Who, Me? Procrastinate? Never!
What did you say you would do this week and didn’t? What was on your urgent to-do list that you were too busy to complete? Your business plan? Something at the house that needs fixing? I know, we all have more to do than we can possibly complete in a day…. and some things simply won’t ever get done. But it’s often the wrong things that are getting done and the important tasks that are being postponed. If you look closely, you may discover that the main reason you don’t have enough time to do what you say is most important is because you often procrastinate. I know; you’re not a procrastinator; you are a successful “get things done” kind of person. Well think again. It’s our blind spots that get in the way of our success in the long term.
Ok. So we know what procrastination is right? It’s when we postpone, delay or put off beginning or completing a task or decision without good reason (and despite being worse as a result of the delay). Put more unkindly; it’s a form of self-regulating failure that compels us to waste time and opportunities.
Take heart, you are certainly not alone! Procrastination chronically affects roughly 15%–20% of the adult population1 and is on the rise. Evidence suggests that procrastinators are more miserable in the long run and have worse performance than non-procrastinators. We pay a very high emotional price when we delay and procrastinate (increased stress, errors, poor last minute decisions, loss of respect from self and others, increased conflict, etc.) and yet we keep doing it! Crazy.
So WHY do we procrastinate when we don’t want to & we know better?
There are lots of contributing factors, but these are the top 3 reasons I see most often:
- We favor immediate gratification over long term rewards or punishment – We tend to favor the present over the future. The further away an event is the less impact it has on our decisions. We know we should save for retirement, but we go shopping or on holidays instead of paying down debt. We love immediate gratification, more than future rewards.
- Avoiding difficult or unpleasant tasks – I know you are busy getting things done. But my guess is that you complete easy, quick or fun tasks first, not the challenging, important ones. We procrastinate doing things that are difficult or unpleasant…like completing paperwork, resolving conflicts, cold calling, and letting go of a kind but ineffective employee. We put off what we view as uncomfortable often because we are avoiding fear of failure or perceived “pain”.
- Simple rebellion – okay, if you are the type of person who loathes being told what to do and when to do it, you are likely procrastinating just to be rebellious!
How Do We Stop Procrastinating?
- Control your environment and temptations – Research indicates that surrounding yourself with cues or visuals that confirm your goals and eliminating signs that remind you of temptation is an effective strategy. Over 90% of us use e-mail to delay an unpleasant task. Because the e-mail icon is perpetually within view and its access via iPhone is instantaneous, simply making e-mail less visible or delaying access to it will help. 2 The prevalence and availability of temptations like computer gaming, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter only exacerbates the problem of procrastination.
- Since our jobs are more unstructured and primarily self-structured we need to do a better job of consciously self-managing and self-regulating. Simple impulse control and self-discipline is in order. There will always be more desirable activities competing for our attention. FOCUS on what’s important not most urgent.
- Eliminate, delegate, and negotiate – do it or dump it!
- Set goals.
- J. Harriott & Ferrari, 1996; “Haven’t Filed Yet,” 2003
- (Brackin, Ferguson, Skelly, & Chambliss, 2000)