The frog that isn’t – a fresh look at procrastination

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One of the rewards of being a business coach is to be able to watch people get past whatever is stopping them from making the progress they want to make. From my impartial standpoint it can look quite ridiculous to watch someone attempt to justify why they avoid a task, conversation or decision.  Yet permanently solving procrastination is a much more elusive goal. In todays rant I explain some ideas to help you understand why you procrastinate. It is through this understanding that you have the best chance of overcoming it.

I love Brian Tracy’s book, Eat that Frog. In it he explains a strategy for overcoming procrastination. Imagine that someone gave you a live frog and instructed you that, by the end of the working day, you had to eat it. When is the best time to eat the frog? The answer is straight away. Better to get it done so that you don’t spend all day staring at it, thinking about its slimy wriggling body having to go in your mouth. Now you replace the frog with the task(s) that you least like to do and, bingo. You get the point?

I’ve used this tool with many of you when there is something you should be doing but you are avoiding. Yet, whilst Eat that Frog is a useful tool it doesn’t really deal with two key things

  1. The possibility of choice – in the metaphor there is no choice but to eat the frog. In business there is an endless array of choices about how we spend time. In positions of leadership there are always other things you could choose to do instead of eating your frogs.
  2. It’s not a frog – the idea that the task in hand is a frog and is difficult or uncomfortable is a thought. You have created a pattern response to how you perceive some tasks. They just look like ‘frogs’ from your perspective.



The nature of tasks

When you are faced with a task (and this might be a decision or a conversation) you have four options

Do it – there are lots of tasks that you just get on and do (you wouldn’t have a business if you didn’t). If you find yourself selecting certain tasks over others it is telling you something about how you see the world and yourself

Delegate it – You can get other people to do tasks. In fact a commercial enterprise almost always involves the skills and talents of a variety of different people for it to work. However, it is worth examining your choices in delegating. Are you delegating tasks for the right reasons or simply because they look like frogs to you? If you didn’t think of the task as one of your ‘frogs’ would you be the best person to do it?

Defer it – You can choose to delay the task or de-prioritise it. The nature of business requires you to constantly make prioritisation choices. But, once again, challenge your motives!!! Am I deferring this task because it is low priority or am I deferring because I don’t like it?


Defeating the frogs

One of my cornerstone coaching principles is this; wherever it is you are trying to get to there is always a path of least resistance to get you there. This path isn’t always the most comfortable or even the easiest, but it is the most direct. Procrastination only becomes an issue if it is making you deviate from this path. Let me explain with an example from my own life.

Last year I was in conversation with a lady I met at a networking event who was also a business coach. She had been really struggling with generating business leads and asked my advice. I gave her this: Go and buy a data list of businesses that fit your target client; write a nice letter (she was a business coach so I assumed she would understand how to write good copy), post the letter to one hundred owners and then three days later give them a call and invite them to a meeting.

 She looked at my like I had asked her to eat a lorry full of frogs. “I couldn’t possibly do that. There must be an easier way?”. I told her that for all of my work with telemarketers and fancy email campaigns, the path of least resistance for coaches is to pick up the phone. Sometimes I do this but, I’m not going to lie, I still find it a struggle at times.

 So defeating your frogs forever requires that you are prepared to be brutally honest with yourself. There is nothing to be gained from beating yourself up for not doing what you know you should be doing. Focus instead on what you believe your thinking is trying to protect you from, by stopping you taking action.

It almost always comes down to either the fear of failure (it won’t work, I will do it wrong or it will be too hard) or fear of rejection (people will say no or will judge me). These codings are so fundamental to human neurology that they can seem impossible to overcome. They drive a feeling of unease that translates into procrastination.  Yet some people still do these challenging things. So how do you push past the point of procrastination?

You could try actually enjoying and throwing yourself wholeheartedly at the task in hand. It is only how you are thinking about the task that makes it a ‘frog’ after all. Find the bits of it that you really enjoy or even try different approaches (for example I will often go for a walk around a nature reserve while making my ‘frog’ calls).

If you still feel uncomfortable then notice and accept the feelings for what they are. Then take the action.

If you don’t act you get caught up in a procrastination loop. You think about the task and decide you are not in the right mind state so you defer it until you are in a better state. The better state can never be obtained though because the frog is still in your head and is now compounded by guilt. This is the procrastination loop.

However, just like a trip to the gym, if you push through the inertia and get into action, you know that the feeling afterwards is almost euphoric.

I have noticed that ‘frog’ tasks don’t come pre-loaded with motivation. The motivation comes after the action. It’s a bit like a trip to the gym. Once you’ve finished and showered you feel like a million dollars. So it is with frogs.

The way to conquer them is to understand why they feel difficult and take responsibility for getting the job done anyway.

A final thought on procrastination

In a final twist there are also times when the feeling of procrastination is arising for the right reasons. Perhaps your timing or approach is just not right and you know it because you feel it. Discerning the difference between protection based procrastination and genuine wisdom is one of the hallmarks of true personal leadership.

So what’s your frog for the week?