Innovation360’s Academic Support Program is More Important Than Ever

Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, Innovation360 had developed a robust accountability and organizational program for students needing support navigating school courses and career development. Rachel Mayer, who spearheaded this programming, became familiar with Innovation360 by independently working with mutual clients as an Academic Consultant. She was so struck by the novelty and effectiveness of Life Development (LD) that she interviewed and became an LD team member herself. In no time, she had developed a whole other wing of programming, specific to the needs of academic and project support.


Elizabeth Devine, Innovation360’s Executive Director stated, “Many of our students understand what needs to be done, but the follow through is really a struggle- sustained follow through, even more so.” The blend of mental health treatment and focused academic support have yielded astounding results. Students are now able to make more informed and personalized decisions regarding their degree plans, course selection, communication with professors, and, most importantly, get the job done. 


Now, in the wake of a global pandemic, with universities and academic institutions across the nation switching over to online formats, this support is more important than ever. Recent sessions focused on sorting through the flood of information students were given about their courses via various online platforms. In virtual academic sessions with Rachel, clients update weekly calendars of assignments and review them at the start of each week. This has helped students stay on top of deadlines and juggle online zoom class sessions.


In addition, with students largely staying home, Innovation360 is capitalizing on this unexpected extra time to help clients further map out their future. Students are digging deeper into career exploration by talking to professionals in clients’ fields of interest. Armed with information about the requirements for specific career paths, Innovation360 helps students build future goals and break them down into smaller, more manageable steps. Students report that they enjoy this process and that having stated goals keeps their mind focused on the future and the promise it holds- a sharp contrast from the stand-still world we are currently in.

The Unanticipated Success of Life Development in the Time of COVID-19

Austin has always been a perfect city to engage in therapeutic relationships with the clients of Innovation360. Life Development, a unique service built on meeting clients where they are, both literally and figuratively, usually takes place in clients’ homes, school campuses, or greenbelts- challenging them to make progress toward their therapeutic goals. We lean heavily on the cultural, natural, and commercial resources of the incredible city that is Austin. 

However, in the midst of a pandemic, as our city grinds to a halt, the lives of those we serve must go on. 

For all of us, COVID-19 has presented unprecedented obstacles. There is no minimizing that. However, Innovation360 is rather practiced at confronting obstacles. In fact, the very foundation of our work is that, when confronted with a challenge, we respond with creativity, compassion, resiliency and, as much fun as we can muster. In true form, we have taken on the difficulties of showing up for clients in the age of social distancing and found a way to meet them where they are, but from a safe distance. For many clients this has meant shifting to virtual Life Development sessions. And we are blown away by just how successful it has been.

For virtual sessions, we allow clients to peer into the homes of Life Development team members and see how we live. Clients watch us cook breakfast across a high-speed connection, spills and all. While they are doing chores around their houses, they see us doing ours. We go for walks where accountability around exercise and healthy habits (like being outside) are encouraged. Sometimes we bring our dogs and it is quickly revealed that the client’s dog is better behaved. We join clients in online recovery support meetings (occasionally forgetting the mute button is on).

The benefits from going virtual was not something we could have anticipated. Previously, a client would see us arrive on session dressed, polished, and ready to go. Clients may have felt the need to keep up, to pretend, but virtual LD has leveled the playing field in a significant way. Unloading the dishwasher, making the bed, and washing dirty clothes are no longer a one-way street.

Innovation360 has always been invested in making sure that we enter into a client’s life where they need us. Our focus is on being present, partnering with our clients, all while showing we are human too. It’s the foundation of our model. Virtual Life Development has made our authenticity even more visible. They are invited to see the things on our to-do list. They are welcomed into the parts of our lives that need attention. They learn that we are not experts at life, but we do show up well for it. They see that they can too. We couldn’t have known that virtual LD would further humanize an already humanitarian endeavor, but, without question, it certainly has.

Are the people in your life really supportive?

What is the secret to making lasting change? A few minutes browsing books online could yield countless results on how to cultivate motivation, willpower, and enlightenment. We all go running to these resources as we ask ourselves:

Why do I keep taking on more than I can handle?

Why can’t I say “no?”

Why does my kid keep failing their classes even though I have given them every possible resource I can imagine?

Why can’t I stick to a diet?

