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Doctors at Work Podcast.

Episode #35

How to stop procrastinating. With Richard MacKinnon

Mat Daniel


We often talk about procrastination, but what exactly is it and how do you stop? In this episode, Richard distinguishes procrastination from laziness or busyness, and tells me that procrastination is about irrationally delaying something and with resultant consequences. Usually the cause is some sort of discomfort with the task required, and as a result we tell ourselves stories to try and justify to ourselves why we are not taking action. But we forget that sooner or later, the task will still need to be done. He advises people to notice when they find themselves in circumstances that lead to procrastination, to pause and notice what’s going on (being honest with yourself), and then make a considered choice of what to do.

Richard is a Chartered Psychologist and coach with over twenty years experience as a practitioner. He’s the founder of WorkLifePsych, a team of accredited and experienced workplace psychologists, providing coaching and training to clients worldwide. He supports clients with their wellbeing, productivity and interpersonal effectiveness. He’s also the host of the ‘My Pocket Psych‘ podcast, all about the psychology of the workplace. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, and he has shared some practical resources for dealing with procrastination here.

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Mat: Welcome to Doctors at Work. This podcast is about doctors’ careers. My name’s Mat Daniel. I’m an ENT consultant, a medical educator, and a coach working with doctors to help them create successful and meaningful careers. Today, we’re talking about procrastination and joining me is Dr. Richard McKinnon.

He’s also a coach and a chartered psychologist, and he helps people at work with their well being. their productivity and their interpersonal skills. Now, when it comes to the workplace, we often talk about procrastination. But what exactly is it? And how do you stop? In this episode, Richard distinguishes procrastination from laziness or busyness and tells me that procrastination is about irrationally delaying something and with resultant consequences.

And often the people that procrastinate are actually perfectionists. Now, usually, The cause of procrastination is some sort of discomfort with the task required, and as a result we tell ourselves stories to try and justify to ourselves why we’re not taking action. But we forget that sooner or later the task will still need to be done.

He advises people to notice when they find themselves in circumstances that lead to procrastination. To pause and to notice what’s going on, and it’s important to be honest with yourself, and then to make a considered choice of what you do. I hope that it’s useful.

Welcome Richard. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

[00:01:36] Richard: It’s great to be here. Thank you. I’m Dr. Richard McKinnon. I’m a chartered psychologist and coach based in London. I’ve been doing what I do for about 20 odd years, and I help people at work improve and maintain their wellbeing, their productivity, and their interpersonal skills.

[00:01:53] Mat: Thank you, Richard. And I invited you today to talk about procrastination. What is procrastination?

[00:02:01] Richard: I normally answer this question by starting with what it’s not. So procrastination isn’t laziness. It’s not some kind of moral failing. It’s not a lack of skill. And it’s not when we reschedule something because that makes sense.

Or when we stop something because it no longer is needed or it’s not a priority. Procrastination is when we irrationally delay taking action and there are some consequences. It could just make our day more difficult or it could have consequences for those people around us. At a minimum, the delay is something that is going to pile up and then someday in the future we’ll have a pretty awful day having to deal with the things we haven’t done.

The key word though is irrational. It just means it doesn’t make sense. There’s no good reason for the delay. And that is procrastination in a nutshell.

[00:02:57] Mat: I, I picked up on those words. We irrationally delay. And there are consequences. Why do people procrastinate?

[00:03:06] Richard: The way that I look at it, I look at it through the lens of what we call acceptance and commitment theory which is all about getting a handle on and a better understanding of our thoughts and feelings so that they don’t.

unhelpfully control our behavior. So in other words, we procrastinate when we notice that we have some form of psychological discomfort associated with the task. That’s an umbrella term for all the stuff we don’t want to think and feel. So I might notice I have to do something today and I immediately think that’s boring.

That’s an example of psychological discomfort. And so I don’t want to feel that. And I don’t want to experience it in the future. So I tell myself a story that doing it tomorrow is a better idea. So at its heart, procrastination is a coping strategy that’s based on avoidance. Gives us very short term relief, but causes us problems in the future because we’re avoiding something inevitable, something that must be done.

[00:04:06] Mat: Okay, so you said there’s this umbrella thing that it’s something that’s discomfort and we, it causes discomfort and as a result of that, we don’t do it. What would be the typical causes of that discomfort?

