Monday, January 4, 2010

Productive Procrastination

By Kerul Kassel, © November 2009
[Note that client names and identifying details have been changed to protect confidentiality.]

Kelly Higgins had a wonderful idea for a new business initiative – one that was nicely aligned with her current business model and values: A membership continuity program to give her consulting clients more support and value while increasing her visibility and enhancing her “expert” status. Higgins, a New York-based leadership consultant, had been thinking about how to move forward with it and how it might look, though nothing much seemed to have come of it yet … it had been months. When she told colleagues and friends about this idea, they had been excited for her and offered their encouragement. Six months later, though, they were wondering why she had involved herself in other projects, as she seemed to be making little headway with this more heart-connected effort.

Kelly, too, wondered why she wasn't making more of an effort, and began to doubt herself. She couldn't decide if she wasn't managing her time well, if her priorities were off kilter or if she was being just plain lazy.  Then she called me.

We discussed that there was another alternative. Perhaps she really was making progress, though it was less tangible than she expected it to be. She had been experimenting mentally with some of her ideas, making contacts with people who had done similar or related things and talking with people who were in her target market about what their needs might be in this area. All of this was percolating and marinating in a positive way, so that when she was ready to take action on it, that action would be informed, inspired and highly focused, and there would be little wasted effort.  Meanwhile, she was investing most her energy into strengthening her current revenue streams.

Most business people face this kind of postponed initiative, and it affects not only their self-perception, but their effectiveness and productivity.   And the fix isn’t what you’d expect it to be.

Let your feet drag
It sounds counter-intuitive, right?  Put something off just because you don't have crystal clarity?  Shouldn't you be doing something – anything – to create forward movement?

Recently, in an Orlando-area workshop, participants were involved in developing a more in-depth picture of what they wanted their future to look like, including their business or career goals, financial profile, personal aspirations, relationships, home life, etc.  Denise Daniels, who had sold her family business a few months earlier, hoped to leave with a clear and thorough idea of what was next for her.  Despite a variety of visioning exercises, it didn't happen for her that evening.  She simply wasn’t ready yet.  Pushing for “the right answer” when the broad outline isn’t yet settled results in wheel-spinning, at best.
While you’re waiting for that proverbial light bulb to go on, there are certainly things you can do to help the process along, including examining your values, composing missions, mind-mapping, journaling, even dream-boarding and meditating.  Sometimes the most effective technique for defining your vision is to sit alone on a deserted beach or take a solitary hike in the woods.

If you've played with those exercises and the vision is still vague, here's an expert recommendation: wait.  You read it right.  Wait.  Wait for clarity.

To take action simply for the sake of taking action usually results in frustration, exasperation and time lost.  As an alternative, focus on other goals and activities for the time being.  You never know, engaging in them instead might lead to meeting someone, reading something, hearing or seeing an idea, resource or event that becomes the stimulus forward, that connects you to the next steps or removes the veil in front of what you'd like your future to look like.

Stop thinking so much
The cloudiness of your future vision will have you concerned, frustrated, impatient, confused, or just feeling stuck.  Doubt and indecision will dog your actions, if you let them. The focus on the future can often lead to second-guessing and struggle with the present, which causes a HUGE reduction in productivity – at least the kind of effectiveness that produces results that you can be really satisfied with.

For the moment, forget about the future, particularly if contemplating it gets you tied in knots.  Let go of the perceived need to make a decision, particularly if there is no deadline (and if there is a deadline, say “no” unless you feel a definite “yes”).  Put your energy fully into those activities that are most strongly aligned with your clear picture of what you’d like your current – not future – success to look like.   And don’t pay any heed to those self-critical messages running through your brain telling you you’re a slacker for not moving ahead.  Your inner judge is there to help prevent you from failing, so understand its purpose without buying into its bullying.

We’re used to solving problems by analysis and intentional thinking.  This generally works pretty well, unless you’re courting creativity and future possibilities.  We usually manage our lives, work and challenges using logic, reason, categorization, and process – something our culture is quite keen on.  Most of us aren’t practiced at using the imaginative, holistic, more random and feeling dimensions that set the stage for synthesis, possibility and bigger picture ideation.  “Mindless” activities help put us in touch with this part of our brain, and we can more easily make the lateral connections that lead to an “a-ha!”  It’s like the difference between systematically looking under every boulder, around every tree and within every bush with the only aim being to find “it” quickly, versus meandering along where you feel drawn while maintaining a keen awareness of your surroundings, with the purpose of enjoying the search, and allowing the space and time as needed until “it” is found. 

Doing the latter requires faith and trust, as well as self-confidence; faith that the information you need will come to you in time, trust that you’re not missing opportunities or shooting yourself in the foot while you wait, and self-confidence that you’re not being stupid, woo-woo, lazy, or using bad judgment.  It takes some practice to sustain patience in the face of those internal critics, but it’s entirely possible.  As you experience more positive outcomes it gets easier.  In the interim, you’re OODLES more productive, as you put your shoulder into current priorities and efforts, those for which the time is now ripe and appropriate.

About the Author:
Kerul Kassel is the author of “Productive Procrastination” as well as the award winning, “Stop Procrastinating Now.” As the founder of New Leaf Systems -  a consulting firm dedicated to creating higher performance outcomes and business profitability - her clients are solopreneurs, professionals and executives, and she has also worked wtih corporate organizations such as NASA, Sony, Hilton, and Volvo. For more information visit or take her Procrastinator Profiler Quiz at

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