PODCAST 03: Procrastination

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Transcript and show notes:

Hi everyone, welcome to From Hustle to Hell Yes. I’m your host, Emily Carter of Change Agent Studio. If you believe that entrepreneurship is a tool for freedom and improving your life, you’re in the right place. 

Today I’m answering a question from someone in my Facebook Group community, who asked about procrastination. And I’ll be honest with you here - I totally procrastinate on things sometimes. In fact, a lot of what I talk about here on this podcast is stuff that I’m still finding more layers to - for myself and in working with clients. And here’s why I’m telling you this: The self-improvement / personal growth industry has a problem. It tells you to listen to a master expert who has all the answers. And this is a problem because really no one has THE ONLY ANSWERS for you. They can’t. They aren’t you, living your experience. So I’m not going to tell you to take step 1 - 2 - 3 - and 4 and like magic you’ll be rolling in more time, energy, and money than you know what to do with. Instead, I’m going to ask you questions that lead to clarity and share experiments for you to explore what ACTUALLY works for you.

I’m not some kind of all-knowing sage. Instead, I do my best to be your guide on the side instead of a sage on the stage. This work is about exploring, and I’m bringing you tools that can help with your discovery and speed your progress. My intention here - and in the Facebook Group - and in my coaching - is always always always to help you uncover your own wisdom and really OWN IT. You are the CEO of your business. You’re the CEO of your life. My hope for you is that you’ll come to trust your intuition through these conversations and experiments.

Before we begin, I want to share a little story about procrastination from one of my all time fave writers, Ann Lamotte. In her book Bird By Bird she shares advice about writing. Even if you have no interest in ever writing a book or anything it’s a treasure trove of excellent advice about creative work. And she begins the book with this story. She says, “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”  And whenever procrastination pops up, I think about that story.

So let’s dig into this question from the community: 

With my day job, it was easy to feel like getting right to work. I had the structure of an office and coworkers to reinforce that. As an entrepreneur, I find myself procrastinating on what needs to be done, avoiding doing my client work until the last minute. How do I tame my procrastination and re-gain focus?

Y’all this is a GREAT QUESTION - and one that a LOT of entrepreneurs bump up against at some point. I’m going to cut right to the chase here:

Procrastination has to do with just a few core feelings - and they can manifest in a variety of ways, but when you dig beyond the surface, you’ll often find it’s one or a mix of these 3 things: 

  • Not knowing where or how to begin.

  • Feeling overwhelmed.

  • Fear. This might even manifest more as uncertainty.

Now the writer references not having this issue in an office setting. They felt more compelled to work, and I wonder if they’re feeling like that atmosphere was more conducive to getting down to business. Without a lot more detail to go on, I’m going to just give some examples of what might be going on there and some tools with how to deal with it:

  • Peer pressure - aka: Accountability

    • Nothing cuts through our personal resistance to working like the guilt or pressure we feel to be productive around our boss and coworkers… Accountability can be a powerful driving force to BEGIN working, and that’s the hardest part most of the time. If you don’t know where to begin, accountability will force you to go through the motions anyway. This is the ONE AND ONLY TIME that I will tell you faking it til you make it is a useful tactic and not one that takes away your power. In this case, it’s helpful. If you don’t have that accountability, or if you feeling like you don’t really know how or where to begin with your work, then I recommend trying out the Pomodoro method. Not to get too in the weeds with tactics here, but the Pomodoro method is basically setting a timer for 25 minutes and committing to working on one thing during that time frame. Maybe it’s answering emails or getting started on a project - and when the timer goes off, you take a 5 or 10 minute break - like an actual break, getting up and moving around, not scrolling insta, ok? and then rinse and repeat. Use whatever amounts of time make sense here for you, but I recommend less than an hour of work and at least 5 minutes for break. AND I recommend using a timer that doesn’t jar you out of your thought process. Nothing is more annoying than being interrupted mid-thought and that thought just disappearing into the ether. Use something gentle to remind you to stop! Just getting started and having a limited time to do it can help you break through that cycle of not knowing where to begin. Also, this method can help with the feeling of overwhelm by forcing you to focus on one thing for a period of time before moving on. When we’re overwhelmed we have the tendency to jump from task to task, doing a little here and a little there, but it’s not the way to make efficient progress and can actually make the overwhelm worse.

  • A place for working where that’s the only thing to do - aka- cutting through the distractions

    • Even if you aren’t thinking about the dirty dishes in the sink or how the laundry is waiting to be folded, if you’re working from home, there’s a lot more impacting your senses. Your brain might be keeping tabs on a lot of stuff going on around you that being in an office prevented, and that might be overwhelming your senses. It might also be about what happens in our brains as we’re ON OUR WAY to the office. This transitional time is something that happens so automatically, so imperceptibly, the shift is so natural that we don’t even notice that’s what’s happening. I noticed that since I’ve had to work from home, I REALLY miss my commute! Not that it was particularly fun and enjoyable, but I could tell that something happened to my brain during that transitional time, that was NOT happening without the commute. If this resonates with you, creating a routine that makes you leave the house for 10-15 minutes - say, driving the car around the neighborhood or taking a walk, and THEN going to your ‘home office’ and getting down to business can supremely helpful. This one has been a BIG ONE for me. When I launched Change Agent Studio, I was all set to work from the coworking studio down the street. It’s a place I loved to work at and felt so creative and positive there. And then a few months into this adventure, COVID shut down so many of our community spaces and frankly - I really really miss SO MUCH about having a separate space for working, even if it’s only for a few hours a day.

