Over the years, I’ve come to think of myself as a procrastinator and even…lazy. I believe that I lack self-discipline. “I was never taught that,” I explain.
It’s true. Things were pretty casual in my house when I was growing up, and other people’s homes that had that air of productivity and order always struck me as sort of stifling.
I always did enough to get by—I mean, it could be worse. Still, my M.O. on long-term school assignments, for example, was to whip something out right before (or just after!) the deadline and still pull off a B for the semester because I could do well on tests. After all, during a test, keeping my butt in the chair and working was well enforced.
This even carried over into my work life. In one of my first jobs as a data processing clerk, I remember handing over to my replacement an enormous stack of filing that I’d simply put off. (Although, really, if that filing had needed to be done, wouldn’t someone have noticed I wasn’t doing it? But that’s a topic for another day.)
At the same time, there were tasks that would suck me in. When I first learned how to write macros in WordPerfect (back in the days when you actually had to write the code), I spent hours and hours developing macros for nearly every task I did on the word processor. I loved the logic puzzle it presented and had no trouble at all applying myself to that. Likewise, I would stay up past my bedtime writing novels on my Smith-Corona, with no taskmaster or whip in sight.
But that work felt like goofing off, and I developed a very solid image of myself as a shirker and procrastinator in spite of this evidence to the contrary. I’ve carried that self-image with me throughout my life, even while creating vast quantities of original curriculum, planning and executing a nine-month camping trip, and raising a child.
We all have our preferred activities and those that create resistance. Why are we so quick to notice when we don’t get things done and overlook the times when we do?
Choosing to identify with the part of ourselves that does take action, follow through and produce can be a key to developing the habits that allow us to get more done.
When we identify with the part of us that resists and procrastinates, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a habit in both thought and action (or inaction).
The next time you’re faced with a task that you resist doing, try tapping into the part of you that can be productive and committed to a task. What does it feel like when you’re in that mode? Can you transfer the satisfaction you get from doing something engaging to the task at hand?
Also make a point of noticing what you do accomplish just as much as what you don’t accomplish. If you didn’t get to a bunch of items on your to-do list, what did you do instead? Can you give yourself credit for some of those things?
It’s especially important to notice the steps you took in the right direction, even if they were small. Did you at least look up the phone number for that call you’ve been putting off making? Did you spend a few moments thinking about one of the characters in your book and where you might take them next? All of these types of actions count as productivity because you can’t get to the finished product without them.
Lately I’ve been playing with www.TaDaList.com and www.iDoneThis.com as a way to keep track of all that I accomplish. It’s a great way to wrap up your day and reinforces the idea that “I get stuff done.”
When you look in the mirror, instead of viewing yourself as a procrastinator, try identifying instead with your productive self. Over time, you’ll start thinking of yourself as someone who gets things done. You always were, but once you’ve internalized that belief about yourself, there’ll be no stopping you.
Have you developed identities that bring you down instead of inspiring your best work? Please share your thoughts in the comments.