[00:04:18] Richard: It’s how we think about the task. So very common examples would be if it’s a new task or it’s something that’s slightly difficult.

We might have thoughts of fear of failure. If I get this wrong, it will be terrible. The irrational element is that we push it into the future rather than starting now and giving ourselves more time to work on it. It could be something like perceived boredom difficulty, a lack of clarity. All of this stuff we don’t like to feel it’s coming from within us.

It’s not objective to the task or the situation. We might have thoughts about what’s going to happen. So a very common example is I need to have a difficult conversation with a colleague. Now, rather than organizing myself, planning, booking the meeting, I start to playwright in my own mind about how it’s going to be.

And that imagined scenario could be so awful. Imagine this the key word. I just want to delay having it because rather than focusing on why it’s important to have the discussion, I’m focused on producing or avoiding some kind of discomfort.

[00:05:25] Mat: Okay, so this is fascinating because I think this is totally different to how most people will understand procrastination, I think, or certainly I’m surprised because I would have said it just, just get on with stuff.

Yeah, I don’t understand, just get on with stuff like why are you not doing it’s okay. Do people. Do people understand that’s what they’re doing? Or because you said people tell themselves a story and then, they believe the story. And what I’m hearing from you is that actually people don’t necessarily comprehend the reasons why they’re avoiding.

[00:05:59] Richard: There’s a couple of things in this that are really useful for people to understand. One we strive to be rational people. We want to be coherent. And so the story, like tomorrow is a better day, or I need a fresh start to work on this, they make sense. But we’re not taking in the whole picture. And we’re definitely not thinking about our future self when we do this.

And research shows us that when we think about our future self. We often think of them as a different person, so we don’t extend the same thought and compassion to our future selves as we might to ourselves in the here and now. So there’s a distance there. The second thing is that in addition to wanting to be rational and not wanting to experience discomfort, we sometimes overplay the discomfort, like thinking of it as a catastrophe or a disaster.

When what discomfort really is a temporary. passing psychological experience. It’s not pain. It’s not danger. But, sometimes our mind gives us this kind of alert that this is something to be avoided at all costs. And this is why the second most important thing is to understand it’s our instant response to the discomfort or Anticipated discomfort.

So rather than thinking, do I, is this the case? Is this something I really should delay? We do go, yes, that’s horrible. Don’t want to do it. I’ll do it tomorrow. So once I explain that with my clients, this is an evergreen topic in coaching. This comes up so frequently and there’s an element of understanding the mechanism and then an understanding of developing the skills so that you can notice what’s going on.

And instead of the focus being on how can I make this easy, that’s a lot of the well intended advice, just get on, make it easy for yourself, reward yourself. Instead of that, it’s about understanding what is the discomfort, seeing a different way, noticing what you tend to procrastinate about.

We don’t procrastinate about everything. There’s certain people, contexts, or tasks. Or a combination of the three and to be able to pause so that you don’t instantly respond to that discomfort in an unhelpful way and to learn to persist through it, not avoid it, because definitely it’s not sustainable to keep avoiding uncomfortable situations.

[00:08:14] Mat: Yeah, that strikes me as important because, my advice would be just get on with stuff. If somebody at work asked me to say just do it. You said that, that. That when something happens, naturally, we catastrophize. Why do we do that?

[00:08:28] Richard: So we don’t do it for everything, but for people who might be a chronic procrastinator in the sense that this is a big theme in their life and it’s causing them problems effectively one way we can describe this from a, an acceptance and commitment theory perspective, we think of the mind as a thing, you have a mind.

And your mind has evolved to keep you safe. So a lot of the time, our mind gives us mental content that does keep us safe, don’t go down that dark alley, envision danger down there that keeps you safe. When it says things like don’t have that conversation because that’s a disaster, it’s overplaying it.

So a really nice image I came across a few years ago was that our mind can sometimes act like a smoke alarm. Like the ones we have at home. Your smoke alarm goes off and it makes the same noise, whether it’s toast burning in the kitchen or your entire living room is on fire. And once we can start to discriminate between the different kinds of discomfort we’re feeling, we’re able to say, okay, I don’t like it, but it’s bearable.

