It’s Time to Deal with Procrastination

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Have you ever found yourself at war with an entry on your “to-do” list? I’ve been there, staring down a loathsome task, project or phone call that has been literally chasing me all day (or all week, for that matter). Somehow we never fully escape the impending doom. With time — it seems the task only begins to loom larger.

Procrastination is a problem we create for ourselves — and it’s high time we took back the reins.

But, first things first. Why do we continue to procrastinate? Putting off the task isn’t doing us any favors (and we know this). In most cases, it only delays the inevitable and increases our level of anxiety. Yet without fail, we still seem hell-bent on putting things off.  It makes no sense — yet perfect sense — all in the same breath. There is a pay-off lurking there and we have to stop the dysfunctional cycle.

Ultimately, procrastination begins for a myriad of reasons. But, I believe that if we examine what lurks behind the “anti-task” behavior, we may score a breakthrough. So, let’s peel back the layers and examine the reasons behind our penchant to procrastinate and discuss methods to neutralize them.

Ultimately, the control is in our hands — and we must attack our unhealthy approach-avoidance gradient head on.

The potential “whys” of procrastination:

  • The task is overwhelming. In many cases, we delay because the task just seems impossible to tackle. We really don’t know how to tame the “Goliath” — and as a result, we find ourselves completely and utterly frozen.
  • We’re fearful. Unfortunately, failure is often the first thing that comes to our minds. So, we put off a task simply because we feel we are not likely to be successful. Why engage in a losing proposition?
  • We don’t want to commit. Sometimes we hold off because we are obsessing over which course of action to take. If we don’t choose — our options remain open.
  • The task is unpleasant. When a topic area really doesn’t interest us, laboring through it can turn into a long and painful process. On some level, avoiding the task becomes a fruitless form of protest.
  • The task seems pointless. If you have ever been stuck with a weekly report that few people read — you’ve likely experienced this. Sometimes we feel that the task isn’t worthy of the investment in our time.
  • Collateral damage. In some cases, we develop a negative association between the task and something or someone else. It’s not the task that you feel uncomfortable with — it’s the individual who asked you to complete the task or what its completion signifies.
  • No rewards in sight. It’s difficult to stay motivated or focused, when the work you are about to complete will  go completely unrecognized. Why bother?

Potential solutions:

  • Set interim goals. Recent research suggests we should set smaller, approachable goals, to keep performance levels high. This involves identifying “bite sized” pieces that when attacked — add up to forward momentum and a successful conclusion.
  • Ask for help. If we feel seriously unprepared, the best route is to reach out and seek guidance. Often, another point of view from a mentor or supervisor can provide a much-needed “jumping off” point.
  • Collaborate. Drafting a friend or colleague to form a short-term “anti-procrastination” team, can prove to be an excellent approach. In these situations, two heads are usually better than one.
  • Narrow the choices. If you are having trouble weighing options use this handy sorting method: put each option on a note card. Choose your top 3. Compare to find the winning plan. Now, just do it!
  • Incentivize the process. One way powerful method to self-manage, is offering yourself a reward when you make progress. Try attacking your least favorite task of the day first —  then spring for your favorite latte. Offer yourself a “pat on the back”. Breaking the procrastination cycle, is no easy feat.

What techniques do you utilize to tame procrastination? Share them here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

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