We arm ourselves with information and all the self-discipline we can muster and jump headlong into yet another “lifestyle change.” However, the fatal flaw in our sustained progress, or that of our loved ones, is that we go at it alone, all by ourselves. Let’s admit it: it’s uncomfortable for others to know how and where we struggle and to what extent. Or perhaps we don’t think anyone is capable of helping. Despite all of this, it is the action of stepping out and recruiting healthy support, that is the first and most powerful step in making anything really happen, and stick.

So, what does healthy support look like? First, let’s talk about what it’s not:

They’re talking with you, but it’s really about them.

Perhaps what you’re sharing sparks something negative in the person you’re talking to—their anxiety, defensiveness, competitiveness, fears, or ego. You let a friend know you’ve decided to abstain from alcohol for a while, and they quickly explain why that’s not necessary for them. You express a desire to confront your boss, and your friend who has never confronted anyone in their life explains the value of keeping the peace. A mother works tirelessly to make sure her child does well in school when, if she took a good look at it, would see that she is trying to protect her child from feeling the intellectual inferiority she has dealt with much of her life.

They like to motivate you by threatening or shaming you.

Sometimes in a well-intentioned way, people try to support others by attempting to manufacture motivation via control or shame. This may look like the parent who is trying to offer support, but they’re actually hovering, critiquing, giving feedback and, ultimately, may step in to take over. By clearing the path too much, these parents are trying to teach and set their child up for success but unintentionally disempower and weaken their child.

Phrases like, “Is that the best you can do?” or “Don’t embarrass me” may motivate someone in the short term but take a long-term toll on a person’s self-esteem—actually working in contrast to a person’s movement towards progress on the whole.

They give a lot of advice but listen very little.

Advice-giving quickly creates a dynamic in which the person doling out the advice seems to be in on something the other person isn’t. This is sometimes the case, but the timing and appropriateness of giving advice involve being in tune with the other person as well as understanding the objective. Those who throw around a great deal of advice without really listening may be in it more for their own sake, stoking their own feelings of importance.

So, what does healthy and effective support look like?

The person knows and cares about you and helps you understand yourself better too.

A truly supportive person is invested in and cares about you, on the whole, regardless of your success or failure. And because they care about you, they are invested in knowing you and really what you’re after. They know what your strengths and weaknesses are and maybe even where they come from.

In the context of this relationship, we find the safety we all need to admit we need to improve and then take risks, struggle and even fail. Truly, aren’t the best people in the world those who we know have our back no matter what? Those are the people we listen to when they call us out for being out of line, thinking crazy or having stinky breath. And they tell us when this is happening because they know it’s important for us to know, even if it is uncomfortable to say. In turn, we listen to them because we see what they are doing, in the spirit, it is intended, because they care.

The person holds you accountable to your goals.

A person who offers you support is in on what you’re trying to do, which can only happen if you let others know about your efforts. Then, either implicitly or explicitly, they call on you to confront and accept responsibility for what you’re doing (or not doing). Supportive accountability feels a lot like a partnership, like having a team member who is there to help you get where you want to be. It’s the friend who, without missing a beat, gently pulls your hand away from your mouth when you go to bite your nails. It’s the friend you know will ask about your progress on your most recent project because they partner with you in getting what you want. Because it is important to you, it is important to them. It can also be the person who companions with you while you face the scary things in life- the doctor’s appointment, your first AA meeting, or the first time you really put yourself out there.

Holding someone accountable is not easy. It also means they won’t let you make excuses or sell yourself short. In the face of your lost momentum, supportive accountability encourages you to reconnect to your motivation and persevere. And, perhaps the best part, the person who is in on your efforts with you, will legitimately celebrate with you in your success, even the little ones.

The person offering you support is healthy.

You can’t give what you don’t have. In seeking helpful support, it is important to look for those who commit to their own wellness—physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. There is a value in cultivating a deeper connection with people who share and live out healthy life values that are consistent with yours. By being in relationships with people who are making strides in their own life, we can be inspired and encouraged. And because no one is perfect, we can learn lessons alongside them as well, namely how to show ourselves grace in this crazy thing called life.

So how do we find people that provide healthy support? The answer may be practicing offering healthy support to others. In so doing, we become better acquainted with what it is to be in a healthy relationship with others. We also teach others, by example, what is helpful for us.

