When you get sidetracked, do you think about how your lingering to-dos are not getting done because you’re too busy doing work for clients to work on your own business? Take a deep breath. You’re not alone.
Business coach Sherry Lowry stumbled onto her theory of “Procrastination as Disguised Brilliance” over the years by observing the phenomenon in her own high-functioning clients. Sherry recently sat down with me for an interview on how to move past procrastination in order to succeed at new outcomes.
If you have a strong desire to work on certain aspects of your own business yet continue to find yourself putting those to-dos on the back burner while you focus on work for others, read on.
Karen Aroian: First, what is procrastination?
Sherry Lowry: Procrastination is the action of delaying, postponing, or simply not addressing one of your own goals despite your best intentions.
KA: How is disguised brilliance different?
SL: It is a smart tool a founder or business owner can use when they’re prepared and ready. Usually, when they work on someone else’s project or creative effort, they manage to get it scheduled and done. When they don’t get their own work done—and they know the task is something they really want to get to—then procrastination becomes a signal. It can indicate that they need to step back for a more insightful view, to gain a fresh perspective, and to know what some of the probable drivers of procrastination can be in the life of a creative.
Often, it’s not the endeavor itself that triggers procrastination; it’s something about not being prepared to start it.
KA: That’s a fascinating topic—preparation.
SL: The way I came up with Procrastination as Disguised Brilliance is, time after time, when I would be working with a founder or a business owner, procrastination never happened around a client’s project or something they were being paid to do. The snagging point was almost always adding another piece to their business, any kind of creative involvement needing to happen at their end. That was where it really showed up.
I began to see the pattern in one high-functioning client after another. I began to realize that procrastination was kind of a disguise for them not being in position at that point in time for whatever it was they wanted, even though they wanted to be. This was really unique for them—not getting around to their own website, or having a content issue when content was their expertise. That was how I arrived at disguised brilliance.
KA: So what drives the procrastination if we can’t see its disguise?
SL: Procrastination as Disguise is a methodology based on eight factors that are all drivers for readiness—for getting things in gear and completed in the way people want to do them.
Almost all people who are stuck in some way can identify with two of the eight factors, one primary and one companion. The resolution is to get with your go-to “Atta girl!” friend or colleague to chat, lay it on the table, and move on from there. Another way to get in gear is to get offsite. Go to a place where there’s no Wi-Fi, take others with you who may need to get over the same hump, set your timer, and get work done.
Break down the probable barriers with a checklist:
- Do I have the time?
- Do I have the right space?
- Do I have space on my calendar?
KA: How can freelancers use this approach effectively? When can procrastinating be a brilliant tool?
SL: It can be a brilliant tool for you as a freelancer when some aspect of your business is missing or when an important to-do is not on your agenda. Let’s take writers and content developers who want to get their own websites up as an example. The ideal way to get content is to be in a meeting with people who are talking about you and their experience of working with you. When it’s your space, your livelihood, you’re not always the best one to speak for yourself.
That’s where mindset comes in, in terms of disguised brilliance. In other words, your delay in creating your own website has probably been purposeful because other people have been marketing you so well! All a potential client needs to hear another businessperson say is, ‘”This is my go-to person. I always think of her first,” and the next thing you know, you’re getting a call.
KA: What is the key factor freelancers should examine in order to benefit from procrastination as disguised brilliance?
SL: First of all, there’s an important precursor. You want to verify that the actual skills and capabilities are present. That has to be a given, even more so than the top factor. You must feel you are at-the-ready for the project at hand. If you’re not there yet, the query then would be, who is? Who might want to collaborate with you on this? What materials do you need to get started? If a database is needed, for example, how can you acquire that in a timely way?
The next assumption is that you don’t have a trust issue or philosophical or ethical circumstance in your way. You’ve got to know that X is the right thing for you to be doing.
Once you’ve confirmed this is your desired agenda, then you should ask: do I have time? Is there spaciousness in my personal and professional life to do good work on this? Does the outcome justify the effort it’s going to take me to do this? What will doing X take away from other enticing engagements or responsibilities?
KA: Why is “Agenda” the first and foremost consideration you identify?
SL: Because, after all, these are freelancers. Having a preferred agenda underlines and sets the whole tone for their success.
When you freelance, you’ve already taken a risk by design—and sometimes a real risk financially—in order to be working at more choice than most people. So with those commitments already made, you need to make sure what you’re doing is what you really want. Your to-do is not something secondary or tertiary. It is your agenda and, this is the crucial part, it’s not somebody else’s agenda for you. This comes into play even when facing a task that you’re excellent at completing.
Take someone who specializes in website content development. Even though they may be a successful writer or editor, the responsible move may be to find a great interviewer to interview them, rather than try to write their own copy. That flies in the face of what some freelancers think because they feel they ought to be able to do it themselves. It’s not that they can’t. It’s just that they may not be the best person to do it.
KA: Is there a first question you ask to begin removing the disguise?
SL: Yes, the first question I ask gets right to the heart of the matter. I ask them if moving forward to get X done is their own idea, their own project. That’s an important contrast to someone else wanting or needing them to do X.
There is a rationale behind delving into this question. I ask them who will benefit the most directly when they get onto tackling this and completing the engagement. Almost without fail they say that they will benefit and that they are failing themselves when they don’t get whatever it is they want to tackle under way.
That leads me to ask, “Would you like to talk about the factors that can most frequently get in your way?” There’s more than procrastination getting in the way of a highly qualified professional starting on their own personal goals or acting on aspirations. They usually have another culprit in the mix that they are calling procrastination, but it is not procrastination at all.
The shift I look for in setting the scene—and what my questions or actions are related to—is how to shift them away from feeling victimized and away from procrastination being the menace or the main problem. Actually getting them into a state of mind where they can reflect, take some time and consider what else is going on out there—that’s the first set of steps.
KA: Can you share a real-life example?
SL: Sure. For example, one of my clients was a fourth-generation, specialized physician. Although she had excelled professionally and financially, she no longer wanted to practice medicine after her children graduated from college. It had never been her agenda.
With enough savings and the support of her family, she kept her license and turned out to be an amazing evidence-based testimonial witness in the court system. She finally gave herself the permission and liberty to get on track. It took her years and years and years of not realizing that practicing medicine wasn’t really hers to do. She could have done so many other things. Luckily, she was still young enough in her early fifties, so she had time to be retrained as an expert witness.
KA: What are some questions and action items a freelancer can take right now to set an agenda?
SL: First ask:
- Who is in your tribe?
- Who would be a great support person for you?
- Can you hire them? Barter with them?
- Could it be a mutual exchange with a colleague?
- How much time do you spend each week on your business?
- Where are you on your calendar?
If it’s on your agenda, then begin preparing an action plan. Get down to the most logical approach to do the best job. It’s truth-telling time.
Watch for Part II on conquering procrastination as we explore the elements Timing and Spaciousness.
About Sherry Lowry:
Seven times entrepreneur, Sherry is a strategist and specialist in identifying career next steps and a business coach serving freelance and entrepreneur founders. Sherry’s core expertise is catalyzing others to put their best self and capability forward.
Credentials include the International Coach Federation’s highest certification, that of Master Certified Coach. She has earned two mainstream Master’s degrees and created three coach-specific training programs, plus helped train over 3,700 business mentors and coaches.
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