“The Now Habit is a strategic system, that is, it goes beyond ‘how to’ advice and presents a plan based on the dynamics of procrastination and motivation.”
The Now Habit, page 6
Do you complete some tasks easily, but put off some of your most meaningful work? When you look at your to-do list, are there some tasks that just never seem to move ahead? If so, The Now Habit may be for you.
I’ve long been a fan of productivity and time-management tools. I love to plan, list and categorize. I have a killer filing system and even a label-maker. I’ve read many books to learn what I can about getting work done.
Despite all these tools, some tasks and projects remain harder to move forward than others. This is where The Now Habit comes in. The Now Habit doesn’t just give tools. Neil Fiore takes the time to explain why we procrastinate so we can deal with the root cause, rather than the symptoms. It makes sense that the author is a doctor, as he takes the approach of diagnosing before prescribing.
The Now Habit covers these areas:
Why and how we procrastinate
How to talk to yourself
The importance of play
Tools to support action
Working in your flow state
“The three major fears that block action and create procrastination are the terror of being overwhelmed, the fear of failure and the fear of not finishing.”
The Now Habit, page 96
Do you procrastinate? Most people do, in some part of their lives. Would you like to stop procrastinating? If the answer is yes, you need to look at the root cause.
Why do you procrastinate? Common answers to this question include “Because I’m lazy” and “Because I don’t feel like doing it.”
Let’s deal with the first response. Procrastinators, in general, are not lazy. Procrastinators usually get things done on time. However, as they put off starting until the last minute, they often feel rushed, stressed and unhappy with the quality of their work.
Now let’s look at the second reply: “Because I don’t feel like doing it.” This is getting closer to the root cause, but we need to dig deeper. The main reasons we put things off are: fear of being overwhelmed, fear of failure and fear of not finishing. There are other emotional reasons that we may procrastinate, for example, as a way of expressing resentment. By uncovering your true source of procrastination you can deal directly with the issue.
Fear of failure can cause paralyzing procrastination and can therefore lead to failure if not addressed. Clare, a woman in her late twenties, went to see Dr. Fiore as she was terrified her procrastination would lead to her being fired. She feared having her way of working criticized, which echoed her childhood experience of feeling like what she did was never good enough for her parents. Through working on her self-confidence and self-acceptance, Clare changed her image of herself as a procrastinator. As she became her own source of approval, she was able to face work without letting external judgements cause fear and inertia.
Talk to yourself
“As you begin to speak to yourself in a language that focuses on results rather than blame, on choices rather than have to, on what is rather than what you think you should be, you will find that your body and mind cooperate by providing a positive energy free from the unnecessary struggles of the past and negative comparisons with the future.”
The Now Habit, page 63
As you learn why you procrastinate, you will begin to discover ways of talking to yourself that are not serving you. Often, when we are trying to get work done, we talk to ourselves in an authoritarian manner, such as “I have to do this” or “I should be working on that”. As one part of the brain tries to push for the work to be complete, another part of the brain resists and rebels. When we hear “You have to do this”, it implies that we don’t want to do it or that we have no choice.
Rather than trying to artificially turn the thought of “I have to do this” to “I want to do this”, look for that third place. Telling yourself “I choose to do this” reclaims your power.
Don loved being an art dealer but hated the management and detail part of the work. When it came to dealing with taxes or sales documents, Don would berate himself saying “I should have kept better records.” When he got the reports completed he’d tell himself “It’s not as good as it would be if I had started earlier.” These ways of talking to himself only reinforced the pattern of procrastination.
By learning to change the way that he talked to himself, Don was able to make progress. If negative thoughts came up, he’d say to himself: “Yes, the records could be better, too bad, that’s in the past. What can I focus on doing now?”
To avoid getting stuck with thoughts that don’t serve you, remember that you are the one in control. Use phrases like “I want, I choose and I decide.” This puts you in the driving seat on the road to productivity.
“Learning to stay with any fear will be much easier when you have weapons that give your brain alternatives to running away.”
The Now Habit, page 97
Now that you’ve taken the time to understand why you procrastinate and learned how to talk to yourself to stay empowered, it’s time for some tools.
Tool 1# – The unschedule
The unschedule is great for people who have a huge project or piece of work to get through. For example, it’s a great way to approach writing a thesis. Many people who work on this task do so with the mindset that their life is on hold until the thesis is written. They will cancel social plans and recreational activities. This creates the feeling of being always working. The antidote is the unschedule. Instead of insisting on putting in a certain number of hours per day on the thesis, the unschedule starts with putting in breaks, leisure activities and social engagements. It puts a limit on the number of hours per week that is acceptable to work. This approach reduces resistance to working, because work is regularly rewarded with breaks and fun.
Tool 2# – The work of worrying
Worrying can be productive, if you let it. When people worry, they think of how hard the task will be and consider the worst possible outcome. Why not channel these worries into making a plan to deal with obstacles and a contingency if the worst should happen?
Tool 3# – Persistent starting
Fear of not finishing is a key cause of procrastination.Persistent starting is the antidote. We can only act in the present, so look to put in thirty minutes of quality work at a time. If you keep focusing on starting, finishing will take of itself.
In what circumstances do you procrastinate? How might The Now Habit help you to move forward in an area that’s important to you?