Perhaps you already have these people in your family or social circle. However, it is not unusual for there to be seasons lacking support or surrounded with negative influences. We may have to get creative by seeking out community support like a church, support group or a therapist. Innovation360, an outpatient mental health organization with counselors and therapists, offers relational support through their Life Development Team who joins participants in their everyday life to help them accomplish their goals.


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Innovation360 Austin Helps Parents & Children Navigate “Emerging Adulthood” Phase

Out of high school and not quite ready to take on the world? That in-between stage can be a tough transition. Elizabeth Devine, with Innovation360 Austin, shares how their programs support both kids and parents during this time. Watch the full interview on CBS Austin News by clicking HERE:

Austin Parsons

A Q&A with Innovation360’s Austin Parsons

What brought you to Innovation360 Austin?
I’m a professional counselor driven by relationships and adventure.  I think that’s why Innovation360 is such an enjoyable place for me to work.  Though I am new to the i360 Austin team, I am not new to i360.  I began my therapeutic work with i360 Dallas.  I engaged many different aspects of the program including: Advocate, Individual and Family Therapy, Life Development, as well as leading IOP & Group Therapy.  Afterwards, I went into private practice.   It was ultimately my relationships with the i360 Austin team, as well as the adventure of the work i360 engages that brought me to Austin. 

What motivates you?
I consider myself to be an adventurer.  In my mind, an adventurer engages unknown challenges (often with places, people, and cultures).  They are problem solvers that seek to be prepared and expect the unexpected.  Adventures rely on their preparation, tools, and experiences to help them navigate through these obstacles and anticipate meaningful joy.

I seek to adventure all over the world, but also that’s the work I do in my therapy.  I guess you could call me an adventure therapist, though that might be misleading on the surface as most of my therapy work is done within four walls.

What do you do in your free time?
You can find me with my dog child, Ranger.  We are likely exploring the cities’ outdoor amenities, a local coffee shop, or on my couch watching sports and news. There are a few other shows I watch, but you’d probably make fun of me.  I have the ego strength for that, but ask me in person.

What are you afraid of?
I have a love/hate relationship with adrenaline.  I rarely turn down an opportunity for an exciting (potentially dangerous) experience.  What people don’t know though, is that deep inside in INSANELY scared.  I just have a personal goal to risk in hopes of experiencing “lightning in a bottle” joy.

What else are you passionate about?
Let’s get this out of the way.  I’m an Aggie, unashamedly.  However, I do have the wherewithal to know that not everyone around me loves Texas A&M.  I can talk about college sports for days, but I’ll usually let you start the conversation.  Oh, I love the Texas Rangers MLB team too.

What are your future goals?
To learn to surf.  I’m not crazy, Austin has a place called NLand where you can actually learn how to surf.  Professionally, I really do love therapy.  I’d love to continue in private practice, and I hope to teach someday as well.


Why don’t we ask for what we need?

When a pair of pants didn’t fit the way the rest of that company’s pairs fit, I recalled a recent interview in which the CEO said he personally checks his email.

And so I looked up his company’s email address format and sent him a note: “I live 300 miles from the nearest J. Crew, and I need the right pants — will you please assist me?”

Company head Mickey Drexler responded in 30 minutes, and I had the right pants within 30 hours.

Why don’t we ask for what we need?

To simplify that answer, a note on tribes: a group of us was taught never to ask; another sector of us is scared to ask; and a third pack might be both.

In my experience, the never-askers have a different but very useful skill: to seek. And that skill helps one assert: by reframing assertiveness as a variant of self-sufficiency (I’m doing the asking, not you), I accomplish something while fulfilling my needs.  I thereby challenge what I’ve been taught, and usually I feel better about the result.

The fearful bunch has a different, equally beneficial skill as well: often they know the right tone, cadence, and wording they would use if they were to ask for their needs.  Those elements also help us assert our needs as tone, cadence, and wording suggest that we are strategic, compassionate, and courageous.

So how do we challenge our tendency to say nothing?


The other day two men from the gas company stopped by my house — one appeared to be teaching the other. I stepped outside, made small talk, and ultimately requested the supervisor’s card.  Why?  I had been having difficulties with the gas company, and so an ally would be helpful at some point.  A cheerful fellow, he was more than happy to provide his card.

Sure enough, when a gas matter arose weeks later, I called on Joe to help me out.  (I also emailed the chief operations officer, but that’s another story.)  Asserting for his card paid off: Joe fixed the situation that the call center struggled to schedule.

