How to Succeed at Overcoming Procrastination

Mike Montague

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Don’t wait to listen to this episode! Steve Herzog and long-time Sandler trainer and self-proclaimed perfectionists will share his best practices for overcoming procrastination. Whether you are waiting for things to be perfect or doing meaningless activities to avoid what really matters, Steve will have tips to help get you moving. 

Learn how to succeed at overcoming procrastination!

Mike Montague: Steve, welcome to the show. Tell me a little bit about procrastination and who should be paying attention today.

Steve Herzog: Well, actually it had to do with the preparation for this call, and I was just uncertain of how much to prepare. Well, I procrastinated on that, Mike, and eventually got prepared enough to where we’re holding this session today. That’s meant to be humorous.

Mike Montague: Yeah, I was going to say I guess if the people are procrastinating, they’re probably listening to this episode somewhere around January or something instead of when it came out because they haven’t listened to it yet.

Steve Herzog: There you go. What I intend to talk about today—I think it’s a great challenge for all of us no matter what we’re doing in this world privately, professionally, work-related, or even at home or with our children, but all of us in our life, all people in life, are doing something next. They’re about to do something. Whatever that may be, whatever small thing that might be or monstrous item in terms of what they’ve got to accomplish, the fact is we all are exposed to situations that are dealt to us every day, every hour. Why should anyone listen to this? We all work to try to accomplish things in our life, no matter how we define what accomplishment is, and we struggle because a lot of times most of us have all kinds of things that we want to accomplish. It could be tens and tens and hundreds of things. That for some people is so insurmountable that they find themselves so challenged they get frozen, and they find themselves doing very little.

We’ll get into it, but I think a deeper issue, and for some who are challenged with it more than others, is a psychological hook, some self-talk that they’ve got, some things that they’ve done in their past or maybe experienced in their past that really causes them to be challenged in executing on the things that they’d really like to do. Hopefully, we’ll be able to address a lot of that today.

Mike Montague: Yeah, let’s go ahead and jump into attitude because I’m thinking there’s a lot of different attitudes that can cause procrastination. It might be paralysis analysis; it might be a fear of failure or a fear of success; it could be risk that you’re dealing with; or it could just be something you don’t want to do, and so you’re avoiding some other talk just because you don’t like it for some reason.

Steve Herzog: No doubt.

Mike Montague: What do you think is most common, or what are the bad attitudes we should avoid and good attitudes we should try to find?

Steve Herzog: I’ll get to that question. If you don’t mind, I’m reminded of a true story. My daughter at the time was 12 years old. Her name is Leslie, and she and her sister were in the backseat of the car as I was driving. This is some years ago. I’ll never forget it because it’s a very true moment in my life obviously with what I do in helping professionals and sales training and sales success. I’m always aware of things people say. I remember my daughter, 12 years old, saying, “Dad, I will always be a procrastinator. It’s just the way I am. That’s the way I’m built.” I’ll never forget, oh my god, and she meant it and she said it. I remember distinctly pulling the car over and coming to a stop on the shoulder of the road and I said, “Leslie, the more you say that, the more you think that, the more you believe that, the more it will be true and you just reinforced that to yourself once again. You’ve got to stop doing this because if you believe it, it’s true.”

She was talking about how she puts things off in terms of studying for exams, et cetera, so I had to say, “Leslie, first of all I need you to do something, and right now we need to fix this. I want you to tell me you are awesome at getting things done and you don’t put them off. Your words—you use your words, but the last thing is all positive with regard to what you execute on and what you choose to do, you do. You don’t put it off. I want to hear that statement, that positive statement from you. ‘I am a girl, an individual, committed to doing what I say I’m going to do.’ I don’t know, I want you to use your words, but I need to hear that from you now. I can’t move the car until we hear that.”

She goes, “Oh, dad, come on. I’m not going to do that.” I said, “Well, I’m waiting though,” to the point where she finally said it, not the strength I wanted, to where I had to go back and say, “Leslie, one more time. Come on. Let’s say it loud. Let’s mean it. Come on.” “Okay, dad. Here I go. I am a great person who says what I do I say, and I get it done, and I execute on it, and I’m going to study beforehand, and I’m going to prepare. And when I get things done, I’m going to put it on a list and make sure that I accomplish what needs to be done.”

