Procrastination: You've known about it since high school or college, when everybody boasted about it. Everyone put off papers for a basketball game or a night on the town. It was OK--you only go through college once, right?
You left college, but did you leave procrastination? You are now accountable for procedures and personnel responsibilities more complicated and more consequential than any you mustered in college. Have your habits and attitudes evolved to handle them?
All of us still procrastinate about something, sometime. In the face of some task or situation that demands action or decision, we all purposefully waste time. It may cost us money, reputation, or opportunity, and it always costs us peace of mind. How can we change? How can we tackle procrastination and control it before it runs us to the ground?
By taking these four steps:
Costs: Short-term Rest, Long-term Worry
Procrastination is a choice. Faced with some distasteful obligation, large or small, professional or personal, we choose to do anything but carry it out. At first, its deadline is comfortably distant. There is no need to act because we have so much time. So, we accomplish more urgent tasks at hand and pursue activities we enjoy.
After some time passes, we realize that we are letting valuable moments slip by. We know that if we were acting responsibly, we would be using our time wisely. Yet we dread the task, disparage the goal, and continue to opt for more pleasing work.
By this time, however, we cannot ignore the impending moment of accountability. We sabotage our happiness and daily occupations with doubt. We become sluggish in all our work and hope time will slow down until it stops just before That Deadline. We begin to think That Job is more difficult and more momentous than anyone realizes. We begin to make excuses to ourselves or others, knowing full well that we are only trying to gloss over a worsening situation.
Eventually, we begin to lose confidence in our ability to make decisions, control our performance at work, and even lead worthwhile lives.
Risks: Losing by Acting at the Last Minute
Ultimately, PROCRASTINATION is an individual's choice. Plan your work and work your plan or wait till you must choose to act, often at the last minute. So close your eyes, hold your nose, and do your job as quickly as you can under the circumstances. Sometimes you are lucky: others think you did a fine job, the contract wasn't lost, the auditor won't be coming. Many times you are not so lucky. You have delayed so much that appropriate arrangements can no longer be made. Someone else is chosen for the plum job, no one makes it to the conference, or you lose the commission.
Lucky or not, you know you did not do what you could have done if you had focused and acted from the first. Deep down, your performance on the job does not satisfy you. You lower your self-esteem and anticipate failure.
Reasons: Fears and Feelings Behind Procrastination
If the risks of procrastination are so high and the results so grim, why do we do it in the first place? Often because, as we anticipate meeting a particular obligation, we are struck by fear and its corollaries:
You can start to control your time by controlling these fears. Face them honestly, define them. Ask yourself whether they are rational--are they directly related to the obligation at hand, or are they rooted in anxieties about other aspects of your life? Once you have reflected on them, focus on changing the circumstances that give rise to them. Take steps to overcome your fears and work towards your real objectives instead.
Rewards of Change
Reflect, too, on the rewards of kicking the procrastination habit. They are quite clear:
They prove that it will be worth it to you to gain control of your time.
Plan Your Own Time
To control your time, plan it. Many options are open, use the one that works best for you. Take care, and remember that all require commitment -- commitment to planning responsibly, and commitment to the plan itself. To plan constructively, follow these suggestions:
Use Your Time
Once you have planned your time, use it constructively! With planning as your groundwork, you can take further action to beat procrastination. Choose from these techniques as you need them:
Know Your Own Work Patterns
If you can identify your work patterns you will see how procrastination weaves itself into your work-day. Few of us say, "OK, now I am going to procrastinate for forty minutes." Instead, we let procrastination slip in under some other guise. To focus your thoughts on your habits, ask yourself these questions:
Once you have a work habit record, take the time to analyze it: When you do so, be thoughtful and honest as you answer the following questions. Remember, you are striving to improve productivity, not to reinforce procrastination
All of these questions, and any that occur to you as you think about your habits, are worthy of your consideration. Any habit of mind or body that interferes with taking decisive action contributes to your tendency to procrastinate. Think, too about your good habits and the environment that leads you to be most productive. Consider your preferred working hours, your optimum concentration periods, and the ways you have been successful in the past. You can begin to build on your good points first by recognizing them and giving yourself credit for them. Then, enhance the skills and techniques you already have with those presented here and beat the specter of procrastination once and for all.
Customize That Job
Often procrastination has to do not only with your habits and your working environment, but with the dreaded obligation itself. Large, complex jobs may appear daunting and unmanageable. Fear of or distaste for one aspect of the job may lead you to avoid all your related responsibilities. If you find yourself faced with a sizable, complicated job, or one that you consistently dislike, try these strategies to make it more appealing:
Reinforce Your Own Efforts
Now that you have the resources you need to overcome procrastination, you must learn to use the reflection, planning, and time-management techniques effectively. Be patient with yourself. Neither expect too much too soon, nor give up too quickly. You will have a better chance of succeeding in this if you maintain a positive attitude.
As you put these techniques into effect, keep on experimenting with yourself and the tasks at hand. Stay open to other options, in decision-making, planning, and practice. The less bound you feel by your obligations, the more eager and creative you will be as you face them.