GTD & Procrastination

Procrastination. I hear it all the time. My clients confide in me, “I am procrastinating on sending in the contract/mailing the gift/fixing the appliance/etc…” you name it, I’ve heard it. And just between us, I used to think I was the ultimate procrastinator.

When I first heard David Allen say that the type of people who procrastinate the most are the creative, bright and sensitive ones, I perked up and thought to myself, “Hey, that’s me! Smart and imaginative, how did he know? And how very kind of him to describe us (people who procrastinate) that way…”

The one example that stands out to me of how the GTD methodology resolves procrastination, happened a few years ago… the engine light flashed on in my car. My first thought was, “This is going to cost me thousands of dollars and that’s not in my budget.” I didn’t want to think past the doom and gloom of how much it was going to cost. Also, the idea of getting my car fixed meant figuring out so many other logistics, like do I take it to the car dealership or my own mechanic? On top of that not having a car meant having to coordinate carpooling for myself and my family. The general inconvenience and the unknown overwhelmed me. Every time I would get into the car the engine light would go on and all those thoughts would be triggered in my head. For a couple of seconds I would feel the anxiety but soon I would be distracted by something else and forget about it.

Three months later after seeing the engine light go on yet again, I thought to myself, “OK, this is ridiculous. I need to practice what I preach.” I took out some paper and asked myself what I would like the SUCCESSFUL OUTCOME to be. Just like the engine light in my car, a light went off in my head. I wrote down: R&D engine light in car. Then I asked myself, “What’s the NEXT ACTION to get there?” So I wrote down: Call the car dealership and ask them about the engine light. I started to notice that even though I hadn’t made the call and didn’t know what the outcome of that call would be I felt so much better. I took a moment to reflect on why suddenly I didn’t feel so overwhelmed and stressed about my engine light.

I realized that the two things I did that caused me to procrastinate were:
1) I had a negative definition of the outcome (too much money that I didn’t have in my budget)
2) I focused on the complexity involved in getting it fixed which overwhelmed me so I did nothing.

What I did that got it moving was:
1) I changed the negative definition of the outcome to a positive definition that motivated me (R&D engine light in car)
2) I clarified and defined the next action which simplified what I needed to do so I could relax about the complexity around it. (Call car dealership about engine light in car.)

All this required was a few minutes of focused thinking. Within two weeks my engine light was handled and ended up costing a whole lot less than what I had imagined.

Now, this is just one small example from my life. But I think it has had an enormous impact on me because it’s magnified by the professional and personal decisions, possibilities and responsibilities that come my way each day. It makes sense that this methodology can handle any amount of volume or intensity.

–Meg Edwards

Meg is a coach with GTD Focus, the exclusive partner for the delivery of Getting Things Done® (GTD®) individual coaching in the United States and Canada.

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  1. I just started reading Getting Things Done and found this website. This post about procrastination could be me, but substitute graduate portfolio for check engine light. My biggest struggle is focusing on the complexity of the problem, so I remain in a constant state of stress. The book and this post, specifically, are helping me set specific tasks so I can take steps toward completing the last project I need in order to graduate.

    Along with the portfolio hanging over my head, I also have to get my house ready to sell by the end of March. I have been dreading all the tasks I need to do before I can call an agent.

    Clarifying what I need to do for both projects should help me with my procrastination problem.

  2. Sarah, you don’t need to do anything before calling a realtor, just call. She or he will tell you what you can do to best improve the value of your property. Then you can focus on the steps that will give you the best return on your limited time and money. Maybe the as-is value is $150,000 but if you really clean that bathroom tile, fix one light fixture, and replace the screen door, you can ask $155,000. Now you can look forward to being paid handsomely for simple tasks instead of them being obstacles. Make negatives into positives.
    (I am not a Realtor, my wife is)

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