This article was prompted by a recent coaching session with one of my clients, a high performance leader, quite self-aware and focused on self-excellence. She had just completed a successful business review with her VP and was sharing the learning and many benefits she reaped from approaching it, not as a single event she had to “ace,” but rather as one of many steps on her journey to being a strong leader in her industry.
This approach alleviated the pressure that had been paralyzing her, leading her to postpone it a few times. Taking a longer term view allowed her to put things into perspective and protected her from falling into the fear of failing, which in turn allowed her to show up at her best and fully tap into her skills and experience.
We were getting to the end of our time together when she reflected on how happy she felt about the outcome. She had confirmed with her management that she was on the right track from a strategy and execution perspective, received valuable advice she could put into practice immediately, and was very energized by the entire experience.
She was also relieved not to be carrying the weight of the review anymore; “if only I could have known that it would go so well, I would have completed it a long time ago” she said, feeling a bit sorry for the time delay and the worry. This, she added, was not very different from how she used to approach important deadlines in college and how she would procrastinate until she could not delay getting to work on the paper or preparing for the exam any longer.
So we started talking about procrastination: what triggers it in successful, driven, and motivated professionals, and how to become more immune to this self-inflicted scourge. Below are the tips and tricks that emerged from our conversation:
- Becoming aware that we are indeed procrastinating is at the heart of the solution: in other words, the first step is to realize that we have been putting off something important to do for a while. It sounds simple but it took time for my client to figure out that all the reasons she was finding not to get on this review were actually excuses meant to avoid dealing with it. Only when she realized it, she brought the topic of this review in one of our sessions, thus taking action.
- Understanding why we have been avoiding this specific task is next – asking ourselves “what might happen as a result of completing this activity?” or put more bluntly: “what is the outcome I am afraid of?” helps us get to the bottom of what is preventing us from tackling it: for instance recognizing the fantasies we might be creating based on limiting beliefs or assumptions we are making up based on past similar situations. It turns out that my client was afraid that her VP would conclude he had made a mistake hiring her in the role if the review did not go well. This was the first she faced following her promotion to this position, which inflated its importance in her mind.
- Visualizing how we will feel once it is completed is a powerful tool to entice us to get on the task at hand. I asked my client to describe again how she felt after the review- happy, proud, relieved…- and to retain these feelings in order to bring them back next time she faced a similar situation. Actively creating such reservoirs of positive experiences to tap into is an effective self-coaching and personal leadership tool.
- Connecting this task to long term goals. Realizing that the exact task we have been putting off will get us closer to an important goal we have set for ourselves can be the final and maybe the most powerful trick to make us get on with it. Once my client realized that this review was a meaningful step in her journey to becoming an industry leader, she embraced the preparation for the review and the review itself with the same motivation, focus on excellence, and hunger for learning that she usually puts in her work.