Last week I shared one of my favorite techniques for overcoming overwhelm. If you tried the blank sheet of paper exercise, hopefully, you emerged with the realization that you have fewer truly critical tasks than you thought, and you have a short list of A priority tasks stack ranked in the order you should tackle them.
You may now find yourself with another common challenge. The A1 item on your list, which you know you need to tackle first, is something you have been putting off for days, weeks, or even longer. Today I’ll share a technique that helps me overcome moods that drive Procrastination.
I love every minute that I am coaching. It’s the most fulfilling thing I have ever done, and I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to do this every day. That being said, running your own business involves many tasks beyond coaching. Some of those tasks (invoicing, developing marketing collateral, etc.) do not charge my batteries the way the actual coaching does. It wasn’t long before I had amassed a relatively long list of less exciting tasks I knew I needed to do, but I didn’t want to.
The beauty of the blank sheet of paper exercise is that it gets your priorities staring you in the face. You can’t hide from them anymore. You can’t keep putting off that task that needs to get done. That doesn’t make it easy to get over the hump and get it done.
As I faced this challenge and applied the ontological coaching techniques I was learning, I recognized that some negative mood was behind my procrastination. That recognition led me to devise this technique. When a mood no longer serves us, we leverage ontological techniques to shift our mood to one that serves us better.
The Procrastination Pomodoro
You may be familiar with the Pomodoro Technique. It is a technique designed to help you focus on a task and be productive. You set a timer for 25 minutes and begin working. When the timer goes off, you take a 5-minute break. Repeat as needed. That 25-minute Pomodoro is long enough for you to get meaningful work done but short enough that you can get over that initial hurdle and start working.
I enhanced this technique with two additions:
1. Remove all distractions. When I start my Pomodoro, my phone goes into focus mode. I close out email, slack, and anything else that could disrupt me. I close my door. I don’t want anything to disrupt my focus while in this Pomodoro.
2. Focus on shifting my mood. To support my desired mood of Ambition, I created an Ambition playlist. I selected a handful of songs that energize me and pump me up. When I start the Pomodoro, I put my AirPods in and start-up that playlist. Over time, when I encounter a song that fuels my mood of Ambition I add it to the playlist. It’s up to 113 songs.
Because I’m a Maximizer, I created a shortcut on my iPhone that does all of this with one tap.
What Happens Next
The music shifts my mood almost instantly. I’m energized, and I start knocking out the less exciting tasks. After 25 minutes, the timer goes off. Here’s where it gets interesting. Most of the time, when the timer goes off, I’m crushing it. Sometimes I’ve even made it into a flow state. When this happens, I do not take that 5-minute break. If I have lots of time, I turn the timer off and keep going. If I have less time, I start another Pomodoro (or less – I want to keep going in my focused state until it’s time to stop and transition to my next commitment, whether in 5 minutes, 15, or 25).
If I’m not crushing it and feeling drained, I take the 5-minute break. So use your judgment here. Take it if you need it.
Now that the Ambition playlist has grown so much, I use it for more than just the Procrastination Pomodoro. If I roll out of bed and don’t feel energized for my morning run, I fire it up. If I’m feeling down, I fire it up. It works remarkably well. If you don’t have an Ambition playlist (you may prefer Inspiration or Enthusiasm), I encourage you to start building one now. Although take care – I had a friend who needed to focus on work and started to create a playlist, only to discover he had spent four hours building the perfect playlist! So he grabbed the first 20 songs and created another playlist, named “Get the fudge back to work.”
A True Story
I love writing this blog, so I don’t generally need to shift my mood to do it. I usually have a draft out to my blog review team by Thursday. This week, however, I had a long weekend at the beach. So I have been procrastinating. It’s Saturday evening. I’m listening to my Ambition playlist right now, and a few minutes ago, my Pomodoro timer went off, and yes, I am in a flow state. The Procrastination Pomodoro has enabled me to get this done and out to my review team so I can squeeze in just a little more beach time tomorrow before I head home.
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