Let’s pause to acknowledge some challenges often associated with assertiveness: There is, of course, a fine line between assertiveness and a demonstration of entitlement, just as there is a line between assertiveness and aggressiveness.  These lines ought to be explored with some guidance from therapists and trusted friends.  And they are topics for another blog.

In the meantime, if you’ve recognized that you are in need of assertiveness practice, start simply.  Remember: seemingly insignificant circumstances can be the best opportunities to try asserting, and it’ll pay off.

That great sweater? The website says it’s sold out, but it’s not.

Just ask Mickey.

– by Jack Britton


Transitioning Home from Treatment

Leaving a place of structure and security to head home into the great unknown can be quite daunting. Throughout your stay at a residential treatment program, you’ve been guarded from outside stressors and protected from triggers, but now you are transitioning home and familiarity is just waiting for you. Ideally, you are a new person but you are heading home to an old place, so what do you do to effectively adjust to living the full life you set yourself up for while you were away? How do you maintain sobriety once you are back home? How do you continue to cope with the things that used to send your anxiety through the roof? How do you deal with the things that always sent you spiraling into a deep depression?

What you may not realize is that after your extended stay at residential treatment, you are armed with so many tools! Think of it as your personal arsenal, it travels home with you so that as you face the challenges of adjusting to life outside of treatment, you can overcome. But the thing many people don’t realize is that once they leave, they need to continue to build upon the work they’ve already completed. You aren’t done. You aren’t cured. In fact, this is a lifelong journey that will have ups and downs, relapses and trials, and bumps along the way. Truth be told, transitioning home can be the hardest part of it all. At i360, we often come into the equation at this point. We work with people, join them for a time, and help them transition home successfully, keeping that momentum going strong! This is the part of the story when the rubber meets the road – all that work you did while you were away now needs to translate into behavior change in the midst of real, authentic living.

Once you leave a rehab program, there are some things you should focus on doing to carry those healthy behavior changes into your everyday world. You have the tools, now you need to use them. But the last thing you should do is attempt to continue your recovery journey on your own. At i360, as an outpatient mental health treatment program, we work with our clients to give the support they need so they can be successful in their journey. Here are the top five things we suggest doing to implement healthy changes upon transitioning home:

Add structure into your daily routine: We help our clients set up a schedule to follow day to day – when to get up, chores to be done, timeframes for exercise, attending AA, job searching, heading to work, exploring fun and hobbies, time for lights out, etc. Keeping to a normal routine reduces the chance of boredom which could lead to opportunities for relapse. Stay occupied, stay active.

Identify a support network: Once you return home, plug into outpatient groups like i360’s IOP, workshops, and DBT skills group. When we work with clients, we will often go with them to AA – going with a buddy helps eliminate some of that anxiety. But it’s key to have a support system around you when you have those difficult times, and also when you have good days and want to share that with others. Seek out a counselor, join a church, and stay away from old friends, places, and things that you associate with the past to prevent cravings from resurfacing.

Exercise and eat well: Take care of yourself! Hygiene is important, as is good sleep, eating habits, and exercise. Focusing on wellness is a major component of the work we do with clients. You are a healthy you when you take care of your whole self. And when you get the nutrition and sleep you need, you are armed to overcome triggers and challenges throughout your day.

Explore spirituality: Who are you going to lean on when you face difficult situations? How can you find a way to respect yourself and others? What do you believe is right and wrong? Get in touch with your moral compass, and let that be a guide to how you live from here on out.

Leave room for fun: When you take out a negative (substance abuse, anxiety, depression) you’re left with a void unless you fill it with a positive! With our i360 clients, we explore fun and hobbies, helping them figure out who they are and what they love once that negative is removed from their lives. Don’t sit inside and isolate yourself from the rest of the world, get out there and become who you are intended to be! Sign up for photography class, take cooking lessons, join a small group at Church, learn to pay tennis, do something to get outside yourself – like volunteering…The options are endless.

Remain dedicated to the mission as you integrate back into life – give it everything you’ve got! Just remember that going away to inpatient treatment doesn’t equate to a quick fix. Yes, you will have the tools you need, but that doesn’t count until you can implement them in the midst of life. By staying accountable to a daily schedule, identifying a support network, focusing on wellness, exploring spirituality, and leaving room for fun, you will be setting yourself up to succeed in translating insights into behavior when you come home. Reach out to us at i360 as you plan to transition home so we can support you in that.

