How To Defeat The Procrastination Monkey

How To Defeat The Procrastination Monkey

Here’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed about myself – when it comes to getting shit done, I am binary. I will either plough through the to-do list, gleefully ticking things off and high fiving myself for my efficiency and dedication to the project at hand, or I will resist, resist, resist and do anything and everything but the project at hand, stress levels rising by the hour and procrastination manifesting as actual physical discomfort. The voice of reason says ‘just go and bloody do it,’ while the monkey on my shoulder says ‘look, over there, more stuff that will be infinitely more gratifying right now than the stuff you actually have to do.’ The monkey is particularly vocal when said ‘stuff’ involves more than one task, or something that will need to be done over a matter of days or weeks.

The rational part of our brain knows that it would be much better to sit down now and get the task out of the way. At school, it was this part of my brain that exhorted me to get the damn English essay out of the way as soon as I got home. Monkey had other ideas, though. Fuck that, it’s Friday, the essay can wait. Friday would turn into Saturday, Saturday would turn into Sunday and before you know it it’s egg sambos for tea, Murder She Wrote is on the telly, the feckin’ essay is still not written and I have a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach as I am in no more mood to write a bloody essay than I am to clean the dog poo out of the yard. Why didn’t I just get it done on Friday? Gahhhhhhh!

As a mature and, very occasionally, organised adult, I have learned a thing or two about how to deal with the procrastination monkey, and I share these things with you now, my fellow procrastinators, in the hope that they will bring a little more flow to the process of Getting Shit Done.

Tip 1. Do a little exploration around why it is you might be procrastinating – it may well be that the task is onerous and you just can’t be arsed, or it may be that there’s something a little deeper at play. Is there some fear around getting the task done? And remember, it could be fear of success as much as fear of failure? In the case of either, ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen and how you will handle it. Digging a little deeper around the reasons for your procrastination will help you understand what you need to work through before you get started.

Tip 2. Get all other distractions off the list first of all. Diving into a big project requires clarity of thought and real focus, so if there are loads of other niggly things taking up headspace, get the buggers out of the way before you begin on the bigger project. Sit down and make a list of all the things that can easily be ticked off and just plough through them. This will shift the energy into one of ‘preparedness’ and remove any distractions. I just need to do X, Y, or Z before I can get started is a great way of never getting started. So deal with X, Y and Z promptly and then don’t go looking for A, B or C.

Tip 3. Have a good old brainstorm around the task or project, using mind mapping software or an old-fashioned sketchpad and Crayolas! Put the name or theme of the project in the centre and just start riffing on all the things that might be involved. This helps your brain to start seeing the project as a set of ideas or tasks that you can get to grips with rather than one big overwhelming project that is, frankly scaring the bejaysus out of you.

Tip 4. Break it down into easily manageable chunks. This is the process I find the most useful and the one I always come back to when resistance really kicks in. As an example, creating my 8 week Into the Spotlight programme was something that was seriously scaring the bejaysus out of me, however, after completing step 3 and, in particular step 4, the fear began to dissipate and the physical discomfort associated with that fear abated as well. I broke the tasks down into a series of totally achievable sub tasks and gave myself a high five for things like: ‘Research and choose the best camera to record videos with.’ Task ticked off, go have wine!

Tip 5. Set the timer on your phone for 30 minutes or get yourself the 30/30 App. This breaks things down into 30-minute intervals for you and is a great way of helping you to get into action mode. Doing something for 30 minutes and just giving it your all is a much sweeter pill to swallow than the idea of sitting down at the desk and slogging away ineffectively for hours on end. Once you start, you’ll find the natural momentum of ‘doing’ begins to take over and you may not even want to stop at 30 minutes.

Tip 6. Get yourself an accountability buddy and tell them not to let you off the hook. If you really and truly want to get something done and you know you have a habit of ‘going easy’ on yourself, phone a friend or family member, publicly declare your intentions and ask them to kick your butt if you don’t make shit happen.

Now go forth and be a truly terrible procrastinator!

p.s. I happen to be a darn good accountability buddy, and am very good at kicking butt while gently coaxing you to brilliance. Click here if you’d like to know more about working with me.



The Surprising Joys Of Getting Organised

The Surprising Joys Of Getting Organised

I am a person who struggles with structure. I don’t like to feel hemmed in (absolutely hated office life with its cubicles and 1pm lunch hours), I don’t like to make plans, I don’t like to make to-do lists, and I loathe project management software. I’ve bought countless numbers of those pretty ‘ladyboss’ style diaries and planners, all promising to help me get my shit together, get organized and crush my goals and business milestones. They are all happily gathering dust on my desk, with precisely zero pages filled in and zero weeks planned. It’s just not how I roll.

On the other hand, and somewhat confusingly, I have come to the conclusion that I am a person who absolutely must have structure in order to retain a modicum of sanity as I juggle my coaching business with motherhood, house renovations, the usual ups and downs of being a human being on this here planet and a burning desire to write stories and share them through the medium of theatre.

