Unpacking Procrastination

A few months back, a client (I'll call her Erica) came to our session in distress about an "overwhelming and totally intimidating" grant proposal she had been putting off  writing for months. With the deadline looming, she was becoming increasingly panicked, and increasingly frustrated with herself because of her "bad time management."  When I encouraged Erica  to talk more about what was going on, she described the following:

"Well first, I have to be able to write compellingly about myself, and  I'm  just not comfortable selling myself.  Second, I'll have to write a crisp, concise description of the project... which my colleagues will review and probably have criticisms of - and the thought of that makes me very uncomfortable.

Then, there is the fact that I've never written a proposal like this before, and will probably have to ask for all sorts of help along the way. And finally, deep down I worry that I might get the grant, and then have to spend the next five years of my life doing this project -- and do I really want to do this project?"

Clearly, this was not a matter of  bad time management -- though Erica had been beating herself up over this on that basis.  What I heard in her story were underlying fears that were keeping her from doing what she needed to do.  These not-uncommon fears were:

  • I'm afraid I'm not good enough (so why even start).
  • I'm afraid I won't do things perfectly (and others will find out I'm less than perfect).
  • I'm afraid of initiating difficult conversations (including asking for help, which for many of us is VERY difficult).
  • I'm afraid of what will happen if I'm successful.

For Erica, the key to getting past her procrastination lay not in doing a better job of managing her time, but in addressing the underlying questions that plagued her whenever she thought about the project.  Until she made time to address her self-doubt, she would never make time to write the grant proposal.

That feeling of being on shaky ground that sometimes accompanies procrastination can be a sign that you are on the edge of your comfort zone.  This is a temporarily uncomfortable state to be in but ultimately a good thing; once you push past the discomfort, your comfort zone will have been expanded.

Next time you find yourself procrastinating on something important to you, take time to ask yourself what is really going on.  In the process of intentionally unpacking your procrastination, you may find the key you need to move past it and get to work.

When you unpack your procrastination, what do you find lurking there?

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