Written by Lauren Barnett, i360 Marketing Director


Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail

A fellow therapist and I spoke to a group of about 50 people at the Adolescent Symposium of Texas this past February on the topic of “Failure to Launch.” It’s a term I’m hesitant to use as a stand alone because usually the first thing that comes to mind is the movie with Matthew McConaughey as a 30+ year old living in his parent’s spare bedroom. There is a kernel of truth in the movie as far as painting the picture of what not launching looks like, but there are deeper common factors that prevent a person from gaining independence and embracing the fullness of adulthood. Unfortunately, the cure isn’t just a dating relationship.

The teacher who writes this article certainly gives a good perspective of what failure to launch looks like from the vantage point of a teacher. She sees the beginnings of what’s happening when the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders aren’t allowed to fail. The article describes overparenting as being “characterized as parents’ misguided attempt to improve their child’s current and future personal and academic success.” The overparented children are simply being set up to lack the emotional resources needed to get through the inevitable failures and setbacks later in life. They are not being allowed to fail and learn from their mistakes or experience the educational benefit that consequences provide.

As clinicians, we don’t expect you to let your child fall on their face repeatedly while you watch, but we also don’t expect you to place a pillow under them every time they might appear to be tripping. Neither of these extremes will lead to what we like to think of as a fully emerged adult. Extreme levels of parental protection can actually be quite counterproductive.  But no parent will ever be perfect, so I’ll go ahead and release you from that burden. I’d encourage you to read the article, reflect upon your parenting style, and see if you are one who justifies doing your child’s school work for them. Are you overly responsive to the perceived needs of your children, or are you giving them a chance to address their own problems? It’s not only math and science that children are learning in this stage of life, but also responsibility, consequences, independence, and foresight.

If you or a loved one have a child that meets the description for “failing to launch,” please contact Innovation360. We’d love to work with them toward establishing a healthy, productive, and structured lifestyle with failures and successes that will boost their confidence in regards to what the future may hold.

Written by Danielle Fermier, LPC

Article reference from The Atlantic, by JESSICA LAHEY 


What Are Your Blind Spots?

What Are Your Blind Spots?

I had a great response to my last blog, Blind Faith, where I detailed my adventures as a blind woman.  It led me to think about the fact that everyone has their own “blind spots” of one sort or another. There has actually been significant research conducted regarding this topic in the business world.   But in the therapy world, we usually call these blind spots “defenses,” and we believe that identifying them can be the key to helping someone improve their personal relationships.

According to author Claudia M. Shelton,  “blind spots” are patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that we often do unconsciously, potentially negatively influencing our relationships with others. As a counselor, I call these “blind spots” defenses. More simply, unconscious things we do that drive others crazy.  Blind Spots can become possible problems in our working processes and relationships, and if left unchecked, can become serious obstacles to our effectiveness and progress, especially in the way we relate to others.  Adolescents can easily point out the blind spots of both parents. Spouses know their partners’ blind spots intimately. What we may think people don’t notice about ourselves is usually common knowledge to those around us.

Some Truths About blind Spots

  • Every personal strength when overused has the potential of becoming a personal weakness.
  • Every personal weakness when developed has the potential to become a personal strength.
  • The environment we are in may influence seeing a personal characteristic as a strength or weakness.
  • Different people may regard what we believe are our strengths and weaknesses very differently from how we do.


How Does Being Unaware Hurt Us?

Being unaware of a blind spot is like carrying a time bomb. Others see our blind spot but back away when we give signals that we don’t want to hear about it. Some try to tell us that we’re doing something that bothers them, but we ignore it or become defensive. Sooner or later though, these blind spot defenses can harm relationships or prevent us from connecting well with friends, family, and co-workers.


What Are the Most Common Blind Spots?

