Overcome Procrastination

by Tim Francis on October 17, 2013

Ever had one hell of a time getting a marketing project started?  Me too.  As in, like every week or two!

Don’t get so mad with yourself, below there’s an explanation that may shed some new light on the old problem of procrastination.  Listen to the podcast or read the article below…

When there’s an important sales letter to write, or an in-depth marketing research project to dive into, I *often* feel really resistant to get started.

It feels embarrassing and childish to admit it, but UGH sometimes I feel like the two-year-old-Tim who used to throw tantrums on his Mom’s kitchen floor.

Answering email? No problem. Paying bills or watching a training video? Can do those tasks in a snap.

But when it comes to hard, complex, and/or lengthy projects, an extra-stubborn form of procrastination sets in, and sometimes it takes hours or even DAYS for me to really get rolling.


Worst of all? Once I finally do get things in motion I realize, “hey, this ain’t so bad!”

And once I finish the project I sit back and admire my work, feeling super satisfied.

Which causes me to wonder: what the hell was I so resistant about in the first place? Why the big drama?

(I shake my head.)

Sometimes it’s plain old fatigue or some other easily explainable factor.

Sometimes it’s just old-fashioned laziness or procrastination that sets in.

But sometimes it’s deeper than that. Much deeper…

I think I’ve recently stumbled across the answer. It’s in a spectacular (and must-read) book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You. In it author Cal Newport explains the idea of “Deliberate Practice”.

Deliberate Practice is the style of difficult practice required to continue improving at a task. Professor Anders Ericsson, who coined the term in the 1990s, defines it as an “activity designed, typically by a teacher, for the sole purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual’s performance.”

OK. I know that’s a lot of techno-speak, so let’s look at a simple example: playing guitar.

For the guitarist, Deliberate Practice is learning a difficult scale, and repeating it over and over again until it’s easy.

But the guitarist don’t rest on his or her laurels. They (or their teacher) immediately find a way to make it hard again so their skills can once again get stretched outwards. They play the scale faster. Or in a different octave. Or a different tuning. Or they learn a difficult song using that scale.

Anything to repeatedly, ruthlessly stretch themselves beyond where they’re comfortable. Again and again and again. For weeks, months, and years on end.

THAT is Deliberate Practice, and THAT is what creates mastery. 10,000 hours on it’s own is insufficient (sorry Malcolm Gladwell – who popularized the “10,000 Hour Rule” in his best-selling book The Outliers).

WHAT we do is equally (if not *more* important) than how much we do it. Playing the same guitar lick for 10,000 hours will do zilch. But being uncomfortably stretched non-stop for months and years on end, in a properly-guided direction, most certainly *will* bring us to an elite level.

Please note: Deliberate Practice is *not* not limited to playing guitar, sports, chess, arts, or any kind of “performance” situation.

It applies *anywhere* where developing “Career Capital” is valuable. Newport uses “Career Capital” as the umbrella term to describe all skills, experience, and/or contacts a person develops in the process of become masterful at their craft.

This could be marketing, sales, teaching, being an engineer, welder, or anything else that requires skill.

In fact, Newport discovered these concepts while earning his PhD in computer science. He’d challenge himself to read and understand difficult Computer Science dissertations written by brilliant thought-leaders in his field, then take notes to summarize the main points of the paper in his own words – a powerful exercise in Deliberate Practice.

Newport explains his experience like this:

“Deliberate Practice is hard. When I got to the first tricky gap… I faced immediate internal resistance. It was as if my mind realized the effort I was about to ask it to expend, and in response it unleashed a wave of neuronal protest, distant at first, but them as I persisted increasingly tremendous, crashing over my concentration with mounting intensity.”

As he embraced this experience and reality more and more, and pushed through it regardless, he came to accept this new mindset: “Strain, I now accepted was good. Instead of seeing this discomfort as a sensation to avoid, I began to understand it the same way that a bodybuilder understand muscle burn: a sign that you’re doing something right.”

I realized immediately this was true of me too. When it comes to hard tasks, it’s like my brain knows it’s going to get shoved into some monster marathon or subjected to a punishing Crossfit workout and says, “Ummm, no thanks – maybe tomorrow!”.

So – with discomfort and strain threatening me from inside that challenging sales letter or complex marketing research project – no wonder I’d rather answer email and “put off” the tough task until another day. It makes perfect sense!

Understanding this resistance instantly helps me better understand WHY I’m having a tough time getting started, and then accepting it and proceeding anyways.

As a closing thought on Deliberate Practice, Newport ponders why knowledge workers (like you and I) usually get “good enough” at their jobs / craft to keep their bosses or clients happy, but never really elevate themselves to *exceptional* status.

He hits us right between the eyes:

“Deliberate Practice requires you to stretch past where you are comfortable and then receive ruthless feedback on your performance. In the context of career construction, most knowledge workers avoid this style of skill development because, quite frankly, it’s uncomfortable. To build up large stores of career capital, however, which is necessary for creating work you love, you must make this style of practice a regular part of your work routine.” (234)

Bravo Cal Newport, thanks for helping me understand and accept an important part of what holds me back from being my best! Yet again So Good They Can’t Ignore You proves to be an A+ read. When I say it’s a “must-read”, I seriously mean it. Go and grab yourself a copy today.

Onwards and Upwards,

Tim :)

Resources Mentioned In This Podcast:

So Good They Can’t Ignore You (book) on Amazon

So Good They Can’t Ignore You (audiobook) on Audible

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