It’s okay, rather than that is a seriously dangerous thing that must be avoided. That helps us avoid what should be avoided and persist through this stuff that is essentially harmless. It’s just not fun.

[00:09:39] Mat: And how do we learn to make that distinction?

[00:09:43] Richard: From an act acceptance and commitment theory perspective, there’s a skill that is teachable and it’s called cognitive diffusion.

And all that means is we’re learning to think about our own thoughts and to see them as thoughts. What do I mean by that? A lot of the time when we notice our mind is giving us some stuff, we assume it’s true and act on it because it must be true. And sometimes that stuff sounds like a demand or a threat or an ultimatum.

Sometimes it sounds very logical and compelling, but actually if we practice diffusion, what we’re saying is, that’s just a thought. I don’t necessarily need to do anything with it, or indeed, I don’t need to debate it or wrestle with it or get rid of it. We cannot remove thoughts from our minds. When we practice diffusion, we’re able to say, it’s a thought.

That’s it. Now let me focus on what I’m going to do. So instead of clearing the mental decks and trying to treat thoughts as tasks that have a response, we just say, it’s what I do that counts. And the thoughts will come and go. And they’re far less important than my behavior, my activity.

[00:10:47] Mat: Okay, so focus about, what you’re going to do rather than the many different thoughts that may come, some of them nice and some of them causing discomfort. You’ve mentioned acceptance and commitment theory several times. So I feel I ought to ask you, what is it, can you tell me a little bit more about it?

[00:11:04] Richard: Yeah, some of your listeners may be familiar with ACT. Meaning acceptance and commitment therapy because that has its roots in psychotherapy.

It’s a sometimes described as a third wave cognitive behavioral approach, and it’s been translated for many different contexts. So I, and a lot of coaching psychologists will use it in the workplace. But clinical psychologists will use it in therapeutic contexts at its heart. Really excellent quality data. What it says is that we have the capacity to develop a new relationship with our thoughts and feelings. So they don’t get in the way that at our hearts sits our values. The kind of person that we would like to be. And if we’re able to put those into practice in behavior more often, it’s good for us.

And that’s what the research demonstrates that values aligned behavior is good for us psychologically. And physically, we live the life of the person we want to be rather than preventing ourselves from doing helpful things just to avoid a little bit of discomfort.

[00:12:06] Mat: Okay. Earlier you mentioned that that when we think of ourselves in the future, that’s, there’s a bit of a disconnect between me now and me in the future. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

[00:12:17] Richard: It’s really interesting. It helps us explain why some people find it very difficult to engage in things like savings or pensions or even insurance because they’re stuck in the now they’re experiencing present bias. They have a misplaced optimism that future me.

We’ll be able to deal with this and somehow future me will be a very different person who has different skills, abilities, and maybe even self control. It’s interesting in that this is something that goes through our lifespan. We don’t get any better at identifying with our future selves. So what we can do instead is create.

Systems. So rather than pushing things into the future, we can put things in the calendar. We can split these activities up into habits that we can start now that will pay off in the future, not because it benefits our future self, but because we can see we’re doing something aligned with our values now.

So for example, when someone goes to the gym for one of the first times, They could get frustrated that this is effortful and I’m not benefiting from it. And that’s a classical case where someone could give up on something and avoid it in the future. But if the focus is on simply being consistent with a new behavior, it’s much more likely to stick.

We won’t notice the gap between effort and results, and we won’t be dependent on some outcome. Our effort won’t be associated with future self. It’ll be, I’m doing what I think is important now for me now. And that’s a much more useful way for us to, to think about things.

[00:13:49] Mat: So rather than you don’t necessarily have to worry and live in the future, because I know that can be problematic.

Also, if all the time you’re thinking about what might happen in the future, but the focus is on what kind of person you want to be. And as it happens, that aligns with your future anyway. So it’s a win. It’s what’s going to happen.

[00:14:07] Richard: Yeah. How you behave now over time is going to accumulate into future you.

And it’s one of the things that’s very useful with the ACT framework is an emphasis on the present moment and an awareness of the context you’re actually in. How would I like to be, how would I like to behave in the context I’m in now? Not an imagined future, not the past, some memories, but who I’m really with now and what I’m absolutely doing now.