  • Misused Strengths – These are strengths used too little or too much, or even used ineffectively. When I took a look at myself, I realized that some of my own core strengths could be interpreted in a negative way if I overuse them. For instance, in the work place, I often resort to humor as it comes natural to me. But if I overuse this gift, I risk colleagues perceiving me as someone who doesn’t take anything seriously. So I’m aware of how frequently I use humor, and when it’s the right setting.  I challenge you to peer into yourself…are you someone who is laid back and doesn’t get ruffled easily? Certainly that’d be a strength, as you are able to “brush it off” and not let little things alter your attitude. But do your friends view you as a doormat? Are you easily taken advantage of? Or maybe you are quite structured and organized? Great! But to the point that it’s hard for you to allow in creativity or incorporate in the ideas of others? Are people to nervous to ask you for help because they know you don’t like to alter from your daily routine and schedule?
  • Old Habits – This entails relying on behaviors that made you successful in the past that would no longer be effective. These are the most difficult to uncover because they are ways of thinking and acting that have become fixed and routine for you. Maybe you showed your love to your ex via acts of service – running their errands, taking out the trash, and ironing their clothes. But the new object of your affection just wants quality time with you and couldn’t care less about whether or not you did their laundry. Step back and evaluate what some of the engrained habits of yours might be. Maybe that route worked in the past for some time period; now you must reevaluate and alter the way you express your love, respond to your colleagues, treat your friends…whatever it might be.
  • Stress Expressed – How do we negatively express the stress we feel? How is our behavior under stress affecting others? Do you lack patience and thus snap at others quickly? If things are perfect, do we lash out? Maybe you notice that you start to speaker louder and faster when you are having a stressful day – does this make those around you anxious and not want to be in your presence? Possibly you become demanding and short tempered – and all of a sudden those around us seem more stressed. Do you act as if it’s a major interruption to your day if someone sparks up a conversation with you while you are trying to get work done? Do you tap your foot when waiting in line at the grocery store? I encourage you to reflect on how some of the things you do to manage stress may negatively affect others.
  • Unturned Radar – How do we misread other people, ignoring the non-verbal cues given and received? Are you a “close talker” – never noticing people slowly backing up as you talk to them? We’ve all had that phone conversation – the one we try and try politely to get hang up. The person on the other end just doesn’t take a hint. When you evaluate yourself, do you find there are areas in which it is more difficult for you to pick up on social cues? This can be a major turn off when relating to others. Try to be extra aware this week, what are some of the cues you might be missing?
  • Disconnection – How do we fail to communicate? Or communicate in ways that we don’t intend? What is your nonverbal language saying about your current mood? Is your sarcasm received well or are do people get offended? Do you think people can tell easily if you are not engaged or feel bored with the conversation? Are you slouched over and yawning? Try to be unbiased about the way you relate to others – for instance – when you are busy and rushed. What about the way you act towards strangers? Be conscious about how your mannerisms and nonverbal. Do you often imply ideas rather than just state them? Are you blunt or do you find it hard to express yourself? How do you think others perceive you and your energy?


Strategies for Identifying Blind Spots

  • Analyze yourself as if you were another person so you can depersonalize the process and be more objective.
  • Always start by analyzing your strengths; this gives you a positive outlook.
  • See your blind spots not as weaknesses but as behaviors that get in the way of fully using your strengths.
  • Gather information from others (close friends you can trust) about what they see as your strengths and blind spots.
  • Do not hesitate to ask people for information; the most confident people always ask for balanced feedback and constructive criticism.
  • Make it comfortable for people to share negative feedback with you.  Be grateful for their help.


Questions to Ponder

How do you define your greatest personal strength in your current work?  How might you overuse that strength in a way that it creates a blind spot that could limit your success? How do you typically act out your stress in the workplace or at home? If you identify blind spots that are creating challenges for you, consider reaching out to a therapist to help you sort through them and improve your personal and/or work relationships.

If you would like to explore your Blind Spots, go to You will be able to complete a survey and find out your Blind Spot Profile. I completed the survey and it was incredibly accurate.

Blog written by Pam Newton, LCDC


Overcoming Procrastination: The Art of Conquering Your To-Do List

Federal tax returns must be postmarked every year by April 15th.  Although Kathryn is acutely aware of this deadline, if she wasn’t, the Statue of Liberty mascots and inflatable advertising balloons various tax preparation services place on virtually every corner would, no doubt, alert her to the impending deadline.  It’s not that she doesn’t know when her taxes are due each year; it’s just that she detests doing them!  She has a full 365 days to gather her receipts, documents, and papers, and organize, itemize, and deliver them to the accountant in time to meet the 11:59 PM deadline on April 15th.  Nevertheless, every year Kathryn—and the rest of the people making the late-night run to the post office—waits until the absolute last minute to file her federal tax return.  What’s worse, she makes herself miserable in the process!  She stresses about doing her taxes for weeks preceding the deadline as she transfers the word “taxes” to each new day’s To Do list.  Kathryn feels guilty each weekend that passes without making any progress on her taxes.  But it doesn’t have to be that way!  Given that procrastination is a problem that effects so many of us, here are a few concrete strategies to help us tackle those issues we dread, just in time for tax season.

