We started our Executive Presence, Gravitas & Structured Thinking challenge by keeping your need for being important and superior to others in check. If you missed that post, please read the previous post first. It is foundational. Today I want to focus on the importance of recovering from perpetual procrastination. We will look at why you procrastinate and how to overcome it.
Is Perpetual Procrastination Holding You Back?
To build an executive presence, gravitas, and the strong communication skills required for advancement – beyond junior levels where technical skills are enough to get promoted – one big obstacle on your way would likely be perpetual procrastination.
Humans tend to stick with the status quo.
You can speak to people, isn’t it enough?
You worked hard in the past to develop your technical skills. Shouldn’t it be enough for you to keep rising up?
Common Procrastinating Example
I see clients procrastinating working on their executive presence and communication skills because they think their current skillset is good enough to get them where they want to go, only to see their careers stall.
Whether you are working for a large consulting firm, major tech company, global bank, prominent government organization, or building your own company, you are not going to get as far as you can go without first understanding that you need a different skillset at this season of your career.
We can define procrastination as choosing to put off doing important things until some later time and instead focusing on smaller, easier tasks that offer immediate gratification.
In our earlier example, people feel comfortable with their technical skillset. It got them where they are now. They may be managing a small team. And they don’t realize that they are starting to hit their limit.
In large organizations, you often see brilliant people with strong technical skills and weak soft skills stuck for decades in mid-level jobs. Yet, seemingly, less talented peers who managed to develop their soft skills are running the place.
Soft Skills Needed for Positions of Influence
Soft skills needed for influential positions and influential work include, but not limited to, getting comfortable speaking in public, doing the work to learn to speak in a way that holds the attention of your colleagues, clients, and superiors, ability to influence even when people don’t have to do what you ask them to do, and finally, building YOUR brand rather than just trying to get by because of your technical skills.
And why haven’t you improve your soft skills sufficiently already?
One, because you don’t know how…
However, you certainly could have figured out someone who could show you the how, if you wanted to, isn’t it?
So, you procrastinated building your soft skills.
Why You Procrastinate
What is the source of procrastination?
It is stress. And as highly driven professionals and business people, we do have a lot of stress.
Procrastination is also a habit. We can break it.
One of the reasons I personally used to procrastinate is I dramatically overcomplicate some of the tasks. I always seek perfection. And the source of seeking perfection is stress.
I would need to make the most of tasks so I would do 100 things on top of what is a minimum, and a task becomes very hard to manage for ANYBODY, including myself, the architect.
You may be doing so as well.
Let me give you an example. Early on, as we were building FIRMSconsulting, I would be doing editing of the programs, to keep our costs low. Now I am still involved, but not to the same degree. When I was very involved, I would not just do simple editing. If we had 5 takes, I would go on a journey trying to extract all pieces of value out of various takes and piece them together as if it was one episode. In the end, our clients got a lot more value because they got multiple examples and multiple ways of explaining difficult topics. But it was a nightmare to manage. I had to remember everything that was said in 5 takes and piece them together in a way that would seem like a consistent episode while as much as possible, avoiding repeating things.
I could not outsource this work to anyone because it required such a high level of skill, concentration, and downright punishing hard work.
What do you think was the result of this?
First, I hated the work. It would make me very tired, and I would struggle to do other work that had to be done.
Second, it took me a lot longer to finish the work versus if I kept it simple.
If you tend to procrastinate, there are ways to improve your productivity.
The key thing to realize is that the source of procrastination is stress.
The task is stressing you out.
You want to do it perfectly because it is IMPORTANT. So, as a result, you are delaying starting to work on it.
For example, you probably realize that people who run your organization or major clients you want to serve seem to possess advanced levels of executive presence, gravitas, and communications skills. You know you need to be at their level to be considered a peer. So why haven’t you figured out a way yet to be at their level?
Procrastinators are addicted to immediate results. They focus on the now. This need for immediate results makes them procrastinate. We tend to fill in our days with tasks that are right in front of us. It is like eating a lot of bread and butter before lunch and leaving no room for actual nutritious food.
Procrastinators rarely are lazy. It is not uncommon for procrastinators to be workaholics. They are actually doing marginally useful things like answering emails, cleaning their email inbox, and checking their email multiple times (giving themselves an excuse that this allows for better client support).
What procrastinators are very bad at is engaging in the most important activities.
What Can You Do to Stop Procrastinating
1. I know it may sound strange, but the way you can motivate yourself to do important tasks is by having something even more important and difficult to do. If you are always avoiding the most difficult task, create even more difficult tasks to avoid. Then the tasks you actually need to do will more likely get done as in your mind they no longer will be that much of a burden.
So, for example, given you know you need to build your executive presence and communication skills for you to build your professional brand and advance, find other things that are much harder to do in your mind. You don’t need to share it with anyone. It can be something like a trip to Antarctica because you always wanted to join the Antarctica Swimmers Club.
2. Eliminate or delegate unnecessary tasks from your life.
3. Schedule how long your tasks can take. Otherwise, because of Parkinson’s law (Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion), the other tasks will expand and take over your day.
4. I found it helpful to work in what I call 25 minutes pomodoros (referring to the Pomodoro time management technique). It allows me to keep being reminded if I am focusing on the right things since I have to reevaluate my focus area once the alarm goes off I take a 5 minutes break and then evaluate what I should focus on before I start the next 25 minutes piece. And if I get into the flow, I turn off the alarm.
What I shared today should be enough for you to start creating some serious cracks in your procrastination habit so you can tower over it and get rid of it for good. And so we can focus on helping you develop the next portfolio of skills you need to go from individual contributor or a person who is managing a small team to being an influential leader.