When it comes to overcoming procrastination, I am indebted to one of my seminary professors, Dr. Alva Parks. Up until the time I was in his class, I had justified myself about being late on almost every assignment. He stunned me with his reaction when I was late with my first assignment in his class. He immediately set up an appointment for us to discuss why I would never be late again. When I say immediately, I am not kidding, right there in front of the entire class, he set an appointment.
When I arrived on time at his office, I brought with me all my best excuses. I had a full load at school and worked three part-time jobs. It was hard to juggle all that I had to do but I had to pay bills.
Dr. Parks looked at my schedule and taught me how to plan out how I could meet every deadline without stressing out. He also insisted that I give up one of my jobs. Further, he suggested that when the second temporary job ended that I would not take on another one. His tone was forceful. The one thing I recognized was that he desired for me to be my very best. He knew that could not happen if I chose to continue to procrastinate.
Here are the six valuable lessons I learned as a result of our meetings.
1. It is important to discover the “Why” behind procrastination.
I usually made the choice to procrastinate because I didn’t want to face the issue or project at hand. Sometimes I procrastinated because I was uneasy or fearful about speaking with someone. Occasionally I sensed I was inadequate or unprepared to complete a task. Many times I felt like something was so simple that I didn’t have to give it much time. After delaying to the last minute, I would find out it wasn’t as simple as I thought and I would end up being late. Boredom was a big reason for procrastination. I never felt like getting in a hurry to do something that I was going to bore me.
Once I discovered the reason behind why I procrastinated, it gave me the ability to make definite decisions to help me overcome those issues.
2. Reverse calendaring.
I need to place all my known deadlines on a calendar. Then I need to look at the project and break it down into steps. Then working backward from the deadline date, I can put each of the steps on my calendar. I cannot overbook any one day. It is important that I do every task listed on a particular day. I have to be realistic about my schedule. Many of my projects end up with action points over a three to six-week period.
3. Focus on one task at a time.
I watched a lion tamer once and was told how he controlled the powerful beast. He used multiple focal points to keep the lion distracted. The lion became powerless by becoming distracted. When I try to work on more than one thing at a time I am just as powerless as that lion. Yet, the lions’ strength was not gone, just unfocused. All my abilities are still available and the focus can make me capable of regaining my power.
Focus is effective. I needed to use my focus to drive my projects and ideas to completion. I couldn’t let distractions, which are always there, rob me of the power.
4. Develop a routine.
I had to establish clear times in each day that I was going to commit to completing different items. Some of these items would occur over and over many times. I learned the importance of setting up a systematic way to handle these tasks. Responses to letters, emails, texts, etc., are written ahead of time as a generic response which can be altered to fit each situation. I learned that I did not have to recreate everything from scratch each time. With this one trick, I have set up many systematic actions that have saved hundreds of hours over the years.
The hardest thing that Dr. Parks asked me to do was to take things out of my schedule. I come from a very workaholic background and have always had the drive to fill every minute. As a result, I had become mediocre in each of the areas in which I worked and studied.
Once I agreed and did what Dr. Parks asked, it took me a while to be okay with the change. Later, I was so thankful for the permission he gave me to say no to things that did not fit in my goals. I needed to break free of the unhealthy habits that fed my procrastination. I found that I actually had the ability to achieve much more, at a much higher level, than I had ever produced before. For the first time I felt confident and capable.
My visit with Dr. Parks did not end in the way that I expected. He was a busy professor and definitely did not have time to invest in one of the hundreds of students. But he chose to. Throughout the semester he required regular check-ins where he held me accountable for what was on my calendar. He didn’t ask for permission to do this. He just did it. I am so thankful that he did. I still have accountability partners that I give permission to hold me to my schedule.