My Apartment Is So Clean! (Procrastination)

The Big Project, Shift or Change

Starting Over II

You get up in the morning raring to go. You’re excited about your master plan. Your zany, huge goal, the new life you’re creating, the project – in an organization or within your own venture – that you can’t wait to complete. You go through whatever morning rituals are important to your physical and spiritual wellbeing. If you’re me, you have that essential mug of coffee. Now you’re all set. And yet, nothing happens. Sound familiar?

Both as a coach and as a person embarking on a major project, this scenario is all too familiar. Thinking about starting something is exciting. Doing the actual work can sometimes be something very different. When I used to advise dissertation candidates, we called this the clean refrigerator syndrome. I’ve come to understand that this is as true of entrepreneurs, executives, coaches, and anyone involved is something big that will result in some kind of change. I’ve visited clients on a project deadline who were very busy reorganizing their files when I arrived. Entrepreneurs have spent hours ordering new business cards or perusing LinkedIn or Facebook in the face of a big step. And yes, right now I have a very clear house.


Sometimes, procrastination is productive. Kerul Kassel wrote about this in 2007. Procrastination can happen when we’re not sure of our decision or when we need time to think a project through. More often, though, it’s avoidance. It’s fear – of success or of failure. It’s seeking perfection. Avoiding ridicule. Any combination of these things.

When procrastination gets in my clients’ way or in my way, I know that something has to shift. When I see that I’m caught up in a bad case of the “what if’s,” I just go for it. Okay, what’s the worst that could happen? And i it did, what would you do? The what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll run through this about seven times. Usually, I’m laughing so hard that the last couple are really hard. Try it – you’ll see how easy it is to move into the ridiculous. Then I just pick myself up and get to work.

It’s harder, though, to avoid deer-in-the-headlights paralysis when a lot is at stake. As I redefine and expand my coaching practice, I understand more deeply how my clients have felt in these moments. And I have a very clean apartment.

I’ve had clients reorganize everything you can imagine, from files to cabinets, to alphabetizing spices. Some mornings, I hear an old box of photographs whispering to me. Somehow, none of that gets the work done, though.

Just Stop It!

What I need – what my clients need – is a plan. I’ve done this before; I can do it again. A friend got her doctoral dissertation written in fifteen minute increments. She figured that she could do anything for fifteen minutes, no matter how much she hated it. I worked on mine for longer periods of time with a system of rewards. I set writing goals and if I met my goal I had a chocolate chip cookie from a local bakery and watched an hour of a daytime drama I’d taped. I had no life outside of trips to replenish the cookie supply. It’s not a path I’d repeat or recommend. I even tried a distraction-management plan adapted from a routine a friend used to manage anxiety attacks. He’d permit himself fifteen minutes of obsessing before forcing himself to move on. I’d allow fifteen minutes of cleaning or solitaire before forcing myself back to work.

Huge Vision, Small Plans, Small Steps

Sometimes, you just don’t want to see the big picture. It’s important to have a gloriously huge vision. See yourself already there. Live in that world. Be that person. And with that vision firmly panted deep in your brain, park it. Go for the small steps. Break everything down into the smallest steps possible. Complete one step at a time. Reward yourself. Go on to the next.

Everyone has to find a system that works for them. Try a few things out; tinker with the system until it feels right. I learned that cookie rewards, for example, were not the best idea unless I wanted to keep buying an ever-expanding wardrobe. Today, I mastered the repeat payment feature in my shopping cart. I competed one blog post. I spent an hour working on a book chapter. I had a schedule and I had rewards. One was some time to read a mystery. Another was a taped cooking show. When I finish setting up new mastermind groups, I’ll be having lunch with a friend. When I finish the book chapter, I’m going to a movie. And, of course, when that huge vision is a reality, it’s party time!



My Apartment Is So Clean! (Procrastination) — 1 Comment

  1. Susan — how come you were writing about me? I’m of the clean refrigerator cohort (the calories don’t count if you stand up while you’re eating, right?). Procrastination is the devil in disguise. Something else to try is calling a friend, or possibly someone in your mastermind group. That’s worked for me. It helps to talk through what’s holding you back.

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