Most productivity literature is about tips for organizing our workspace — creative ways to arrange our e-mail inbox, write to-do lists, color-code our folders, and so on. These can be useful, but they leave a big question unanswered: how can we find the focus and motivation to put these tricks into practice? In other words, how do we stop putting off getting organized?
In my experience working with clients looking for efficiency and enjoyment in their work, what I’ve found is that, to really get what we want out of what we do, the first step is to take a close look at what we’re avoiding.
Your Pre-Procrastination Experience
What do I mean by this? You’ll see for yourself, I think, if you carefully watch what’s happening when you’re about to put off a task you’re doing. You’ll notice that, in that “clutch” moment right before you choose to procrastinate, you start having some thought or sensation — some inner experience — that feels uncomfortable for you.
The kind of thought or sensation I’m talking about is different for each person. For some people, it’s a tension somewhere in their body — maybe a tightness in their neck or shoulders. For others, it’s a painful memory or worry about the future — perhaps a fear that the boss will criticize their project. Maybe, for you, it’s something completely different.
Although the difficult inner experience I’m talking about is unique for each person, the way people tend to deal with that experience is pretty much the same. Because it’s scary and uncomfortable, we distract ourselves from it — by playing FreeCell, surfing the Web, or something else. In other words, we procrastinate to avoid thoughts or sensations we’d rather not have.
Of course, the trouble with this approach is that, when we distract ourselves, we take our attention away from our work. We can’t code that computer program, paint that painting, or do anything else that’s productive when we’re messing around on social media.
How To Allow
What I’ve found is that there’s a better way to relate to this inner experience I’m talking about: to fully allow it. When you feel that tension, painful memory, or whatever it is coming up, hold your attention on your work, keep breathing, relax your body, and allow that experience to pass away on its own.
If the tension in some part of your body gets intense, you can try “breathing into” that tight spot. This is a term often used in yoga, and it simply means breathing so the tight area — whether it’s your throat, chest, or somewhere else — rises and falls with the movement of the breath. This can help you let go of the tension.
What I think you’ll notice, as you practice allowing that thought or sensation to be without resisting it, is that it will pass away fairly quickly — perhaps within a few seconds or minutes. And when it dissipates, you can gently return your attention to your work, and keep moving forward.
The more you practice doing this, the more comfortable and familiar that experience will become. You’ll start to realize it isn’t as scary and dangerous as you’d thought. More importantly, you’ll become able to persist in your task, even in the face of that pesky inner experience. Your old habit of automatically fleeing from the experience will start fading away.
Mastering this “art of allowing,” I think, will radically shift the way you experience your work. You’ll begin to feel a sense of ease and “flow,” and maybe even some joy, in your daily routine.
Photo by *Zara