This comes back full to our discussion about procrastination because so much of our thinking that’s uncomfortable is about past failures or future anxieties. If we can focus on the here and now. And what’s required, what’s necessary and not get caught up with that imagined stuff. It’s much easier to get these things done.

[00:14:56] Mat: Back to procrastination, then you said that we worry about the past and we worry about the future. And actually there’s a fundamental issue, which is that there’s some kind of discomfort that comes up and that’s why people don’t do it. Do people know that’s what they’re doing?

[00:15:13] Richard: One of the most important things we can do when overcoming our habit of procrastination, because that’s all it is to be honest with ourselves. Okay. And with reflection, you can start to notice what it is you’re saying to yourself to convince yourself that delay is helpful. One of the tips I give my clients is the excuse, the story you’ve just noticed, tell that to someone else in your life.

verbalize that and say, I’m thinking of delaying this important task because I believe I’ll do it better tomorrow. And if that person really has your interests at heart, they’ll probably say, I don’t think that’s a good idea. But even if there’s no one in the room, there’s power to verbalizing these thoughts.

We can hear them and say, I’m not sure I believe that. Actually, or even writing it down can be a powerful step when we keep it in our minds and we’re wrestling with it and we’re debating it. It’s taking us away from the present moment and we’re buying into these stories. So honesty is really important.

And there’s something affirming about noticing the stories. You don’t get rid of them. This is really key. You’re not banishing the stories, but you’re seeing them for what they are. They’re just stories that don’t help me. You can turn it into a game. How many times has this happened today? How many times have I heard the voice saying, do it tomorrow?

Great. I’ve noticed it again. I’m not acting on it. I’m noticing it. And that’s really powerful. These core skills, people can turn them to other aspects of their life. Noticing what I’m thinking, deciding what I really want to do. rather than what the thought might be telling me.

[00:16:48] Mat: So do people know that they’re procrastinating?

[00:16:52] Richard: Yes. Absolutely.

[00:16:56] Mat: How would somebody know that they’re procrastinating?

[00:16:59] Richard: They might get feedback from others in the workplace. That happens a lot because something that we don’t realize when we’re procrastinating a lot, we’re avoiding some discomfort, but we might be causing it for others.

If they’re dependent on our outputs. If they’re waiting on a decision or a piece of work, they might start to get a little bit anxious that we haven’t followed through yet. And if they have to keep chasing us for things and reminding us or even, threatening us with some kind of outcome.

People don’t like doing that. They don’t like the extra hassle of that. So it’s bad for our reputations in organizations to procrastinate, but we might also have a wake up call ourselves. If we have one of those days when all of those procrastinated tasks. Come about all the deadlines are there. And now the reality hits us.

And we think this is a nightmare. And this has gone from being an imagined difficult day to a really actual difficult day. And many people will come to a coaching context with a story like that. I realized I have to change because I had a nightmare of a day. It all was stacked up. It all happened at the same time, and something I hadn’t even imagined might happen.

The emergencies that happen in our lives, one of those happened as well. There’s a very misplaced sense of optimism that I’ll be able to deal with this that doesn’t bear fruit. And it doesn’t take account of what is out of our control. And how that day or that week or that month could be truly awful.

So we do know if we pause to really just reflect for a moment, we know that it doesn’t make sense what we’re doing. We know we’re procrastinating. And I think in part, society treats this quite lightly. Now I don’t want people to label themselves and feel bad about it, but it is a topic that people joke about a lot.

Oh, it’s, I’m procrastinating. It’s your procrastination. That’s fine. But when it’s causing someone trouble and it’s having an impact on other people in their life, this is an unhelpful habit. As you might approach anything else that is a habit that can be changed. Once we see it as a habit, we can start to take action.

[00:19:00] Mat: Okay. So if I think in the workplace. Say that I ask somebody to contribute to a guideline or there’s a patient complaint and somebody needs to write their bit in relation to patient complaint. So maybe that person’s busy and they just don’t have time to do it. Maybe that’s what it is, or, maybe they’ve forgotten or maybe that person, for whatever reason is feeling discomfort, particularly in relation to a complaint, because I can see how that would come up, somebody’s feeling discomfort and they don’t do it. So how will I know that the other person is procrastinating rather than just that they’re busy and they don’t have time?

