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*Article reprinted with permission from author Judy Feld.

I’m delighted to share with my readers some tidbits on busy-ness, distraction, procrastination, and goals.

I’ll begin with busy-ness, and then move to procrastination. The two may seem contrary to each other, but I hope to show their connection and also supply some mind tricks to ease the stress of both.

How busy are you? Busier than the other guy? Busier than anyone in the world? Do you say you want to change that state, but deep down you’re proud of it? You might be a “humblebragger!” A recent HBR blog post by Greg McKeown entitled “Why We Humblebrag about Being Busy/Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” cites an example:

We have a problem — and the odd thing is we not only know about it, we’re celebrating it. Just today, someone boasted to me that she was so busy she’s averaged four hours of sleep a night for the last two weeks. She wasn’t complaining; she was proud of the fact. She is not alone.

McKeown then offers an antidote to undisciplined pursuit of more: the disciplined pursuit of less, but better. A growing number of people are making this shift. He calls them Essentialists. These people are designing their lives around what is essential, and eliminating everything else. He offers a few simple steps and tips for becoming more of an Essentialist.

Coach’s Resources:

You can find McKeown’s full blog post with more on Essentialists at

You can find some specific suggestions to improve your ability to select and focus in my article: “Multitasking Myopia and Joyless Juggling” © (D-3), at

Why Our Brains Don’t Cooperate

Whether you want to become an Essentialist or just be and feel less busy, it is necessary to change some habits. That’s not easy. Art Markman, in his Fast Company blog post, reminds us of the futility of trying to focus on our negative behaviors in order to change them. He offers a strategy for substituting positive actions, and an example that continues our technology thread:

If you were going to try to be more productive this year, what would you do? …You would focus on reducing these behaviors that waste your time: check email less often, go to fewer meetings, and so on. They are negative goals, because they refer to actions you are not going to take. By focusing on the actions you will take (positive goals), you give your habit-creation system a chance to operate. Unfortunately, the brain mechanisms that develop habits cannot learn not to do something.…So, negative goals are doomed to fail, because they do not create a desirable set of habits.

So…how do we set positive goals and focus on positive actions? It takes some planning and effort (and Grit, a topic for a future newsletter article). Some highlights from Dr. Markman:

Rather than checking your email first thing in the morning, take some time to write, to read new articles in your area of expertise, or to work on big projects. Your email will be there waiting for you when you choose to check it. By focusing on the actions you will take, though, you give your habit creation system a chance to operate.

  • Think about the behaviors you want to stop: observe yourself to find out what you are doing
  • Find new behaviors: make the new behavior something that you will do consistently in that particular situation, so that the new behavior becomes associated with that setting.
  • Change your Environment: make changes to your environment to make the new and desirable behavior easy to perform and the undesirable behavior hard to perform.

Coach’s Resources:

You can find Dr. Markman’s full blog post, with additional examples at

For support in observing yourself and letting the right goals “insist” on your attention, see the important section in SmartMatch Alliances on your “Genius Work.” For more information and a free sample chapter go to

More Cues and Mind Tricks

A New York Times article, by Phyllis Korkki, entitled “If You Want to Meet That Deadline, Play a Trick on Your Mind” cited results from two independent studies on goal accomplishment. They each determined that simple outside cues which manipulate our perception of time can jump-start us toward reaching our goals [as reported in theJournal of Consumer Research].

In the first study, the same goal was assigned to two separate groups. One group was approached in June, with a deadline of December that year. The second group was approached in July with a deadline of January the next year. The first group was more likely to begin their task immediately, even though both groups had the same amount of time. That’s because the deadline was in the same year as the assignment and therefore seemed more like the present.

There are other time-related cues that can give people that sense of immediacy. In a separate study, the researchers found that people were “more likely to start working on a task whose deadline is in the current month than in the next month,” even though the number of days to finish the task was the same.

We can use our perception of time and immediacy to our advantage, whether our goals are short-term or long-term.

Zap Procrastination

Our final set of time-stretching, procrastination-busting tip comes from Celestine Chua at She introduces her approach with example that continues our technology thread:

You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything….Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps which I use to overcome procrastination with great success. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

  1. Break your work into little steps.
  2. Change your environment.
  3. Create a detailed timeline with specific deadlines.
  4. Eliminate your procrastination pit-stops.
  5. Hang out with people who inspire you to take action
  6. Get a buddy.
  7. Tell others about your goals.
  8. Seek out someone who has already achieved the outcome.
  9. Re-clarify your goals.
  10. Stop over-complicating things.
  11. Get a grip and just do it. At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen.

It’s interesting how technology, which is supposed to be our friend, achieves “villain-status” when we are citing distractions, time-wasters and invitations to procrastinate. We own the technology, not vice-versa, and can apply our own filters and rules to optimize the use of our time and minimize busy-ness and humblebragging.

Coach’s Resources:

You can find Chua’s full blog post, with further explanation at

Filters: Use a filtering process to sort, divide, prioritize and create manageable categories. You can find more on filters in my article “The Arithmetic of Creativity”© (B-3 ) at

What to do next: Choose your favorite one or two or three tips (no more), quickly read the associated explanations, and begin to apply them at the beginning of the month.