Let’s face it. Even the most ambitious of us sometimes faces the procrastination “demon” from time to time. Call it “Spring Fever”, “Summer Malaise”, The Winter Doldrums” or any other name- it’s all the same.
For most of us, it’s a temporary state and sometimes indicates that we need to slow down a bit and get caught up on some tasks that we have let go by the wayside or it may just mean that our body and mind are telling us that we need to rest.
For the true and chronic procrastinator, however, it’s just another day at the office. In fact, about 20-25% of people self-describe themselves as true procrastinators.
There is a big difference between feeling unmotivated from time to time and being a chronic procrastinator. Let’s take a look at some of the traits and commonalities that the true procrastinators have by reviewing the following questions:
- Do you actively look for things to distract you from your main tasks or projects? (especially things you don’t like to do)
- Do you get a “rush” or an adrenalin “high” when having to operate on a tight deadline and thus wait until the last minute to try to accomplish critical projects?
- Do you find yourself constantly “putting out fires” on last-minute tasks that were finished incompletely or items that were completed in an inadequate manner?
- Do you frequently over- promise and then fail to deliver on what you promised?
- Do you tend to over-schedule yourself in an effort to drive yourself forward, but fail to keep your appointments?
- Are you paying a big price in your personal and professional life by not being there when you are needed and as promised?
- Are you chronically late for appointments, both business and personal?
- Do you constantly let down family, friends and business associates from what you told them you would do and then end up reneging on your promises?
- Do you pay “late fees” on items you should have paid on time, even when you had the funds to do so?
- Are you afraid of what may happen if you achieve some degree of success? Do you have trouble making decisions critical to your business or even personal life?
We could go on and on, but we think you get the point. Procrastination can take a heavy toll on your business and personal life, and even on your health. It can damage relationships. (business and personal) It can cost you money in lost deals or late fees and penalties. It can hurt your credit and most of all, your reputation.
Contrary to popular belief, one is not born to procrastinate. It’s human nature to survive and to take action. It’s usually not a matter of time management, as procrastinators do actually tend to pre-plan but often tend to misjudge the amount of time that a task might take. Some procrastinators use procrastination as an avoidance technique and sometimes will wait until a task is no longer required, or someone else does it, or it’s too late to have an effect. In other words, they just wait for it to go away. This is not a good strategy- especially in the world of business. In addition to you failing as a result of procrastination, many times you drag others along with you.
An example of this might be if you are getting ready to sell a property. Your team (buyer, title company, mortgage broker, insurance agent, etc.) all have a number of items to complete but as the seller, there is a lot that falls on you with some normally tight deadlines. If you fail to complete the items that are needed on your side, then the whole deal likely will fall through. All of the work, time and effort of the others will have been in vain.
Our culture of being polite and “not making waves” can further ignite the fires of procrastination, as can current technology. In years past, much of what we achieved had to do with person to person relationships. One or two hundred years ago, if you were a procrastinator, unless you had someone that would procure food, chop wood and take care of your other essentials, you didn’t live very long. Even as little as 20-30 years ago, before the advent of small computers, internet and cell phones, (that do just about everything we need) person to person contact and interaction was still critical. Let’s face the facts; it’s hard not to be accountable to a person that you have to face in person from time to time.
With the advent of technology, much of what we accomplish is a series of emails, voice mails, documents, websites and more. Psychologically, it’s a lot easier to procrastinate under these circumstances.
Some of the characteristics of chronic procrastination can be as follows:
- Lack of Confidence. A person bites off more than they can chew, is outside their comfort zone and thus chooses inaction rather than pushing forward. The procrastinator may not have the skill sets needed to accomplish their tasks and is either embarrassed to ask for help or feels everyone will find out their inadequacies or know that they screwed up.
- Stubbornness and Manipulation. Some people like to be in control and by procrastinating they can make or break a deal.
- Overwhelmed. Many times, procrastinators, because they tend to operate in this mode through the entire scope of their life, tend to feel that they are victims, that no one is as busy as they are and can’t possibly understand.
- Avoiding Difficult Tasks. As humans, we tend to try to take the path of least resistance and accomplish the easier items in our list before tackling the hard stuff.
- Perfectionism. The perfectionist says that they need to have everything at an A+ level, when in fact a B+ would be more than adequate. A lot of so-called perfectionists are just procrastinators in disguise.
However, there is good news! Procrastination can be overcome. Overcoming procrastination takes hard work and resolve. Like any habit or behavior, one wishes to change, the person themselves must be onboard and decide that they are going to change. It takes time. It’s extremely helpful to have a support system around you. It’s also easy to slip back into your old ways should times get tough.
Here are a few tips on dealing with and conquering procrastination:
- Start Small and With a Small Amount of Time. Start with just one or two items that are small in nature and try to finish those in a quality manner and on-time. Even if you don’t feel like working, commit to 30-60 minutes. It’s likely, once you are warmed up and into the project that the feeling of accomplishment you get from this can propel you to moving ahead to more complex tasks.
- Ask for Accountability. Letting others know what you hope to accomplish and asking them to keep you on task is a powerful tool in avoiding procrastination and moving ahead.
- Delegate. A good manager delegates what is needed but keeps track of what is being accomplished. Could it be you are trying to take on too much and thus are using procrastination as a coping tool? There are times when you have to roll up your sleeves, but look at the big picture!
- Adhere to the B+ Principle. Your reputation and important relationships should be at an A+. That being said, if the rest of your life is lived at a B+, you are accomplishing more than most people do, without being overwhelmed most of the time.
- Prioritize. Tackle the most time sensitive items first. If you are one of those folks who has a constant and almost overwhelming outflow of great ideas, provide yourself an outlet for that so it doesn’t distract you from accomplishing your personal and business goals. Write the ideas down in a specific place and then provide a specific time each week to analyze and address them.
- Strive to Achieve Balance in Your Business and Personal Life. Your business is what normally pay the bills and provides the means for you to enjoy a more fulfilling life. Your personal life is what you are also striving to improve for your our loved ones. Organize and prioritize your time so that you do justice to each. It takes both to be in sync for you to be at your best.
- Understand it will Take Time. Any negative behavior worth changing normally takes at least 3-6 weeks to get headed in the right direction. Understand and accept this. Don’t let yourself fall back into your old patterns!
- Reward Yourself. Once you have made some small progress, reward yourself appropriately. On bigger accomplishments reward yourself and those around you in a larger way such as dinner out or a weekend away.
- Enjoy Yourself. One of the reasons that most of us stay motivated in our businesses is that we truly enjoy what we do. We relish the challenges, the opportunities, the business relationship and the journey itself!! It doesn’t seem like work.
Well, it’s time to get to work. We have outlined the reasons you may be a victim of procrastination and techniques and steps for you to break the “procrastination chain.” It’s important to use those closest to you both in business and personally, as allies and as a support system.
Understand that no one can do this but you! But knowledge is power and now that you have a more complete understanding of the causes and effects of procrastination, it’s time to break the chains and move forward in your life. Here’s to your success!