You could say there are two entirely different souls jostling for space in the same body and on any given day I struggle to decide which one is the dominant twin!

How am I to reconcile these two very different sides of my personality, seemingly completely at odds with one another?

I have decided to try a little experiment. I’m looking at ways to get more organized without feeling like a slave to plans and deadlines. ‘Structure Lite,’ if you will. This has involved taking some time on a Sunday evening to plan my week – loosely I might add – with the help of a terribly unattractive yet thoroughly functional whiteboard. Ten minutes on a Sunday evening is spent filling in the sections with what I think I might be able to accomplish in any given day. No pressure, just, you know, the tasks are there should I feel inclined to tick them off the list.

And whaddaya know – shit is getting done quicker than it has gotten done for the past year. I have discovered that my planner gives me the impetus I need to get the ‘work’ work done quick smart, so that I can focus on the creative work with a clear head and a free heart, and no little ‘guilt’ monkey sitting on my shoulder screeching that my plays won’t pay the damn mortgage.

While I do think it’s part of the creative sensibility to be a little all over the place, brain jumping from one idea to the next, head firmly in the lovely fluffy clouds, I am realising that lack of structure and planning can cause more anxiety in the long run. Hours can go by in a fog of random Googling, looking at paint colour charts for the spare bedroom, the newest additions to RiseArt or Art Finder, the obligatory check in with Facebook to observe the latest politically motivated scrap between friends – anything but actual work. And before you know it a deadline is looming and bugger all been done.

Today marks my fourth day of obeying the commands of ‘The Whiteboard’ and I can honestly say it is working a lot better than I thought it would. I suddenly seem to have so much more time. I’m not scrabbling to hit those deadlines and I can set aside periods throughout the week that are entirely dedicated to my creative work. As opposed to staring at my script at 10pm when I can barely keep my eyes open and my writing is fuelled by Diet Coke and sheer grit. Nothing wrong with the latter of course, but it is so nice to write from a place of calm, allowing the ideas to download with ease and enjoying the process without any guilt. ‘The Whiteboard’ is here to stay and ‘The Monkey’ has been silenced.

If any of this resonates with you, why not try your own version of ‘The Whiteboard’ – just for a week. See how you get on and feel free to share your experience in the comments!

What Dance Taught Me About Making Decisions

What Dance Taught Me About Making Decisions

I’ll never forget my first pair of ballet shoes. My Mum took me to Nolan’s shoe shop on the high street of our small Irish town and I sat on a little three legged stool transfixed as Mr Nolan brought out several pairs of soft leather slippers in the palest coral pink. This was it – I was really going to be a ballerina!

My dream didn’t work out quite as planned (bum, boobs and thighs not yet welcome in the professional ballet world), but I gained so much from the ten years I spent at the Wicklow School of Ballet, not least the ability to tune in and connect with my body in a way that I am only now, 35 years later, beginning to fully appreciate.

For me, there has always been something other-worldly about dance as an art form and before I discovered meditation it’s probably the closest I came to accessing that blissful, meditative state of ‘everything that’s happening right in this moment is just perfect and just as it should be.’ I loved everything about dance – the physical challenges of exhorting your body to stretch that bit further, kick that bit higher and bend and fold in a myriad of different ways. I loved the powerful emotions that were stirred in me when I danced, and how movement became a vehicle for expressing things I could never convey in words. I loved the sense of achievement I experienced when a sequence of steps became a story, and how the curve of an arm or the arch of a back or the sweep of a leg told you all you needed to know about what lay at the heart of that story. It was and is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

My relationship with my body has not always been an easy one, but as the years have gone by I have come to appreciate more and more the powerful mind/body connection that was cultivated through my years of ballet and modern dance. When I’m uncertain of the answers in my head, I now turn to my body for guidance, and the more I trust in it, the clearer the decisions become. It is comforting and reassuring to know that when my brain is tired and foggy, besieged with emotion or just plain refusing to play ball, I can check in with my body and see what it has to say.

So then, how does this work? Well a good way to start nurturing this mind/body relationship is by simply noticing what you experience physically when you react to things emotionally. Where does fear, anxiety, hurt or anger sit in your body and what physical reaction do these emotions bring about? Do you feel tension in your shoulders, tightness in your chest? Do you hold your breath or start to breathe more quickly? Now you are beginning to notice what happens when you experience dissonance. By contrast, notice how your body feels when something feels resonant – when you are happy, excited, relaxed, chilled, proud or pleased. You will likely feel very different physically. Your body knows there is nothing to fear and nothing to worry about so it defaults to its ‘home base’ state. The more you practice this, the more you’ll be able to turn to your body when you need to make a decision about something that’s enveloped in strong emotion, or when the stakes are high and it feels like the wrong decision might derail you completely. Find a place where you can be still and breathe slowly and steadily for five minutes. Bring your awareness to your physicality and ask your body to give you guidance. You’ll be surprised how quickly it responds.