The Best Time to Plant a Tree

Admission: I started writing this blog post on procrastination as a way to procrastinate… well, writing a blog post. This time it just happened to work out in my favor. Now the next time I procrastinate by putting something far less useful into Google than “quotes on procrastination,” it may be a different story. Maybe you are even reading this instead of doing something else. (And lucky you!! You’re about to get some tools to help with that.)

We’re all familiar with the famous quote about never putting off till tomorrow what you can do today. It’s a great quote. So is the one in our blog picture. It’s the kind of quote you look up when you are trying to get something done. Like when you need motivation, and instead of finding it, you open up Facebook, or start reorganizing all the pictures on your computer, or remember an email you meant to send to aunt somebody two months ago.

Or, as the coach of a sales team, maybe what you are putting off is more serious. Like, needing to have a serious talk with that one team member about how they aren’t meeting the expectations you’ve defined. Or maybe you realize that the activities you are focused on aren’t getting you the results you wanted, and you need to go back to the drawing board. Maybe you realize that you are a quarter of the way through the year, and not on track the way you know you need to be to hit your year end goals and incentives.

The bigger something feels, the more appealing it is to put it off. 

Procrastination is a tenacious behavior that plagues most people at some time or another – often on a habitual basis, especially for the more creative types. It is a behavior that psychologists and behavior analysts have struggled to classify and explain. Of course we all know it is an avoidance behavior. But why, and of what, really?

One thing that psychologists are coming to understand now, is that chronic procrastination is related less to poor time-management skills, but rather to poor emotion-management.

That’s right. If you are putting off a big project or a big talk until the very last minute, then the issue is not so much that you don’t understand you’ll have to do this at some time. The issue is that what you are facing has become an emotional block. You are focused on what you “feel” like doing, not what you have “time” to do.

Procrastination is in many ways a reaction to the fear or dread of something that you need to do. You dread having that serious talk with your team member. You are a little afraid about what your business’s numbers so far might mean for the rest of your year. So, to cope with or avoid these uncomfortable emotions, you put off facing them. Usually until some unspecified time like “tomorrow,” or “next week.”

The problem is, coping mechanisms are never solving mechanisms. Nor are they easily knocked away like props on a stage. Because procrastination is seated in the emotional realm, telling someone, “just do that now,” has essentially the same effect as telling someone suffering from depression, “just cheer up.” IE – it’s easy to do, but it doesn’t work. And, like many such problems, telling yourself what you “should” do can exacerbate the problem.

If you start beating yourself up for what you’ve delayed doing, then when you think about doing that thing, you are not only experiencing the dread, but also guilt and shame – which are very likely the two most uncomfortable emotions people experience, and the most desperately off-loaded or evaded. So you disconnect what is happening in the present from the price that will be paid by your future self – who will eventually have to both deal with all of the emotions, AND try to finish that thing at the very last minute.

As a strong coach, your team is counting on you not to get swept into this whirlpool. Breaking something down into its essential steps can make that thing you have to do feel less intimidating and more achievable. For instance, less a mindset of, “I need to redesign my whole tracking system!!” and more “What if I tried one new type of competition game, or started tracking these two new activities. What if I gave this team member these 3 concrete thing they could work on improving.” Keep in mind your year end goals, yes, but you can’t start off by focusing on EVERYTHING you have to do to get back on track. You have to start off with what you can improve next week, and then next month.

If you’ve been putting off something important, or have avoided facing a business reality, accept the fact that the procrastination happened. Forgive yourself, and find a small Step 1 to take. And don’t forget to take stock of what the procrastination might have gotten you. Maybe in the intervening time you learned a great piece of advice from another sales leader that gave you a different perspective. Heard about a new closing strategy that has worked well for another team. The time we spent doing things that were not the thing we were supposed to do can be a source of ideas, perspective, and creativity – if we are willing to accept it, glean what we can, and move on.

So maybe you did not plant the tree when you should have planted the tree. But the tree can only start growing when you plant it, so take that step forward and plant it now.

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