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The Way Lawyers Can Stop Procrastinating

Worker playing with Newton's cradle in office
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on September 20, 2019

Like many bad habits, procrastination is easy to cultivate and hard to stop. Fortunately, once you understand the source of your procrastination, you can take steps to remove those hindrances and start in on that next task with a clear head and renewed confidence you can get the job done. After you spend some time on of course. Reading this blog doesn’t count.

Are Lawyers Really That Prone to Procrastination?

While procrastination is found across industries, it is a particular problem for lawyers. As you hopefully already suspect, procrastination is not a symptom of laziness. If you were lazy, you wouldn’t be an attorney to begin with. Nor is it necessarily a problem of time management.

Rather, procrastination is a symptom of factors that demotivate and hinder us from getting started on a given task. The inability to control the negative emotions surrounding the task is what causes us to procrastinate. For lawyers, this is typically anxiety over making the right decisions, fear of failure, and boredom. The natural response to that negative emotional cocktail is to put off the thing making us feel that way. The reward for avoiding those feelings is greater than the reward for completing the task.

This holds true until the anxiety of missing a deadline becomes greater than the anxiety associated with the task. We then get an immediate reward – relief – from completing the task. But the next task is waiting, which we don’t jump into right away to avoid those negative emotions we just escaped from. And the cycle renews.

Unfortunately, this cycle can lead to chronic stress, less job satisfaction, and poor health choices. But it can get better.

Steps to End Procrastination

If procrastination is the result of negative emotions, then the way to procrastinate less is to manage those emotions. Below are some tips to help you do just that:

  1. Don’t beat yourself up. Somewhat counterintuitively, the first step to reducing procrastination is to stop being so hard on yourself for being a procrastinator. Self-compassion decreases the negative emotions associated with a given task, making it easier to get started.
  2. Get it done, not perfect. As General George Patton once said, “a good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” Don’t expect perfection from yourself, just expect that you’ll do what you can right now. This will help to lower anxiety.
  3. Eat that frog. A book by Brian Tracy recalls an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, then you’ll know that you’re done with the worst thing that day. In other words, get the hard, important stuff done first. It will reduce the negative feelings you have about the day and make it easier to take on another task tomorrow.

There are any number of tips elsewhere that may work for you. For example, many suggest that breaking tasks into bite-size chunks can lower anxiety. Some people like to give themselves rewards after completing a task. Just remember that procrastination isn’t a sign of laziness or some inherent personal character failing. It can be overcome.

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