[00:19:35] Richard: You won’t immediately. That’s the sort of unsatisfying answer. But we can spot the patterns in someone’s behavior because if they are a reliable… Trustworthy colleague in all other aspects, but when it comes to these patient complaints, they delay.

That could be an indication that it’s just this thing, as opposed to a colleague who’s never on time and never responds and you think this is just how they operate. Okay. So each of us have this potential blind spot thing that we don’t want to get involved in. Now, very smart, very capable professionals will.

have all kinds of reasons why they’re not going to do that. And if you think about the demanding jobs that your listeners have, there’ll always be other things for them to do, right? It’s not that when they procrastinate, they’re sitting there with their hands folded saying, I’ll just wait. There are other things to do.

So what you and your listeners can do for others is when you need them to do something, is to give them the context, is to explain the consequences of if it’s not done by a certain time. And if In a sense, I use this phrase to pre chew it for them, to break it down for them, to say, look this piece of paperwork you need to do, there’s only two parts to it, I need it by Friday, if it’s not done by Friday consequence A, B, and C.

We don’t want to have to keep chasing people and babying them, and it doesn’t lead to good relationships in the workplace. But we might need to have difficult conversations with people to explore why do you not do this thing on time? Or if you do deliver on time, it’s rushed, it’s full of mistakes, you’re stressed when you’re doing it, and have those conversations.

And I think this is one for managers who notice this in their team members to have that conversation about how they could get them some help.

[00:21:18] Mat: Okay, so procrastination, then that sounds boundaried and context specific, whereas the person that’s always late, that never delivers, that never answers their email, that’s a kind of global thing that permeates

[00:21:30] Richard: Personality. Yeah.

[00:21:33] Mat: Whereas when it comes to procrastination. It’s much more specific and to do with the fact that there’s an underlying discomfort that person does not want to face..

[00:21:43] Richard: There’s a very counterintuitive thing here, which is that often the people who procrastinate have perfectionistic tendencies.

So we might think that it’s people who just don’t want to do the work, but often it’s rooted in perfectionism because they want it to be absolutely perfect. And so the stories they tell themselves would be, this isn’t the right day. I need to be in the right mood. My office needs to be perfect so I can do a perfect job.

But of course they’re depriving themselves of time and energy to do a perfect job. So actually it’s sometimes very high performing people who have very high standards end up procrastinating about important things and causing all kinds of problems for themselves. And then you get the pattern of very late nights, all nighters to meet a deadline, panic stations, and they do deliver.

But I always have to ask, at what cost, to them, and the people around them, when it is panic stations.

[00:22:40] Mat: And this link between perfectionism and procrastination, can you tell me a little bit more about that?

[00:22:46] Richard: If we think about people, again, if we look at it through the ACT framework, what people are doing is buying into stories that their mind is giving them about what’s needed.

They’re finding it hard to moderate standards of work and they would associate their with their self concept. In other words, I am as good as my last piece of work. So a very rigid view of their own identity and self concept. And they find it difficult to identify good enough, right? So an inflexibility there.

And this can lead them to put in lots and lots of extra effort where it’s not really needed and find it hard to discriminate between tasks that just need to be done versus very important, very impactful tasks. So they generalized. And what this means is that if something has to be perfect, what could be perfect?

But the belief is it must be perfect and therefore I must be perfect in order to do this perfect thing. Now, when is that going to happen? I was a little tired. I’ve just had lunch. I didn’t sleep well last night. I’ve got a headache. All of these things take away from perfect me and therefore future me will take care of it.

It will get done. Someone with perfectionistic tendencies will deliver, but it’s just. Ultimately unsustainable, and I frame it for people in the same way that your coping strategies are unsustainable if they’re going to detract from your well being. If you’re using food or alcohol as a coping strategy, at some point, that is going to harm you.

And it’s the same with procrastination. It gives you relief now, but it’s storing up a problem. And the thing about, we all know when we’re procrastinating because we come back to work and the task still needs to be there. We haven’t changed our mind about it. A new day hasn’t made any difference. It’s still a task we don’t want to do.

