The True End of Procrastination. Work Alone Together.

This Wednesday, the theme of our online Toastmasters meeting was “Procrastination”. The Toastmaster picked it because he kept postponing creating the meeting theme for so long that he made his problem the meeting theme.

There was no speaker on the agenda. The colleague who was supposed to deliver a speech procrastinated its preparation for so long that she ran out of time – and she cancelled.

And then there was me. Since ever, I’m telling myself: “I will prepare one speech in advance. This way, in every meeting, I will have one new speech in my pocket, ready to be delivered in case someone cancels last minute.” But since ever, I procrastinated.

Just the three of us in a Toastmasters meeting. Contrary to what most people think, three is a great number to practice public speaking.

We went for the 10-3-7 agenda.

10-3-7 means:

  1. Share a topic.
  2. Everyone has 10 minutes to prepare a speech.
  3. Then, the speakers present one by one, so there are 3 speeches in the meeting,
  4. Each speech has target duration 7 minutes (Toastmasters standard).

With our webcams on, for 10 minutes all three of us are sitting in silence, scribbling frantically. When the time is up – I am the first one to speak; then my two colleagues.

Can’t judge my own – but while my colleagues’ speeches were not mindblowing, they certainly were more than passable first drafts.

While in “standard conditions” it may take hours, the pressure of time-boxed “together alone” exercise pushed all three of us to develop content in ten minutes.

How was that?

Think about the last time you procrastinated. Got it? Let me guess – you had an important task to work on, and you were on your own to do it. I’m almost certain that it was not a task that needed two people to work on it simultaneously. This is why we’re more likely to procrastinate our individual work on creating a presentation than attending a meeting.

“(…) working alone isn’t easy. The individual has to not only solve the problem, but also invent a strategy for solving the problem. If you’ve ever sat down to work on a big project and wound up reading the news instead, you know how hard this work can be.”

Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, Braden Kowitz: Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

We don’t procrastinate meetings because others are expecting us to attend them. The problem with usual meetings is that they don’t give us space for individual focused work. People interrupt each other, care about what impression they make and keep being distracted by what others say. Not even mentioning that only one person can speak (be active) at a time (and so everyone else is passive). While we don’t procrastinate meetings, we don’t get much done in them either.

The solution is a meeting that will push us to “get moving”, with built-in time for focused work. In other words – an Alone Together working session.

The next time you want to push yourself to work on your speech, presentation, or an important document – get a pal or two and schedule an “alone together” working session. It can be more than 10 minutes. It can be more than three people. It does not have to end with finished presentations (even though – it works as good motivation if it does). All it takes is desire to get something done and the will to help each other stay on track.

Share the tasks you’ll be working on and where you want to finish. Keep your webcams on. Mute your mics. Start the timer. And then… behold.

The True End of Procrastination.

Photo by Andraz Lazic on Unsplash.

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