Life Coaching Tip: Let go of procrastination shame. You just may be a sprinter who likes to work with quick bursts of intense effort and is inspired by a deadline. What’s the difference? A procrastinator feels pressured by a deadline, while a sprinter feels inspired. This means the only true difference between these two “types” comes down to your thoughts about deadlines, and you get to decide!
“What if you’re not actually a procrastinator? What if you’re a sprinter instead?”
That’s the question I asked my client, Kyle, after he confessed that he still had not finished gathering all of the documents he needed from his business to take to his tax accountant, and it was go time.
“I’m such a procrastinator,” he told me. He looked defeated and ashamed.
I wasn’t at all surprised by Kyle’s demeanor. Often, when clients tell me they are struggling with procrastination, they tend to feel frustrated and embarrassed.
And I get it. In our culture, procrastination is largely viewed as laziness, a failure of self-regulation or poor time management. Others see it as a kind of avoidance behavior, a maladaptive way of coping when people fear or dread the looming task ahead.
And so, it’s no wonder that those who see themselves as procrastinators feel shame and guilt as they scrambled to make a deadline. And then, this can be just another reason to put a task off, creating a perpetual, self-defeating cycle.
Therefore, the first order of business when dealing with procrastination is to ditch the label. We must be willing to look at what is actually happening with curiosity rather than self-judgement and bring in some self-compassion and forgiveness.
In her book, “Better than Before”, habits expert Gretchen Rubin distinguishes between the three ways people tend to approach a deadline based on their preferred pace:
- Marathoner: The marathoner prefers to work at a slow and steady pace and tends to dislike deadlines.
- Sprinter: The sprinter likes to work with quick bursts of intense effort and is motivated by a deadline. The pressure of the deadline actually clarifies their thoughts and sharpens their focus.
- Procrastinator: The procrastinator is similar to a sprinter in that they tend to finish only when they’re up against the pressure of a deadline, but they hate the stress this brings them. They would prefer to reduce their stress by approaching their work more like a marathoner.
I found these distinctions interesting from the moment I first read about them! And I noticed that, according to Rubin, the only difference between a procrastinator and a sprinter is the way they feel about a deadline. A procrastinator feels pressured by a deadline, while a sprinter feels inspired. This means the only true difference between these two “types” comes down to their thoughts about deadlines.
Simply put, procrastinators must change their story about a deadline from one that is stress producing to one that is motivating.
This is what I told Kyle.
First, I encouraged him to lose the self-imposed procrastinator title, and consider that he might be a sprinter instead. Just that thought alone helped him shake off some of the guilt and shame he had been feeling.
Then, he was able to look at his behavior with less self-judgment and more curiosity. What was really going on here?
Well, truth is, Kyle had recently taken on some new projects and his business was doing well. He had plans to outsource his day-to-day bookkeeping, but other tasks took precedence as his business increased. Then, as the tax deadline grew closer, the task of gathering his documents felt monumental.
Two of his thoughts were: “There’s not enough time to get it all done,” and “I’m so irresponsible. I should’ve started this sooner.”
With thoughts like that, it’s no surprise that Kyle felt shame and anxiety about the impending tax deadline.
And so, I asked him to consider these new thoughts instead:
What if this is the perfect time to start?
What if you are fully capable of getting it done and on schedule?
Next, I encouraged Kyle to create a list of specific missions for himself around organizing his tax documents. I told him to make goals that could be obtained in about 20-minute spurts, but not easily. I encouraged him to develop goals that he knew would be possible to accomplish but would require intense effort to get the job done.
Kyle has always loved a challenge, and so he embraced this idea. He worked in 20- minute intervals with laser precision and focus, and he made his deadline but with nary a moment to spare!
But, of course, he did. That’s what a sprinter does, right?
And so, I’m wondering, how do you tend to approach a deadline?
Have you been calling yourself a procrastinator and feeling shame-y about it?
If so, I want to remind you that you get to decide who you are and how you want to show up.
What if you decided to try these new practices that Kyle used and be a sprinter instead?
If you do give it a go, please drop me a line and tell me about it!