“Lots of people know what to do, but few people actually
do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.”
In honor of National Procrastination Week (the first week in March) and March Forth Day (on March 4th, of course), each year I dedicate the March issue of Paauwer Tools to the subject of procrastination. Why? Because this single habit is the root of so many of the problems that plague all of us at one time or another – challenges with managing our time, relationships, projects, and information.
What is procrastination? Procrastination is doing low-priority tasks and activities instead of the high-priority ones which so often contribute the most to our success. For some, procrastination becomes a harmful habit which impedes personal and professional development.
So if procrastination is harmful, why do we do it? We tend to put off doing things for the following reasons:
- They are unpleasant to do.
- They are difficult or complex to do.
- They involve making tough decisions that can be overwhelming.
When we don’t want to do something that is unpleasant or difficult, we find less important things to do that will keep us “busy” so we have an excuse for why we didn’t get around to it. But putting something off does not make it go away, and postponing it often just makes it worse. As someone once said, “Killing time murders opportunities.”
Warning Signs of Procrastination
"You will never find time for anything. You must make it."
Finding tasks on your to-do list week after week is a clear sign you are procrastinating, but there are also some more subtle, overlooked signs of procrastination. Can you identify with any of these possibilities?
Feeling overwhelmed: No matter how hard you work, you cannot seem to catch up. You have a backlog of work that seems insurmountable. It may be affecting your sleep, as you lay in bed thinking about all the things you “gotta do.” Perhaps it’s time to renegotiate some of your commitments and say no to more requests so you can say yes to what’s most important to you.
Breaking commitments to others or to yourself: You’re constantly having to make excuses about why you didn’t do something you said you’d do.
Losing focus: Although you have many important tasks at hand (some are even urgent), you find yourself wasting time doing things that are not important. For example, you find yourself surfing the Net instead of doing something much more important.
Starting something new before finishing something else: This is particularly common with entrepreneurs who often spend time developing new leads rather than following up with the prospects they already have. If you are spending more time attending networking events than you spend following up by phone, in writing, or face-to-face, this may be you.
Seven Habits of Highly Effective Recovering Procrastinators
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
--Stephen Covey, First Things First
Here are 7 tips to help you change from “I’ll do it when I get around to it.” to “I’ll do it now!”
1. Recognize and admit that you are procrastinating. As long as you defend, deny, or rationalize your procrastination, you are not in a position to overcome it. Stop rationalizing and you’ll be more likely to take action.
2. What motivates you to do better? What rewards -- tangible and intangible – will you get by doing it rather than putting it off? Remind yourself of that payoff on a daily basis. Post a picture or note that represents those rewards to you on such places as your computer screen, bulletin board, or dashboard.
One way to check motivation is to check your self-talk. Do you frequently say, "I gotta…," "I should…," or "I have to…"? Replace this self-talk with "I choose to…" and recognize that you are at choice about what you do. If you don't choose to do it, don't do it!
3. Analyze what causes you to put things off. Most of us tend to avoid things that are unpleasant, complex, or overwhelming.
In Linda Sapadin's book, It's About Time!: The Six Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them she tells us that chronic procrastinators are not lazy; they simply need to cultivate a more natural and fluid transition from mental activity to physical activity, while allowing an appropriate amount of time and energy to complete the task. In my review of this book provides a brief description of each of the six styles of procrastination: (1) perfectionist; (2) dreamer; (3) worrier; (4) defier; (5) crisis-maker; (6) over-doer. Read the book if you want to gain some comprehensive insight and solutions for each of these styles.
4. Break down each of the activities you are having trouble with into small steps. Take a small step that will get you moving in the right direction. Pick what seems like the easiest place to start, and block out time on your calendar to begin. You may find that once you take action, the rest is much easier.
If you are more motivated by doing the toughest part first, then begin with that. As they say, eat a live toad first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. Tackle that "toad" -- the task you have been putting off, the one that is hanging over your head --because it will lift an immense load and you will feel much more productive.
5. Delegate some tasks to others. If you don’t enjoy doing it, can you delegate it to someone else? Or even if you enjoy doing something but find that you have too much on your plate, either delegate it to someone else or renegotiate your commitment.
6. Don’t be a perfectionist. Unless you’re a rocket scientist at NASA, you’re paid to get results not to be perfect.
7. Commit yourself to action with specific deadlines. Promise results to others. Fear of losing face is a powerful motivator. Or build in accountability for yourself by telling a friend, co-worker or your coach exactly what you plan to get done each week. Ask them not to accept any excuses from you, and to remind you why you said you were doing all this in the first place. Set up a weekly check-in with an accountability partner where each of you reports to the other.
One of the most powerful tools I know of for getting things done is the weekly planning process. Make a weekly appointment with yourself to plan your coming week. During your planning session, schedule important activities and tasks so you have a concrete plan for following through with your intentions. Then promise yourself a reward once you’ve completed the task.
It may take time to break the procrastination habit, so give yourself permission to fail a few times. Remember that even a small amount of progress may allow you to achieve more than you ever have before.