Anyway, from that point on I think we really did have a different relationship, but to this day I know she thinks about that when she’s got things she’s got to do because it was a very poignant moment. I can’t stress enough that when you talk about attitude, and of course our Success Triangle—attitude, technique, and behavior—the attitude you bring is so huge and the mindset you bring is so huge to your life. We can talk about this in much broader terms, but specifically to execute on what we know we should be doing, we’ve got to start with the mindset that we are the people that we would want to be in terms of execution and not putting things off. We really need to start there, and we’ve got to start believing we are these people because if you think you’re not, you are probably going to be right.

Mike Montague: Well, I think that’s a brilliant answer because no matter what your reason for procrastinating then, your answer is you have to change that attitude and believe that you are a master of execution, somebody that gets things done and fulfills their promises. I know that one of the takeaways and changes in my life as well is when I had a coach tell me, “You’re making commitments to yourself, and the more you lie to yourself about what you’re going to do, the less likely you come to do anything interesting or successful.”

Steve Herzog: So huge, Mike. So huge.

Mike Montague: Let’s get into behavior because to me this one is the key for procrastination—that you actually do something, right?

Steve Herzog: Right, right, right.

Mike Montague: How does behavior fit in?

Steve Herzog: Oh my goodness. There are so many analogies out there. The other thing in actually preparing a bit for this, and it does go back to Star Wars when Yoda said, “There is no try; there’s only do,” I’m reminded of that time and time again when I come to the Behavior Triangle in that all it is about life in terms of our success is the execution on what we do. I think, Mike, we chatted a little bit before this, but I think so many people are wanting to get it right, whatever it may be. Maybe they make their list and their list is so long and then they reprioritize that list.  And then maybe they might look at it again and then they might add a few more things. We sometimes fall into this pit of just getting ready to get ready. I tell you, I see it with some of my clientele, and I think we’re sometimes so much towards perfection that we want to wait for that perfection to be there for us to then execute.

If there’s anything that I’ve learned in my life in the last 21 years of working with Sandler and good professional people, is that, you know what? It doesn’t always have to be perfect. It doesn’t always have to be pretty. You know what? The big thing is you execute to do it, and behavior is the activation of that intent of actually just doing whatever it is, even if it’s just two minutes you put to it or three minutes you put to it. I can’t stress enough, we have these to-do lists in our life; we all want to try to activate on them, and you just can’t stare at them. I think the way to start it is they say you can’t eat the elephant all in one bite. You do it a bite at a time. You do it one item at a time and you do it for, maybe, it’s a few minutes at a time. If it’s five people you need to call, which one of those five is going to be the hardest call to make? Make that call first and do it.

We all care about our health these days more than ever. We’re all health conscious. We want to be fit, we want to eat right, we want to lose weight or we want to at least maintain our weight. When you get into behavior, a classic example would be if you want to lose weight, you’re going to have to be active, whatever active is. It’s working out at the gym; it could be running; it could be a marathon; it could be bicycling. Whatever it may be, but it’s an activity of moving your body and making it more healthful. Well, some of us just don’t want to do that. Who wants to run three miles every day? Who wants to go lift weights every day? Who wants to be sore the next two, three days after doing that? You don’t want to do it and you put it off. Well, if ever there’s a great example, you know and I know that if we’re going to do it, you don’t think about it. You just do it.

I can’t say it enough in the Behavior Triangle. I think there’s a lot to be said because this world is full of a lot of people who want to, who try, who may have all the knowledge and expertise and education they could have, and they may even have super attitudes, but they don’t mean jack squat if they don’t deliver and execute on what they’ve got. I can’t say enough that we can’t think about doing things. We just need to do them.

Mike Montague: Yeah, I absolutely love that. It brings to mind a question though of balance here because some people over plan, and they use planning as their procrastination excuse. And other people under plan, and they use no plan as their procrastination excuse. They work on whatever shiny object is in front of them rather than the most important thing. Do you have any advice on how we find the sweet spot here of planning but not over planning?

Steve Herzog: Yeah, that’s a tough one. I will tell you it is special for each individual person. I’ve had several clients who are very bright people, who are very good at what they do, but simply cannot get ready to pull the trigger, or even get ready to pull it. And then when they’re ready to pull it, they don’t pull it. I see that a lot. Each person is kind of unique, different in their own way. The best advice I can give for anyone is, we’re all looking to accomplish things in our life, whatever that may be, on a daily basis, weekly, monthly, yearly, and so on. Again, the best thing you can do, really truly—and you can go online and there are all kinds of articles on this, but it is true. The best thing you can do to start to get control or feel in control is to write down, what is it I need to do? Frankly, too, a lot of us are using computers these days and of course the phone and so on and so forth. I do recommend to write it down rather than type it in. There is an accomplishment there that better suits the mindset of what needs to be done.  

