As a coach, I have a dual role of being a detective. A client arrives with a problem they know about, but my job is to help them figure out the problem they don’t know they have.
One typical example is a surface problem of poor time management, including procrastination and distraction.
Although this challenge is genuine, the actual problem has nothing to do with managing time. The real issue is a lack of self-awareness because you can’t change a pattern if you’re not aware of it.
You may call yourself a procrastinator and convince yourself you thrive under pressure, but if you’re not aware of why you do it, you will build this role into your story. The story of ‘I’m such a procrastinator’ becomes your badge of honour and continues a self-sabotage pattern.
Time management = pain management.
Nir Eyal, the author of Indistractable, says time management is about managing discomfort.
At the heart of human motivation is the desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Suppose you associate working on a presentation with a fear of judgement and not being perfect.
In that case, the easiest way to avoid those feelings is to avoid the task with something that provides instant relief, such as scrolling your social media feeds.
Think back to a time when you found yourself procrastinating or being distracted from a task. What were you meant to work on, and what did you land up doing instead?
Understanding your internal triggers.
Now consider the internal trigger and emotion that made you associate the task with discomfort. Rather than view the task as a standard presentation to your team, you have placed the future of your career on this 15-minute presentation.
Then the fear of judgement, fear of not being perfect, overwhelm, and general anxiety shows up. Naturally, it’s more fun to go and tidy your lounge or surf the socials.
Self-awareness is critical to intercepting this pattern so you can change it. Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, says that emotions are data, not directives.
Explore the emotion with a sense of curiosity rather than judgement. As soon as you name the emotion, it loses the power it has over you. Rather than feel anxious about being anxious, make friends with your anxiety. Invite it to sit down with you and unpack it. Are you overwhelmed because of an unclear starting point, or is imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head?
Now that you understand your feelings, you can move to the next step of taking action. Chunk down the task down to help you create progress. Don’t think about the entire presentation but instead focus on the first slide. What is the heading? What is one bullet point you can put down?
It’s the habit of avoidance that generates your anxiety. Momentum is the key to consistent results.
Tap into your body wisdom.
Self-awareness is critical in boosting your productivity because it trains you to tap into your body wisdom. Even if you are fully aware of your feelings of discomfort and have confronted them head-on, you will continue to procrastinate and get distracted if your energy levels are in reserve.
Self-awareness is not only about doing the work but listening to the cues your body is sending you. Consider the following:
· If you didn’t set an alarm clock, would you sleep past that time?
· Do you find yourself at your computer screen reading and then rereading the same sentence?
· Do you find yourself reaching for sugary snacks and caffeine to make it through the morning?
· Do you ever feel exhausted but still charge into your next activity without a break, even though you know you should take a breather?
· Are you losing a sense of presence and falling into auto-pilot as you progress through the day?
· Do you ignore headaches, neck tension and disrupted sleep patterns?
Self-awareness enables you to pay attention to the subtle cues from your body. If you ignore them long enough, they are no longer subtle, and your body will force you to pay attention. Burnout is a typical result of ignoring these cues over a long period.
Typical signs of elevated stress include disrupted sleep patterns, excessive ruminating and anxious thoughts, tension headaches and mental fatigue. Some simple changes will prevent severe consequences to your health and vitality:
· Stand up every 50–60 minutes
· Drink more water throughout the day
· Don’t check your phone first thing in the morning or an hour before bed
· Take a lunch break, even if its 20 minutes
The next time you feel guilty about recovery, ask yourself what is the cost of inaction if you continue on this trajectory of procrastination?
Who is the narrator of your story?
Self-awareness is becoming aware of your internal chatter. That voice in your head isn’t going away, so you might as well get to know it better.
Who is the commentator of your day? The inner critic or the inner coach and cheerleader?
The inner critic is a permanent tenant, but self-awareness allows you to manage it so you can move from a state of ‘mostly inner-critic to a state of mostly inner-coach and inner-cheerleader.’
Consider when you sit down to work on a task, do you encourage yourself through the challenge or tell yourself you’re an imposter, and everyone will figure out that you have no idea what you’re doing?
Are you conditional with yourself, especially when it comes to recovery time? The inner critic leads this conversation and tells you, ‘only if you achieve X this week, I will allow you some recovery time this weekend’.
The inner critic is incredibly mean and conditional, and you will continue to get sucked into these double standards for yourself because you haven’t stopped to question it.
Imagine you have a remote control for this inner critic and inner coach. You can always choose to turn down the volume of the inner critic and crank up the volume of the inner cheerleader. Listen to the words of encouragement and recognition for the progress you have made and the things you can be grateful for.
If you pay attention to the inner critic, your fears of judgement will become paralyzing. Tune into the station of the inner cheerleader by asking yourself the right question at the crucial moment.
· What is this here to teach me?
· What would my 80-year-old self tell me to do?
· How can I grow from this?
· How is life happening for me and not to me?
· How can I now appreciate this as a gift?
· What am I excited about in my life right now?
· What am I grateful for in my life right now?
You can also have an anchor thought or mantra ready in advance to derail the inner critic and drown it out with phrases like:
· I am enough.
· I always figure things out.
· I choose to do today in happiness.
· I am in the process of becoming the best version of myself.
· I have the freedom & power to create the life I desire.
· I choose to be kind to myself and love myself unconditionally.
· My possibilities are endless.
· I am worthy of my dreams.
Self-awareness is not only to battle the inner-critic. Sometimes our inner cheerleader needs to be challenged when arrogance leads us to delusions of grandeur, and our ego takes the driver’s seat.
Self-awareness enables humility and empathy to step up and take over, always serving us better in the long run.
Even our inner-coach can be too loud, leading to analysis paralysis and over-planning, which is really procrastination in disguise.
However, recognizing the voice, naming it, and course-correcting in the moment is the way to stay on purpose with your goals.
Procrastination and distraction are not character defects; they are cues to pay attention to what’s going on for you emotionally and physically. The next time you find yourself distracted, make it a game and get curious.
· What can you learn about yourself that you were not aware of?
· What are the internal triggers that create a sense of discomfort?
· What is your body wisdom trying to tell you?
· Who is narrating your story — the inner critic or inner coach?
Knowledge is never enough. Despite knowing this intellectually, it’s human nature to fall into old patterns. The objective is not about eliminating distraction and procrastination, but rather the next time it happens, you have the self-awareness to identify it sooner and course-correct accordingly.
Now that you are aware of the pattern, you can begin to change it.
Here’s to knowing yourself,