrastination.
Ted Tip: Always set up appointments with yourself on weekday mornings when they are least likely to interfere with your clients’ needs.
Step #4 – Chunk your project
“Chunking” is breaking down your giant project into manageable chunks, so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Chunking is the first thing you should do when starting a big project: Chunk it out.
Then, tackle one (and only one) chunk at a time. This gives you a feeling of accomplishment and keeps you moving forward. Chunking also helps to minimize the emotion of feeling overwhelmed.
Step #5 – Eliminate distractions
Imagine setting up your desk in the middle of a busy intersection and sitting down to write a novel. Cars are whizzing by blasting their horns, and more than a few drivers are leaning out their windows cursing you out. One particularly nasty fellow tosses his drink at you.
This is the equivalent of you working on your major project while your phone is going off every 30 seconds, while the TV is blaring in the background and the dog scratching at the door, wanting in and out and in and out.
You need to eliminate all that!
Your number one distraction? It’s your phone. You know it. I know it. Your spouse knows it. Your kids know it. Your friends know it. Hopefully, your clients don’t know it.
It’s impossible to get anything done with that thing ringing, bleeping and pinging every 15 seconds. So when you’re in an appointment with yourself, turn it off! You can start practicing this in your very first five-minute session.
And guess what? When you turn your phone back on, nothing terrible will have happened. I promise.
Also, get yourself into a quiet space, close the door, log out of your email, put on your noise-cancelling headphones, whatever you need to do to eliminate all inputs and tugs on your attention from the outside world.
You’ll be amazed at how much work you get done, even in a short session.
As you get better and better at these skills, you will naturally look to re-engineer your environment to root out all the temptations that you once used to help you delay and procrastinate.
If you’re reading this and telling yourself, “it can’t possibly be this easy,” that’s your emotions attempting to control you, once again. It’s time for you to take control of your own brain and stop allowing your emotions to control what you do and what you don’t do.
Credit to Darren Hardy for reminding me how easy it is to defeat procrastination. I’d fallen into a rut and forgotten to follow my own advice. Hey, it happens to all of us. But now I’m feeling revitalized and positive, and I’m accomplishing more than I have in ages.
If I can do it, so can you.