At some point in our lives, we all use procrastination as a stalling mechanism — and I’ll be the first to cry “Mea culpa!” On a conscious level, we might have a positive intent to achieve a goal, but despite our desire, we can’t seem to spring into action.
Procrastination involves deferring an action for a future time and can become an endless cycle of mediocrity that impedes progress and growth. Procrastination is a weight of oppression in that while it may temporarily reduce discomfort, it ultimately burdens us psychologically and emotionally by robbing us of joy and a sense of accomplishment.
REASONS FOR PROCRASTINATION
Have you ever explored the roots of your procrastination? Procrastination is sometimes mistakenly linked to personality and behavioral flaws such: immaturity, lack of self-discipline and lack of commitment, which increases despair. However, procrastination stems from a variety of factors — some are obvious, others are not.
Procrastination can be defined on two levels: behavioral and decisional. Behavioral procrastination is a self-sabotaging strategy that allows us to shift blame or delay or avoid action. Examples of behavioral procrastination include:
Fear and Anxiety. An emotional breakdown prevents you from taking action (i.e., fear of failure, fear of painful experiences, fear of the unknown, fear of success, and fear of completion — what happens next? — or feelings of self-deprecation, insecurity, nervousness and worry).
Resistance. You hold the position: “I don’t wanna, I ain’t gonna, and you can’t make me!” (This is known as passive-aggression — or rebellion, which is used to defy authority).
Perfectionism. You set unrealistically high standards and expectations that are virtually impossible to achieve or sustain.
Complexity. The task appears too difficult or unpleasant to accomplish.
Lack of Knowledge and Skills. You lack the understanding, know-how, and/or ability to complete the task.
Lack of Relevance. You perceive the task as unimportant or irrelevant, because it’s someone else’s goal.
Inability to Prioritize and Plan. You lack the ability to prioritize actions and develop a strategy to achieve your goals.
Decisional procrastination involves putting off decision making when faced with competing conflicts and choices. Examples of decisional procrastination include:
Indecisiveness. You spend too much time weighing possibilities, rather than engaging in action.
Competing Demands. Your energy is consumed by too many day-to-day pressures and experiences.
Distractions. Your concentration on important tasks is disrupted by e-mails, phone calls, meetings, small talk, external noise, technology glitches, changes in the workplace — and Web surfing.
As you can see, delay tactics are not only linked to disorganization, but more serious psychological problems that undermine self-worth. Regardless of the reasons, chronic procrastination can become a self-defeating behavior that results in decreased self-esteem and other mental health problems.
If you’re struggling to break free of procrastination, it’s time to take charge of your circumstances. Try some — or all — of the following strategies to help create positive change in your life.
Face your fears. Name and confront your fears. While real fears can protect us, imaginary ones can impede success. Understand the source of your fears and create a plan of action to deal with it. Although your fears may not completely disappear, increased awareness will diminish their negative force and facilitate action in spite of them.
Acquire requisite knowledge and skills. Identify gaps in your competence and abilities and find ways to close those gaps. There are a variety of ways to increase knowledge and skills: formal education, training and development, cooperative learning, discovery-based learning, problem-based learning, action learning, coaching and mentoring.
Minimize distractions. Set up your workspace to minimize distractions. Check and respond to phone calls and e-mails at pre-determined periods. Set aside time for small talk with colleagues. Consider arriving to work early or departing late. Hang a sign on your office door or cubicle to let others know that you prefer not to be disturbed. Use headphones to block out external noise.
Be intentional about goal setting. When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Clearly define your goals. Make a list of actions, prioritize them, and set a deadline to complete them. Focus 80% of your energy on tasks that produce results.
Build in accountability. Based on clear goals and objectives, determine what actions you need to take to positively impact the bottom line. Then establish accountability measures that encourage ownership, foster continuous improvement and reinforce success by focusing on producing results, not activities. A useful point of inquiry here is, “Who is better off as a result of my efforts?”
Establish a reward system. Rewarding achievements inspires and promotes greater performance and productivity. Your chosen reward should be individual enough to be meaningful. When you reach a specific milestone, reward yourself immediately to acknowledge your success and inspire continued energy and enthusiasm.
Break tasks into small components. Breaking a task into small parts makes it more manageable. It also decreases feelings of being overwhelmed and increases the likelihood that you will complete the task. Establish deadlines for each component to ensure that you stay on track. Be realistic about the amount of time each component will take and build in time for unexpected events.
Review and plan. Take 10-15 minutes at the end of each day to: (1) track how you’re spending your time; (2) assess your efficiency; (3) monitor your progress; (4) make any necessary adjustments; and (5) plan next steps. This is a great opportunity to use reflective journaling as a tool to provide insights into self-awareness (i.e., values, beliefs, assumptions, behaviors, emotions and aspirations) and learn and grow from your experiences. Journaling also provides structure to an otherwise random activity.
TOWARD A NEW BEGINNING
Everything we do — consciously or unconsciously — stems from a positive intent to improve our circumstances. However, our intent can become obstructive (and destructive) when it prevents us from taking action. The next time your find yourself delaying action, remember that “In creating, the hardest part is to begin.”
Until Next Time,