If you handwrite it down—and we’ve talked about journaling and we know that in Sandler. But the concept of actually taking our thoughts and taking a moment to reflect on what the day was like or what the day is going to be like, et cetera and so forth, and put that in writing and do it in a handwritten form, you do the same in a to-do list. Then once you’ve got that down, believe it or not, most people start to feel like they’re somewhat in control because now all of what’s been floating around in their mind through the night, through the morning, whatever it may be, they’ve now got at least some control because it’s down on paper. They can see it. Once you can start to see it, you can start to work towards controlling and managing it.

The first step, write it down. Second step, listen. There’s a great book, Brian Tracy wrote it. It’s 10 years ago now, and 2007 I think is the recent print, but it’s called Eat That Frog. You may have heard of this, Mike, but it’s a great little book on how you’ve got to work on procrastination. The story goes in the book, if the worst thing in your day is going to be eating a live frog, the best time to eat the live frog is first thing in the morning. When you’ve done that, the rest of your day has got to be better because anything is better than eating that frog first thing in the morning.

Then further, which is kind of neat, is that there are two rules of eating that frog. One is certainly if you’ve got two frogs to eat, eat the ugliest one first, which would be rule number one. Then the second rule, which I thought was pretty accurate as well, is you don’t look at it too long before you eat it. Just eat it. It is a very good parody I think to what we look at in terms of things we’ve got to get done and what we put off. In addition to the to-do list can be the prioritization, and it’s the ugliest one, it’s the hardest one, it’s the most difficult one. Start there. Things will get better once you’ve done that.

Mike Montague: Yeah. I think you just gave us a whole bunch of good techniques, but do any other techniques, tricks, or hacks come to mind for overcoming procrastination?

Steve Herzog: I think sometimes we can be very critical of ourselves. When we fail to achieve what we want, we actually allow it to affect how we feel about ourselves personally, and maybe it can attack your self-confidence, your self-image, and so on. You’ve got to be prepared. I love this term, and my wife uses it—you’ve got to give yourself some grace. I think that’s very important in life. We aren’t perfect beings. We aren’t perfect all the time. I think we have to accept the fact that sometimes we’re going to fall short. Don’t beat yourself up. I think that’s important, too.

Mike Montague: I was just thinking about your tips earlier, and I like that you said write it down versus electronic. I think it is more permanent and more powerful, and I’ve heard other people say time-blocking is great, like you said first thing in the morning or maybe setting aside your prospecting time or your writing time is easier to do in a block. Or do a Pomodoro method where you work for a little bit and then rest and then work for a little bit. Other people do task lists or to-dos and other things, more time commitments and a little bit all of the time. Do you have a favorite out of those options or any techniques that you think work better than others?

Steve Herzog: Thank you. Certainly time-blocking is a highly recommended approach that I use personally every day, and as well I coach, making sure the people I work with do the same. In order for us to control ourselves and our activity, the first thing we’ve got to do is commit to ourselves to set aside the time to get the things done we need to. Mike, you know more than I do that every day a lot of us are bombarded with more distractions today than we’ve ever had in all the decades before. There’s so many things that are there. There’s an actual research that’s been done. In the average eight-hour workday, and it’s been studied according to this article by Harvard Business Review, only two hours and 53 minutes is actual productive time. They actually took 2,500 people, and they went through a series of questions, et cetera and so forth. I’m just going to read a little bit, but this is kind of interesting.

They said that one hour and five minutes was reading news bites and websites. Checking social media was 44 minutes. Discussing nonwork-related things with co-workers, 40 minutes. Searching for new jobs, believe it or not, 26 minutes. Taking smoke breaks, 23 minutes. Making calls to partners, friends, et cetera, 18 minutes. Hot drinks, 17 minutes. Anyway it goes on, but you get the idea. I think we’ve really got to be focused on what we’re doing, and this is just some of what we’re distracted by. I think we’ve really got to work harder today than ever to time-block and not get distracted, and that might mean incoming calls are coming in, incoming emails may be coming in, incoming texts may be coming in, but we don’t respond. This is more important. That time and that appointment you set with yourself is as important than anything else you’re going to do that day, even if it’s a client appointment. It’s as important. I think you’ve got to treat it with that level of importance because if you don’t you’ll find yourself serving everyone else. We know a great Sandler Rule by David Sandler is, “If you’re not on your own plan, you’re on someone else’s plan.” Whose plan would you rather be on? I want to be on my plan.

