Autumn’s in the air. Time to stop dawdling and start doing. Time-management guru Wanda N. Walker is happy to help us overcome the tendency to procrastinate. For 30 years, the Brooklyn Park-based owner of Uniquely Yours Consulting has been helping people accomplish personal and professional goals, mostly by getting out of their own way. Walker will teach her “Getting Unstuck: Overcoming Procrastination Workshop” this fall at Roosevelt High School, through Minneapolis Community Education (mplscommunityed.com). Luckily, Walker was willing to offer us a preview here. After all, there’s no time like the present, right?
Q: Why is this month a particularly good time to get unstuck?
A: September is typically a time when people have a sense they can make a change; go back to school, return to work. It’s a natural transition time for people.
Q: Does everybody procrastinate? Even kids?
A: We all do it at times. Even the best planners will procrastinate in some area or at some time, but I rarely find anyone to be a procrastinator in every area of life. With kids, I don’t think I’d call it procrastinating because kids usually don’t have goals they’re intentionally putting off. Their parents might have goals for them, but Mom and Dad need to be careful in the language they use with their kids. Procrastination can be learned.
Q: What’s the psychology behind why we tend to put off stuff? Are we hopelessly lazy at heart?
A: People say it’s laziness, but it’s really not about laziness at all. It’s fear. People fear they’re going to fall short. They’ll say, “I’m scared that I don’t know what I’m doing.” Perfectionism plays a role in procrastinating, too. People feel like they have to get something done perfectly, so they don’t get it done at all. And there are those thrill-seekers who enjoy the adrenaline rush.
Q: What advice do you give to those who fear failure?
A: Take ownership. Here’s an example: Let’s say a young employee has been given unclear guidelines by her boss regarding a work project. So she waits and doesn’t complete it. She might think that if she goes in and asks about direction and expectations, her boss will think she has no idea what’s going on. But, as a boss myself, I would much rather you come in and ask me. You can’t blame that on your boss. Trying to get clarity can help decrease procrastination.
Q: When does procrastination become a problem?
A: In my “Getting Unstuck” classes, we explore many consequences, including tensions with a spouse or partner, loss of friendships or job responsibilities, getting fired, even penalties from the IRS.
Q: And, yet, those still might not be enough to get people moving. What’s your solution to help them take action?
A: One of the things we talk about is our beliefs and values. Most of the things we procrastinate about are things that are not necessarily a value of ours. I, for example, value organization and getting things done appropriately. That is a top priority for me. I worked with someone where quickness and getting things done in a hurry was important to them. So I procrastinated when it came to attending meetings with this person, meetings that I felt were disorganized and chaotic and that created a disconnect with my core values. We do what we like, what we value.
Q: Who shows up at your workshops?
A: People eager to make a career move, people having relationship conflicts. A lot of retirees have been showing up lately asking, “What do I do now?” And there’s all those people who still haven’t organized their photo albums.
Q: Is procrastination ever a good idea? For example, by waiting you find a better way to deal with a challenge or decide you didn’t need to do it at all?
A: It can be a positive thing. Let’s look at marriage. If I thought about it and decided, “No, I’m not going to marry that person,” that procrastination probably saved me time, money and unhappiness.
Q: What are you procrastinating about these days?
A: I’m working on a huge cleanup project in my garage. I was going to get it done this summer. Well, it’s September and in my garage is a stack of stuff from my last job, of which I have some emotions I didn’t want to deal with. I’ve been working for the past two weeks to deal with those emotions.
A: My strategy has been to start small. I spend 15 minutes at it every day. I set a timer and I do 15 minutes. If I feel like I want to keep going, I do.
Q: What do people tell you after you’ve helped them successfully tackle something that’s been on hold in their lives?
A: In my last class in May, a woman told me that she needed to move in three weeks. She said, “I’m so overwhelmed. I don’t know how I’m going to get this done.” I suggested that she focus on one thing, that she go home and do one thing and then e-mail me proof that she had done it. Her one thing was getting the boxes out. Her e-mail to me was: “I feel I will move out of here without penalty.” And she did. That might not be huge for some people, but it was huge for her. She was ready to go when the movers came.