Often called the "thief of time", procrastination is the habit of intentionally delaying work on important tasks that need to be done.
While everyone procrastinates to some degree, procrastination becomes a real problem when it starts interfering with your goals and work.
Left unchecked, procrastination can significantly decrease your effectiveness and lead to serious negative consequences in your career and personal life.
These are just some of the costs associated with procrastination:
- Poor Quality Work – Procrastinating on important tasks means that you have less time in which to complete them, which invariably leads to rushed poor quality work.
- Time Pressure – Leaving things until the last minute results in anxiety and time pressure as you go all out to complete tasks before the deadline.
- Failure to Achieve Important Goals – This can be one of the most depressing and frustrating aspects of procrastination. Earl Nightingale has said that success and happiness can be defined as the progressive realization of a worthy goal. The problem is that while procrastinators have goals and aspirations like everyone else, they never get around to pursuing or realizing them.
- Missed Opportunities - Procrastination causes you to miss wonderful opportunities that you never even consider or explore. This can lead to guilt and regret as you realize what you are missing.
- Waste of the Present – Michael LeBoeuf makes the point that wasting the present is probably the biggest cost of procrastination. According to LeBoeuf, consistent procrastination leads to an unfulfilled life lacking in accomplishments and enjoyment.
If you are struggling with procrastination, this article provides several strategies and tips to help you overcome it.
First Diagnose, Then Prescribe
One of the keys to overcome procrastination is to realize that its causes can vary from one situation to the next. You can put off a chore for a completely different reason than you delay work on an important work project.
Imagine if you went to see your doctor, and without even examining you, she gives you a prescription for an antibiotic. The antibiotic would work if you have an infection, but won't do any good if you have a rash from poison ivy.
Similarly, there is no one single solution to the problem of procrastination because each strategy only works for some of the causes.
You first need to diagnose the reasons why you are procrastinating on a particular task, and then apply the right strategies for those reasons. You first diagnose, and only then prescribe the solution.
Major Causes of Procrastination
Below are the main causes of procrastination. In all likelihood, you may be facing several of these causes at the same time, which means that you may need to use multiple strategies to overcome your procrastination habit.
1. Avoiding an unpleasant task
2. Lack of energy/motivation
3. Escaping from an overwhelming project
4. Don't know where or how to get started
5. Don't know what to do next
6. Overwhelm created by too much work
7. Unclear goals and priorities
8. Urgency addiction
9. Psychological defense mechanism to protect your from fear of failure, fear of criticism, or fear of success
In addition to these common causes, several psychological factors may also be fueling your procrastination habit. If you can eliminate, or even reduce, these factors you'll find it much easier to conquer your procrastination habit.
Look at the differences in thought patterns and self-talk between a procrastinator and a highly productive person.
See if you can recognize some of these patterns in your own thoughts and self-talk.
Procrastination Thought Patterns and Self-Talk
I don’t really want to do this task, but I HAVE to do it or I will… (get into trouble, fail, disappoint my spouse, lose my promotion, etc.)
I CHOOSE to do this task now because it will… (help me get a promotion, help out my spouse, avoid tax penalties, etc.)
This task is HORRIBLE. It will be such a pain to have to do it, I can’t even begin to imagine it.
Yes, this task is a bit unpleasant, but I’ve seen worse. It’s actually NOT THAT BAD, I’ll just GET IT DONE quickly and be rid of it.
This task is so BIG, I don’t know if I’ll EVER be able to FINISH IT!
This is a big an exciting project. I just need to figure out WHERE TO START and what to DO NEXT. I can’t wait to GET STARTED.
You can see how moving from procrastination patterns to productive patterns could make a significant difference in your approach and results.
Five Tips to Overcome Procrastination
Here are five simple tips to help you overcome procrastination:
1. This is a task that I CHOOSE to do, not a task I HAVE to do
Shift your thinking away from a "have to" mentality into a "want to" mentality. Make a conscious choice and commitment to either do the task now, or do what is necessary to get out of it. Don't let it linger around in the back of your mind.
2. I don't have to FINISH this task now, I just have to BEGIN the task now
Don't get overwhelmed by the idea of having to complete the task. Instead, focus your thoughts and energy on getting it started and let your momentum carry you through.
3. I don't have to be PERFECT, I'll do the best I can
Don't let perfectionism ruin your productivity. Accept that you are human and that there is no such thing as PERFECT. Focus your efforts on tasks where excellence will make a difference. All the other tasks just need to get done.
4. I don't have to do this task all at once, I can break it up into smaller steps
Break large on complex projects into smaller steps and focus on taking each individual step. Treat each step as a mini-goal. Don't worry about taking future steps, just focus on getting started on the current task and take time to celebrate after completing it.
5. I don't have to work all day on this task, I can set time limits and take breaks when I need to
Scheduling breaks and other recreational activities in your schedule will help you see that your life is not all work. If you want, you can set time limits to help you get started on a particular task.
Commit to work for 30 minutes on the task and then give yourself permission to take a break. If you feel inspired to continue with the task, go for it and allow your momentum to carry you through. Otherwise, just take a guilt-free break. You deserve it for getting started.
The time management eBook contains much more information on procrastination, including specific strategies and tactics you can use to combat each of the major causes of procrastination.
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