[00:24:39] Mat: I hope you’re enjoying the show. If you are, please click subscribe so you will be notified when new episodes come out. This podcast is part of my mission to help doctors create successful and meaningful careers. You can be part of that mission too by forwarding this show to any one person who you think might benefit from listening.

Thank you. Now on with the show.

I’m loving that because we’ve gone from Procrastination being about people who just need to get on with stuff, to procrastination being about people that are perfectionists. So total turnaround from where we started. And I have to say that the good enough, I remember I came across that concept maybe 20 years ago in my career and I probably used to be a perfectionist. I don’t think that I am or I choose when to be a perfectionist so I make choices, but this idea that some stuff, it just needs to happen, it just needs to be done and, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

It has to be good enough and good enough is different for different contexts. Of course, when it comes to operating, good enough will be different to, when it comes to, I don’t know, contributing to somebody else’s document and, writing one paragraph or checking the sentences, for example.

So good enough, that’s very different. Okay. Let’s think practical, then we moved on to some practical strategies. So I understand procrastination is fundamentally, that there’s something that people are feeling discomfort. And as a result of that, they tell themselves stories and they find reasons in their mind that at the time make perfect sense, why this task shouldn’t be done. But actually it would be totally irrational and people need to be honest with themselves and they need to recognize that actually, what they’re doing is. That there’s some discomfort to be had for whatever reason. And as a result of that, people are avoiding it. But the reality is that the task has to get done at some stage. The longer that you put it off, actually the worse it’s going to be in the long term. Is that sort of a fair summary, do you think?

[00:26:37] Richard: Absolutely, absolutely. Few things get better the longer we ignore them. And yet we convince ourselves that maybe they will.

[00:26:46] Mat: Okay. Let’s talk practical strategies then to stop procrastinating.

[00:26:50] Richard: Yeah. So I, with my clients use very simple three step. Process that this fits on a post it note. It’s that simple. But I talked earlier about the automatic response we have to our discomfort. So actually the first thing on this three point list is to pause when you read an email or you look at a document or someone asks you to do something and you feel that discomfort inside welling up, just stop.

If you can insert a pause to your response, you’re giving yourself a chance to reappraise the situation, to maybe look at it slightly differently. The next step after pausing is to notice. In noticing, what we’re doing is inquiring, observing. What’s my mind giving me? What thoughts and feelings are popping up now?

I think observing is an important word. We’re not doing anything to them, we’re watching them. As if they were actors on a stage, we’re just looking at what’s playing out in our mind. And we don’t interfere with it. We keep our hands on our lap, so to speak, and we name it. This is really important. While we’re noticing, one of the things we can do is give a label to what’s showing up inside.

And the labels don’t have to be scientifically accurate, but you might say, they’re anxious thoughts, or that’s about failure, or that’s… But boredom, I don’t want boredom, we’re just labeling it and this is part of the cognitive diffusion skill set to be able to label a thought means it’s a thing now, it’s not me, it’s a thing I’m experiencing.

So the noticing is having a look at what’s going on inside. Once we’ve done that, just for a few moments, we pause, notice, and then we choose. We choose our next action. And that can be as simple as saying, I choose to begin this document, I choose. To make this phone call rather than I need to feel good before I can do this thing, I need to feel motivated before I can make a start or confident, or these are all barriers to actually making a start.

Now you’ve mentioned just make a start. This is what that boils down to, but we get to it via a psychological route. Now that I’ve acknowledged what’s going on inside. Yeah, it’s time to make a start. But just in the same way that in the world, very few people have ever calmed down because someone else said, calm down or cheer up.

It just doesn’t work that way. Just make a start isn’t as helpful as now that I understand I can just make a start. Slightly different, right?

[00:29:24] Mat: Can I go to the beginning? So the first thing is to pause. So what will help somebody pause?

[00:29:32] Richard: Depending on the context they’re in. So a lot of the clients I work with find themselves, they’re knowledge workers at a desk for much of their day.

So what I remind them to do is take your hands off the keyboard, sit back in your chair for a moment, because what you’re tempted to do is quickly do something else. You’ve got plenty of other tasks to do. You want to move on as soon as you’ve, it could be an email with someone’s name. You’re just seeing a name and you’re, oh, I don’t want to, don’t want to look at that.

