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Overcome Procrastination By Being Yourself

by Christopher R. Edgar

Why do so many of us dread going to work in the morning, and feel worn out when we leave the office? Usually, we assume it’s our work environment that tires us out—our dull projects, difficult clients and coworkers, or something else.

The part of the equation we don’t usually think about is ourselves and our way of being in what we do. A common example of this is the way we tend to put on a manufactured persona at work. Many of us think the people around us at work—maybe the boss, clients or coworkers—expect us to have a certain type of personality, and won’t approve of us if we don’t.

Perhaps we think we’re expected to be more tough, submissive, outgoing, or something else. Or, maybe we’re just accustomed to acting a little differently when others are around—for example, we may feel threatened, and our bodies may be tenser than they are when we’re alone. Whatever the reason, we decide that who we are isn’t good enough to get by in our work environment, and we hold up a facade that has the qualities we think we lack.

How Our “Work Persona” Causes Procrastination

Although our work persona may help us feel secure, carefully designing everything we say and do to maintain our facade takes energy, and has us get tired quickly. As many of us know firsthand, it’s hard enough to get through our work without pretending to be someone else while we’re doing it.

One client I worked with, who I’ll call Megan, was a great example. Megan was a smart, capable lawyer looking for ways to leave the office earlier and spend more time with her family. The biggest obstacle she faced was her tendency to lose focus—to surf the web, read the newspaper, and do other things to avoid her work.

I asked her what was usually going on when she started procrastinating. Was there any specific part of her work, I wondered, that she often found herself resisting? After some thought, Megan realized she tended to start procrastinating when she was drafting legal papers that took a self-righteous and angry tone. Writing in this style bothered her so much that she’d often feel the need to stop and do something else.

As we explored this further, Megan also realized she felt pressured to take a hyper-aggressive posture in her writing because she was female. She worried that her mostly male superiors would assume, because she was a woman, that she’d be easily pushed around, and they’d be less likely to consider her for partner. She adopted her “take no prisoners” style to prove them wrong.

We experimented with having her write in a style that came more naturally to her—a matter-of-fact approach without all the blaming rhetoric. Interestingly, when she took this new tack, she found herself procrastinating less often. Without all the discomfort she used to experience, she didn’t feel the need to take as many breaks. What’s more, the higher-ups seemed just as happy with her work.

Finding “Flow” By Dropping Your Facade

Naturally, we want to be liked and promoted at work, so we behave in ways we think will earn our coworkers’ approval. But as Megan’s example illustrates, this approach can backfire. Because we feel drained and uncomfortable holding up a facade to please others, often our work persona makes it harder to get our work done.

The solution seems clear: bringing more of who we really are to our work. But this isn’t always easy, because—like Megan—sometimes we aren’t fully conscious of the areas where we’re putting up a false front for work purposes. We’ve become so accustomed to doing it that we’re out of touch with our deeper selves. In these situations, as I did with Megan, it’s helpful to ask ourselves which activities give us the most trouble.

Perhaps you’ll find that the “problem area” for you is negotiating, writing, talking to customers, or something else. When you discover a task that seems particularly tiresome, look closely at whether you feel pressure to look a certain way—tough, meek, outgoing, or something else—when you’re doing it. Your discomfort may stem from the “work persona” you’re creating to please others. Often, just becoming aware that we’ve been wearing a mask in our work does much to help us let go of it.

Many of us desire what’s often called the state of “flow” as we work—a peaceful, focused state where putting all our attention on what we’re doing seems effortless. However, the work persona we often create to please others makes this mindset hard to get into.

As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, a flow state isn’t available to a “person who is constantly worried about how others will perceive her,” but we can enter it once we are “unclouded by self-consciousness and self-evaluation.” When we let go of our work persona, getting into that centered, productive state becomes possible.


Christopher R. Edgar is an author, speaker and personal coach who specializes in helping professionals transition to careers aligned with their callings, and find more satisfaction and productivity in what they do. Chris’s new book, Inner Productivity: A Mindful Path to Efficiency and Enjoyment in Your Work, uses insights from mindfulness practice and psychology to help readers develop focus and motivation in their work. You can find out more about the book and Chris’s work at www.InnerProductivity.com.

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