Mike Montague: Yeah, I totally agree. I’ve turned off all the alerts on my phones and computers and emails, all the flashing lights that can distract you when you’re getting stuff done and have started. We talked about procrastination today, but once you get started you don’t want to get distracted and quit again, so I think those are great tips.

We’re talking with Steve Herzog. He is a Sandler trainer from Knoxville, Tennessee, a long-time Sandler trainer with 21 years under your belt now. How do you define success?

Steve Herzog: Success, I think really simply put, equals or success is whatever fulfillment of goals and dreams that you have. If you have goals and dreams, and we all should and we probably need a lot more, but if you fulfill either one of those or both, you’ve got success. It’s that simple.

Mike Montague: What was the biggest lesson learned or hurdle you had to get over in your career?

Steve Herzog: I would say I was challenged most, and you don’t know this, Mike, obviously most people don’t, but I started my career as an engineer. My first 10 years of my career was a functioning industrial engineer. I eventually moved into sales and went through the corporate route in sales. That being the case, when I started my profession and my business, one of the biggest struggles I had was wanting to get everything perfect, and just before I took any kind of action on things I wanted to make sure it was typed right, it looked right, the spacing was right, the font was right. I just remember going through a lot of struggles on forums and things of that nature which are oddly not the priority for a business owner, but at the time I made them that way. The biggest bridge in the gap was to try to accommodate the fact that sometimes it doesn’t need to be perfect and stop worrying about the small things. Just think and go out and do it. Then I developed and I’ve learned because I will tell you in just about anything I do, I am not accurate but, boy, you know what? I showed up. I was there. I did it.

Mike Montague: Yeah, I think that’s great. Then this may tie in, but do you have a superpower, a skill, that you lean on when you need to be successful, and how did you land on that?

Steve Herzog: I will tell you, I think as you know, the biggest aspect of those who succeed in life, I absolutely believe, is that they’ve got to have a very deep inner drive and motivation. They’ve got to have that. That’s something that can’t be trained. It’s not something that can be coached. I do believe you have that or you don’t. Certainly, we deal with a lot of people who do or could. I think that’s first, but second too is … I’m reminded of a Sandler Rule. It’s one of my favorites: “It’s not how you feel that determines how you act; it’s how you act that determines how you feel.” That just rings true to me every day, every week, in all of my instruction, and certainly with regard to procrastination. It helps a lot.

Mike Montague: Yeah, absolutely. I love it. Let’s wrap everything up for everybody in a nice big bow. Leaving the podcast today, if they’re a procrastinator, what is one key attitude you would like them to have?

Steve Herzog: Number one, start thinking you’re not a procrastinator, and that’s by saying, “I am one who executes on what I do,” or whatever your positive affirmation could be. You’ve got to start believing in yourself first. I think that’s so paramount, Mike, and so key. That then gives you the launching board to get done what you need to.

Mike Montague: What is one key behavior you would like them to do?

Steve Herzog: Right now, I want you to start by writing down what needs to be done today or tomorrow, and all I want you to do is execute on whatever you’ve written down and spend some period of time setting it aside possibly to execute on what those are. Spend two to five minutes on each item you put down. Just do it. Don’t think about it. Don’t wring your hands. Do it. Eat the frog.

Mike Montague: The best technique to use for procrastination?

Steve Herzog: Certainly, time-blocking and setting aside that time with yourself to accomplish your plan rather than be dragged into or deflected by other peoples’ plans. I’d rather be on my plan.

Mike Montague: I like it. Anything we missed on this topic, or anything you would like to share with the audience before we go?

Steve Herzog: Thanks for asking, Mike. You did an awesome job. You are excellent at what you do. Unfortunately, it’s not a secret. It’s not like rocket science. It’s not some silver bullet. It isn’t. It’s pretty straightforward in what you’ve got to get done. I wish everyone the best and, boy, have lots of goals and dreams and execute on them. You’ll be more successful in life for sure.

Mike Montague: Steve, thanks for being on the show.

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