I know what that’s about. Just pause. Don’t take any action in an appropriate way. You don’t want to down tools in the middle of something important, but just say, before I act, just going to pause. And actually, if we put our hands down on our lap, if we sit down, We’re not going to do anything else.

We’re just going to enable ourselves to then notice what’s going on inside. Our attention can be split many ways if we’re trying to deal with thoughts and emotions and things going on around us and type of the keyboard. We’re going to stop some of that and just turn our attention inward. And the pause to underline the pause is just a few moments.

This isn’t going to eat into our time during the day. In fact, it’s going to free us up to get more of the important stuff done.

[00:30:45] Mat: So you said noticing comes after pausing, but I’m also wondering, I suppose you’ve got to notice it yourself that there’s something that’s come up in order to pause as well?

[00:31:01] Richard: It’s a cyclical thing. So the more you pause, notice, choose, the more you’re able to recognize these thoughts and feelings. And of course. Somatic sensory stuff that’s going on, butterflies in the tummy or sweaty palms. These are all telling us something’s going on that I don’t quite we’re also noticing it’s happening in this place, or I’m noticing it happens whenever that person asks me, or, the example I share with my clients all the time is it’s me and paperwork. any kind of bureaucracy. I go, Oh, maybe tomorrow. I don’t delay much in my life, but I do resent bureaucracy.

And so when people can start to notice that, Oh, hold on, I’m in this situation again, I can do something different.

[00:31:47] Mat: So we’re back to that recognizing the context or the specific topic subjects in which procrastination happens and recognizing, okay this is the situation that for me is an issue.

And then when you find yourself in that situation. Then, noticing it and taking a pause and then choosing and what kind of things will help people choose? Cause I’m imagining, okay I’ve paused and I’ve noticed that something’s the case and I’ve given it a name, but what’s going to help me make a decision about what I’m going to do.

[00:32:17] Richard: Again it’s context dependent, lots of people feel a sense of busyness. In general and being specific about the things we need to get done and externalizing that into a list is a really good start because then we could say, these are the things I’ve decided to do today, which one of these am I going to do next rather than sit and feel bad about what I’m not doing or busy myself with irrelevant things I’m going to choose.

To do this thing now, the choosing doesn’t mean I necessarily have to complete the task. I’m tempted to delay, but it could be as simple as that task is getting added to today’s list. I’m committed to doing it because we might notice the discomfort at a time when we can’t do the task. So it’s about committing to do it in some way, getting it out of our minds onto a piece of paper or into an app or something like that.

But the choosing can be also, I’m going to choose to continue what I was working on when those thoughts interrupted me, because the thing I’m working on is the most useful thing to do. in this moment. Again, it’s all about the present moment, not the past or the future. So it’s going to be very context dependent, but really that’s a skill in itself.

Being present in the moment you’re actually in is these days a bit of a superpower. And it enables you to choose with intent what you’re going to do. So if I was to really keep it nice and simple, procrastination is giving up control to anticipated awfulness proactivity. is acting with intent and knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing.

And it’s rational and you’re doing it, even though maybe it’s not fun, maybe it’s not exciting, or maybe it’s a bit scary because you’ve never done it before, but you know why you’re doing it. Procrastination, we don’t, If we’re not honest, we don’t know why we’re doing it. We’re just escaping something.

[00:34:05] Mat: It’s that being honest with yourself And having a sense of why and the purpose behind what you do in and the choices that you make.

I wonder if you could perhaps just tell me what would be your top tips for doctors at work when it comes to procrastination.

[00:34:23] Richard: I think number one is not to imagine that you don’t procrastinate. If you’re leaving things and you find that you’re getting chased by people for things, open your mind to the chance that it is. Procrastination you can find it very useful to get accountability from somebody else.

If you make a commitment to someone else, you’re going to do something by a certain time that can enable us to take that action because we don’t want to let a colleague down. But similarly to explore and label the stuff that shows up inside about certain activities and acknowledge they’re part of my job.

They need doing, even though they’re not exciting, fulfilling, maybe they’re not what I thought I was doing. I was going to do when I was training, but they’re part of my job now. And every role has bits that aren’t particularly nice, but they’re necessary and to crack on with them.

[00:35:18] Mat: Thank you very much, Richard.

[00:35:20] Richard: Thank you.

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