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What To Do About Procrastination

January 1, 1999
Related Topics: Motivating Employees, Featured Article
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Many employees are overwhelmed with multiple tasks. This often leads to procrastination.

Procrastination is a problem that faces teenagers and adults, males and females, regardless of social group or background. Its affects range from a minor slowdown to major catastrophe, and it is probably the single most common time management problem.

Everyone in the world has felt the urge to put off assignments or jobs until later, and each person has a varying degree of procrastination. Regardless of the severity of your habit of procrastination, the following suggestions will help you to "put an end to putting it off." Use these specific, concrete steps to confront and shift your own tendencies to procrastinate. Choose several suggestions from among the five lists, put them into practice, and use a coach or friend for support:

Identify underlying issues or causes of procrastination.


Take a close look at your own procrastination—do you put off similar tasks every month (paying your bills late, even though you have the money to pay them) or do you postpone every task, no matter how small? Discover your pattern of procrastination, and note when and where you use procrastination as a crutch: Take a look at some possible sources of procrastination, along with hints and tips to resolve them:

  • Fear
    Some procrastinators actually fear doing the task or project at hand. The task or project requires them to move out of their comfort zone, and the thought of doing that seizes them into immobility. You often see this occur when people procrastinate making phone calls to others when they fear that the other party may not like what they have to say, or will somehow reject them.

    To eliminate fear, become aware of it. Then acknowledge your strengths and skills. Recall previous successes, and write them down. Be aware of—and acknowledge—your weaknesses, and leverage them into strengths. (Yes, it can be done! A coach or therapist can help you identify weaknesses that are really hidden strengths.) Get an accurate perspective of what your success will mean for you, and focus on your own needs and expectations rather than those of others.
  • Perfectionism
    Perfectionism is probably one of the more common reasons for procrastinating. The perfectionist avoids starting a task because they worry that they might fall short of their own high standards. A perfectionist will become absorbed in the details, attempting to control every aspect of the task and ignore moving a project along until the very last minute. They don’t have to face their fear of imperfection if the task isn’t done.

    Closely examine your standards and values. Are they really yours, or someone else’s? Are they set so high that they are causing you distress? If so, shift your thinking about standards and values, and set realistic goals.
  • Crisis Maker
    If you have spent many years feeling thrilled (or rewarded) by being under the pressure of time deadlines, you’re probably a crisis maker, living on adrenaline.

    Crisis makers truly believe that they cannot get motivated until the very last minute. As much as they complain about having no time, they get a charge out of running late for appointments, barely getting to the airport on time for a flight, and rushing from one unfinished project or task to another.

    Crisis makers often make others mad because they manufacture a crisis and then solve it at the last minute, making themselves look good in the process—or worse, they totally blow it—infuriating their friends and colleagues—and look bad in the process.

    If you are a crisis maker, work to bring balance to your life. Learn how to develop a rewarding life outside of work, don’t try to get love or personal needs met at work, learn how to increase your productivity and quality of work while eliminating the adrenaline rush. The result will be a more peaceful life, without crises.
  • Anxiety over the expectations of others
    This is a tough one. If you stop trying to become a "better person" for other people, you’ll realize that the person you are is just right. When you learn that your faults are rich and wonderful teachers, that mistakes are golden, and that your weaknesses are usually just hidden strengths, you begin to accept yourself. Once you accept yourself, you realize that you always do your best—and then the expectations of others become less important. Work with a coach or therapist to get past this one.
  • Overextended, trying to do too much
    Overdoers have the most difficult time recognizing themselves as over-doers because everything is important to them. Prioritizing, delegating and saying "no" aren’t the overdoers’ strong points.

    If you’re an overdoer, identify what’s necessary to accomplish a task in a given amount of time. Get a sense of the entire project and then do what’s required to complete it.

    Set what and when goals are to be accomplished, and break those goals into smaller sub-goals (e.g., concentrate on one section of a report at a time). Most of all, underpromise and overdeliver.

Now that you have an idea of the source of your procrastination, make a plan to diminish and control it:

Schedule tasks for your project.

  • Write down a list of the tasks you must undertake to complete your project. Set priorities among these. Mark each one off as you complete it, and reward yourself.
  • Start with the most unpleasant task—to get it over with (eat your spinach!)—and work through your list until you get to the easier ones.
  • Do something daily on your project, adding new tasks and projects as they appear, even if it is only for five minutes. Write down two or three things you can do toward task completion that you can accomplish in five minutes and then do one of them, and reward yourself.
  • Schedule work on one of your avoided tasks so that it is contingent upon something you already normally do and enjoy. For example, "I’ll work on my monthly report for half an hour before going to play racquetball."

Take action.

  • When it comes time to do your task and you are tempted to procrastinate, make yourself sit down for five minutes and think about what you are about to do. Envision the emotional and physical consequences of procrastinating, and of following through on your plan to work. After you think this over, go ahead and do what you decide is best... with no apologies or second thoughts!
  • Imagine how you would behave in the next hour or day if you were not a procrastinator. Get a clear picture in your mind, and then act out that role. Pretend for the next hour or day that you are not a procrastinator. When you are done, evaluate your "acting": Did you do a good job? How did it feel?
  • When you feel an impulse to work on your project, follow up on it. Do it at the moment you think of it and keep at it until you don’t feel like it anymore.
  • Decide on a specific reward to give yourself for the successful completion of your project on time. Make it realistic and follow through.
  • Watch for mental self-seductions into behavioral diversions, such as: "I’ll do it tomorrow," "I deserve some time for myself," or "I can’t do it." Dispute mental diversions, like "I really don’t have that much time left, and other things are sure to come up later," "If I get this done, I’ll be better able to enjoy my time," or "Once I get started, it won’t be that bad."
  • If getting started is a challenge for you, create a "10-minute plan": Work on a dreaded task for 10 minutes, then decide whether to continue.
  • If you become stuck in the middle of a task, change location or position, take a break, or switch subjects or tasks.

Use your friends or a coach.

  • Make a contract with a friend or coach to get a specific task done.
  • Make an appointment with a mentor, coach, peer or friend—someone who can consult with you on your project. Ask for help and advice about proceeding.
  • Make a lunch or dinner date with a friend, or call your coach. Tell your them that you want his or her support, that you want to talk about your feelings about your project, and that you want him or her to encourage you.
  • If you have something frightening to do—making an important presentation, for example—ask a friend or your coach to listen to you rehearse what you have to say so that you can face and cope with your fear.

Keep a journal.
Write in your journal every day to give yourself credit for what you have accomplished, to genuinely forgive yourself for backsliding, and to plan your next antiprocrastination activity.

  • In your journal, identify rationalizations, confront yourself, and redirect yourself to your task.
  • Recognize negative attitudes and write out positive, encouraging attitudes.
  • If you get mad, write out all your frustrations and anger in your journal.
  • If you make a mistake, write out the interesting, beneficial things you learned from it.

If these suggestions don’t work, try, try again.
If these activities work for you, continue them. If they don’t, try different ones. Procrastination may be a racket that we run to avoid or resist something about ourselves that we’re reluctant to admit. Work toward the elimination of procrastination and watch how much more enjoyable your life is—without stress, without crises and without fear.

SOURCE: Linda R. Dominguez is a performance coach and owner of Executive Coaching and Resource Network. She has over 25 years of corporate, consulting and coaching experience.

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