  • I also want to point out that as an employee, you probably wore only a few hats, but you had colleagues that were in charge of other things that were connected to your work. At the very least, you were not in charge of some things there, that you are definitely in charge of now as an entrepreneur - and frankly, even your taxes are probably a bit more complex. Even though you know your work - the stuff you get paid for - you may have some learning curves in that other stuff like paying quarterly taxes or marketing your services or another area of business that wasn’t necessarily part of your previous career’s work. Now that may not seem directly correlated to getting yourself to sit down and get to it, BUT if any of those things are stressing you out in your business, they are going to impact your ability to do the work, and that really can manifest as procrastination. This might feel like overwhelm or uncertainty more than anything else. So where is that coming from?

    • It might be that you have more quantity of projects that are going on at one time that require more of your attention because they are maybe more diverse than your employment situation was - so they require more of your brain space.

    • It might be that you’re looking at the months ahead and worrying about income streams, and that fear is paralyzing you in ways you aren’t used to because it’s a new feeling and a new thought.

    • It might be that you need a little more social time. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but hear me out. In a typical office situation, there are lots of opportunities to chat briefly to folks who know our work. As a solopreneur, this is not the case at all and it can be VERY isolating. Those conversations and social breaks, the ability to share what you’re working on with someone who cares about it and is not your client or your significant other - this is so incredibly important, and if you’re someone who processes things in conversation (and I would venture to say that is a lot of folks) it’s doubly so. Being a solopreneur is isolating and can be a very lonely place. Sometimes that manifests as procrastinating because we haven’t processed something we need to process in order to make progress in our work. This is PARTICULARLY true in creative work. (And to be honest, I would be hard pressed to identify any kind of entrepreneurship that isn’t creative… I can’t think of a single entrepreneur who is NOT doing incredibly creative work). Having a space that is just for work is my ideal. SO - If there’s a coworking studio near you, it might be worth the investment to create that “going to work” feeling that revs your brain for being productive, AND prevents those distractions that can creep in when we’re at home. An added bonus of hitting up a coworking studio is that you meet people there. Never underestimate the incredible value that networking can bring to your business, not just in making connections but in the opportunity to be inspired by other folks.

  • Procrastination may also be your unconscious mind trying to give you a bit of wisdom. For example, I found myself procrastinating on a project for a client and couldn’t seem to get started. I wanted to, I’d sit down to work on it, and then just couldn’t move forward. VERY unusual for me, and it was very specific to this one project. Something just told me to hold my horses and slow down, to think a bit longer before acting. And of course, you know what a cheerleader I am for being in acton… so what was the deal? Well, as it turns out, there had been a major miscommunication, which only became clear later: they had said one thing but had interpreted it as another. And it became really obvious in reading other communications, in hindsight after we discovered that we were using the same words, but actually meaning two totally different things. Even though I couldn’t put my finger on it, I think that some how my mind had picked up on the dissonance and I just couldn’t consciously move past it.

  • ONE last thing: If this is a new behavior for you, consider that we’re all collectively going through some shit. We’ve all GLOBALLY spent the last year confronting a pandemic, confronting racism on a whole new level, and in the US (and perhaps elsewhere, I admit I don’t know exactly how other countries are fairing on this front) - we’re confronting some very difficult political situations. There is a tension in our lives that has been brought to the forefront of the collective, and there’s no way it isn’t impacting you in some way. Consider that one of the reasons you’re having trouble focusing or getting started is that this situation is weighing on you. I wish I had a silver bullet for this one, but I don’t. I’ll tell you though, that what has helped me personally the most in this area is getting active about it. Confronting the discomfort in conversation with my partner and close friends, journaling, and taking action in ways that help me to feel more empowered. And this is something I want to talk more about in this podcast - not only can we experience more freedom of time, energy, and money for ourselves through entrepreneurship, we can also be incredible sources of influence for positive change. Our businesses are microcosms of the world we’re creating, and we can be very intentional about what that looks like within our business - from what vendors we use to who and how we hire contractors and virtual assistants. That’s not our focus in this episode, but look for a LOT more on that over the course of this year.

So those are some things to check in on with yourself, because knowing WHY you’re procrastinating, knowing what particular resistance is showing up for you, will lead to the solution for your particular flavor of procrastination because you’ll be addressing the root instead of the symptom. Sometimes just being aware of the root of the problem can make it easier to move beyond it!

Alright y’all. I hope this helps you figure out a little more about your own particular flavor of procrastination. And I hope that you’re getting a taste of the freedom of time, energy and money that entrepreneurship can give you - and celebrating that - while aiming for more.

Thanks for tuning in for this episode today. If you’re out there listening and have a question, email me at emily@changeagent.studio and let’s get some A’s to your Q’s! 

Thank you so much for listening. There are hundreds of thousands of podcasts out there, and I’m stoked that you’ve chosen to listen to this one.

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