  1. Discover why you procrastinate – While there are many explanations for why we procrastinate, the three most common reasons are: fear of the task, dislike of the task, or lack of knowledge about how to perform the task.  Figuring out the reasoning behind our procrastination enables us to break the cycle and tackle the task head on.
  2. Figure out how to do the task, how to make it more enjoyable, or why you fear it. – For tasks you don’t know how to do, conduct a bit of research.  Do a web search, check out Youtube for a tutorial, or enlist the help of a friend, relative, neighbor, or professional with knowledge or expertise of the task.  For a task you know how to do but just don’t want to do, think of creative ways to make it more enjoyable, challenging, or interesting.  For example, create a feel-good environment by lighting candles, preparing a snack, and turning on music or your favorite TV program before sitting down to organize and file your receipts.  Challenge yourself by making a game of it or by setting a timer and seeing how fast you can get it done.  Estimate the amount of time you think something will take you and see if you can beat your own estimate.  For those tasks you avoid out of fear, make a list of what you fear about the task, what the worst possible outcome could be, and develop a plan of attack for those outcomes.  Then, make a note of the potential consequences for avoiding the task and not doing it.  Finally, anticipate how you will feel after completing the task and compare the lists.  Often, the result of not doing the task is much worse than whatever you fear about doing the task.
  3. Timing is everything – Break the project down into manageable sections and schedule a date and time for each step.  Sometimes, the first step will be to gather all the materials or tools required for the task.  Often, just getting organized and creating a clear vision of the steps for the task is enough to get you going.  If not, write out the steps in sequence and enter the deadlines for each step of the task in your agenda or your mobile phone’s calendar, and post reminders on sticky notes in prominent areas where you will constantly be reminded of the impending deadline.  If the task is one that requires focus and concentration, schedule it at the time of day when you are most alert and energetic.
  4. Be good to yourself – Make a list of things and activities you enjoy, places you want to visit, and friends with whom you enjoy spending time.  Assign one of these rewards to each step in the process of your task.  After gathering your receipts, for example, treat yourself to a coffee break, game of tennis, movie, relaxing bath, or phone call to a friend.  Reinforcing the desired behavior in this way will make it more likely you will tackle the next step in the process.
  5. Recruit an accountability partner – Enlist the help of a trusted friend, colleague, or family member.  Explain the task you have been putting off, the steps required to complete the task, your self-imposed deadlines, and the rewards you have outlined for each step completed.  Ask your accountability partner to either join you for a work session (sometimes, just the mere presence of someone—even if that person is working on something completely different—can generate productivity) or to call, text, or email you for progress updates.  Most of us would rather let ourselves down than another person, which makes this an incredibly powerful motivator!
  6. Develop routines and habits – Putting things off doesn’t make them go away, but getting things done does!  There are immediate benefits from tackling a task and completing it:  completion generates energy, makes us feel competent, and improves our mood.  Learning to implement habits by associating new behaviors with those that are part of our regular, daily routines is extremely beneficial and can prevent tasks from snowballing and getting out of hand.  For example, most of us remember to get our mail every day.  Therefore, if we link the activity of filing the day’s receipts to the activity of opening our mail, and do it every day immediately after opening the mail, we can very effectively make receipt filing a habit.  Taking 3 minutes every day to file a handful of receipts after opening the mail is far easier, less time consuming, and infinitely less daunting than waiting until a year’s worth of receipts has accumulated into a pile the size of Mt. Everest.
  7. We all procrastinate to some extent every now and then – For Kathryn, taxes are her nemesis, but what is it for you?  Take a few minutes to write out a plan for dealing with the task you are most prone to put off as long as possible.  Identify why you procrastinate, strategies for figuring out how to accomplish the task or how to make it more interesting, what steps are involved in the task and when you will complete each of the steps, how to reward yourself when you follow through with your plan, and who can help hold you accountable for sticking to the plan you’ve created.  Remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail!  So stop putting off until tomorrow what can be done today.  Tackle that To Do list and reward yourself along the way!