Today I read an article from Fast Company called The Procrastination-Killing Tactic to Try Now (or in 10 minutes). I read through the article for my own benefit. I wouldn’t say I’m a horrible procrastinator, but I find myself putting things off every now and then. I’ll get to the point of the article shortly, but within it was a quote worth passing on:
Only 5 percent of overweight dieters achieve long-term weight reduction. Of course, it is hard to quit drinking or smoking. But it is even harder to permanently lose weight. One reason is that it is more difficult to imagine a future world with a lesser amount of eating—and it is impossible to imagine stopping eating entirely.
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight or start a new exercise program, you may have found yourself saying “I’ll start tomorrow.” Tomorrow turns into the next day. Then the next. Then the next. You’ve got a big dinner planned this weekend. Why not start after that? You’ve got a busy travel schedule with work. Why not start after that? December is always full of too much good food. Why not start in January? Another day will always be there, but later you will find you’re six months older still eating too much and not exercising.
The author of the article, Frank Partnoy, leads with the line, “Procrastination is closely related to impatience.” Relate this to weight loss or physical fitness and I believe it’s completely and utterly true. This October I’m starting a new program called The 10 Pound Club (details on that later). Today I was drafting up some copy points to explain the program. The first point was “lose 10 pounds in 4 to 6 weeks.” Almost immediately I thought it wouldn’t be appealing enough. Ten pounds in 30 to 45 days isn’t what a lot of lose-weight-quick programs offer. I had to remind myself of my own philosophy of training and eating, which requires a lot of patience. The fact of the matter is, I don’t want anyone to lose much more weight than 10 pounds in less than a month. It probably wouldn’t last. But most of us want to lose weight quick. We’re impatient.
Patience and procrastination do indeed go hand in hand. Many people want immediate results. If they know they won’t get it, the task (a workout or a healthy meal) gets put off. In place of the workout or healthy meal is something else. Maybe you need to wash your car, clean your cabinet, call your mom or plan a vacation. These could be very important, but they’ve taken priority over your health – the queen bee of life.
Partnoy, also the author of the book Wait: The Art & Science of Delay, recognized the work of a philosophy professor named John Perry. Perry’s tactic to circumventing procrastination involves making a list, and then procrastinating. Perry believes that procrastination is a hard habit to break. I think the masses would probably agree with that. Instead of convincing yourself that you’ll stop putting things off and start doing, literally re-prioritize your life.
Make a list with, let’s say, eight tasks you need to accomplish. According to Perry, procrastinators will inherently avoid the top three tasks as they are usually given more weight – they’re more important. It’s easier to tick off the less important tasks than the tougher, more important tasks. Throw your list for a loop and simply place the more important tasks lower on the list, and place the less important tasks higher on the list, taking up the one, two and three spots.
Applying this approach, if I wanted to lose weight and eat better (and struggled with it), this is what my list might look like:
- Organize kids closets for fall
- Clean the garden/yard
- Pay bills
- Call cable company
- Take 30 minute jog/walk
- Do laundry
- Make 5-day healthy meal menu
- Stock fridge with easy/healthy snacks
Obviously some of us work and this type of list wouldn’t apply to everyone, but work to create something like this over the weekend and see if you can stick to it throughout the week. This approach isn’t without flaw. Procrastination is a tough beast to get your arms around, but it could be a start. Good luck!
Traci is a nationally recognized health and fitness expert who has been featured on The TODAY Show and Dr. Oz. Traci is available for corporate speaking events and wellness coaching, as well as private training. Contact Traci here.