William Penn said, “Time is what we want the most, but alas, what we use the worst.” For many, the most common time-management problem is procrastination!
Procrastination is part of human nature. Nearly everyone occasionally puts off tasks to the last possible minute. (Congrats to those who can honestly say, “Not me. I’m the exception.”)
Many of us fail to take procrastination seriously but is it a problem? It is when it disrupts some aspect of your life. Procrastination can downgrade the quality of your work. It’s been shown to erode self-confidence and self-esteem, and to create guilt. It can cause serious conflicts in relationships. It destroys teamwork in the workplace, and it can even increase the probability that you will get physically sick.
Is procrastination ever good? Yes, it can work in your favor. More time to gather information may lead to a better decision. You can legitimately postpone one activity because another has a genuinely higher priority. And if you’re buying from a TV Infomercial, you’ve got to hang on until your hear those famous words, “But wait!”
Yet too often, procrastination is about avoidance, and its impact is predictably negative. 20% of the population identify as chronic procrastinators. They don’t just constantly postpone paying their bills. Procrastination becomes a lifestyle, and it impacts all aspects of their lives. You didn’t want to hear that, did you? I know I didn’t!
What Causes Procrastination?
Procrastination is a habit. Figuring out why you procrastinate can help you initiate more beneficial behaviors. Here are a few of the causes.
- Lack of motivation: A common factor in not tackling unpleasant tasks is lack of motivation. I agree, some tasks are no fun. Millions dislike doing their taxes, but they do them on time and the IRS never knocks on their door. So where does the motivation to do the undesirable come from? Think in reverse! It isn’t motivation that allows you to begin a task. The action of starting the task actually provides motivation, and starting is within your control.
- Fear of failure: For some, attempting something and failing is worse than not trying. After the Denver Broncos lost four Super Bowls from 1977 to 1989, some fans were so upset that they didn’t want the Broncos to get into another one for fear of losing again. As a Bronco fan I say, “Thanks John Elway for not buying into that one!” If fear of Super Bowl failure is a factor for football fans, imagine what fear of personal failure can do to the individual. Procrastination becomes a way out.
- Fear of success: Achievement may mean that on your next project, even more will be expected of you. You may have concerns about your capability to elevate your performance, so you procrastinate because you’re afraid of that risk.
- Lack of instant gratification: We have a societal problem today. Much of what needs to be done is really hard work and the reward may be down the road. But with no immediate payback, many aren’t prepared to pay the price. They postpone action until there’s no choice.
- Perfectionism: Procrastinating means protection from not meeting your own unrealistically high standards. Stress and anxiety caused by the potential of imperfection create a procrastination spiral. Paralysis is the result.
- Feeling overwhelmed: In today’s turbulent White Water world, there’s so much to do and so much pressure to do it well that we frequently can’t see a way through the rapids. Sometimes we feel like it’s better to stay out of the raft.
The Procrastination Habit Can Be Beaten
There is no quick fix, but take heart! Look for help in the following strategies.
- Reframe your thinking: Stop sabotaging yourself. Instead, dwell on success. Stay away from downward spiral talk – “There is no way I can get this done.” Be realistic, but adopt an enabling mindset – “This is a huge challenge. It will take clear focus and my best work, but it is possible.”
- Modify your environment: Eliminate whatever distracts you in your work environment. Noise and clutter kill focus. If you’re working at home, turn off the TV. Your favorite team will not lose because you’re not watching.
- Plan ahead: If your task has a due date, set an earlier personal deadline to allow for the unexpected. The computer never crashes two weeks before something is due. It always self-destructs at the last minute. This is an irrefutable law of the universe. Challenge it at your peril!
- Compare your actions to your core values: Your core values are the guiding principles by which you live your life. If achieving your goals is important, your desire to act congruently with this particular value can help you find the internal strength to get started.
- Break the task into smaller pieces: Getting started when you feel overwhelmed is difficult. Even the most daunting project can be broken down into a series of manageable steps.
- Monitor your progress: Enlist the support of a coach, mentor, or colleague to help you do this regularly. You’re making a public declaration of intent and you’re asking this person to hold you accountable to the promises you’ve made to yourself.
- Don’t stop yet: Work on a project in predetermined time blocks. After completing each block, do one more thing before stopping. You’ll accomplish more and your satisfaction level will go up.
A Reasonable Goal
Let’s get real. Your goal is not to wake up tomorrow and never procrastinate again. Your target is to implement a few key strategies so that you can look back and say, “I took better control of my life. I got more of my top priorities completed, and I did so with more fulfillment and less stress.”