Everybody Does It and Many of Us Want to Learn to Stop It.
By Steve Schumacher
From time to time, every one of us procrastinates about something. For example, I put off completing this article. I kept finding reasons to do something else.
Procrastination is something that can get in the way of our performance and cause us stress and anxiety. The core issue is that we put off a task because we think it is going to be too difficult, boring or take too much time.
We have painted that task as something we just do not want to do. It seems to be easier to find other things to do that make us feel good, or at least not as bad as we think the dreaded task will make us feel.
For those of you that are perfectionists, procrastination comes into play when we would rather put off a task instead of running the perceived risk of failing or looking bad. Wouldn’t it be nice if we never failed or looked bad during our careers?
Of course, that is impossible. Failing is a major part of learning and developing as human beings.
Putting off minor things on occasion is not really a big deal. But, if you find yourself stalling on big, important projects frequently, it is time to take a hard look at some things you can do to get on track and stay on track. By the way, saying that you work best under pressure is a cop out and just a weak way to try to justify your procrastination.
Recognize when you are procrastinating. Be honest with yourself. If you are putting things off, admit it and take responsibility for it. Once you accept what you are doing, you can put some specific things in place to break out of the procrastination mode. The only person you are trying to fool is yourself, so face it, admit it and work on it. Procrastinating is stressful enough, lying to yourself about it adds even more stress.
Do not beat yourself up about the past. If you have left some important emails unanswered or have not followed up on something you should have, recognize it and stop criticizing yourself for the undone. The past is over and there is nothing you can do about it. Do not add more stress to your life by feeling bad about what you have not done. Move past it as you put some actions in place to curb procrastination.
Do the painful stuff quickly. When we see some tasks are overwhelming, it is so easy to put them off. Swallow hard and get to work on them first thing, and try to get them completed quickly. If you are like me, once you get on a roll you realize that what you feared about the task is seldom the case.
Put timeframes together. Once you decide to take action to curb your procrastination, start with a basic to-do list and write down everything you need to get done. This is nothing new, what is new is that you are actually going to do these things this time. One of the magical tools you have available is self-accountability. Put completion times alongside each of the tasks and commit to getting them done. Try not to make the timeframes unattainable. Make the goals and due dates reasonable, yet somewhat challenging.
Limit distractions. We all talk about this, but it needs to happen. Shut off your phone and email. When our phone beeps or we get a new Facebook posting, we want to check those things. It is very natural but distracts you from getting things done. Getting used to not checking your electronics every five minutes is tough at first, but after some successes it will become easier.
Enlist a partner. Self-accountability is wonderful, but there are times when having a partner help with accountability may be necessary. Someone to check up on you and to help you make sure you are getting the things done you have committed to. Make sure this is someone who only has your success as their agenda. As human beings, we do not like disappointing others. Having a person involved with us, helping us overcome bad habits, may be just the thing that keeps us on track.
Change your self-talk. Instead of saying “I have to…” or “I must do…” trying saying “I choose to…” Over time, thinking about time as something your control can help when you are tempted to procrastinate.
Do not try to eat the elephant in one bite. Procrastination is a tough habit to break. Take small steps along the way and pat yourself on the back with each success.
Procrastination is something we all find ourselves doing. Taken to extreme, it can derail our careers. The first step is to realize you are doing it. Just like any other project, commit to making a difference when it comes to putting things off.
Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].