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Is Procrastination Holding You Back?

Procrastination. We all know what it is: putting obstacles in our own way by handling those low-priority tasks instead of taking action on the high-priority tasks. The Latin roots of the word mean “in favor of” and “tomorrow.”

Dr. Piers Steel, a researcher on the science of motivation and procrastination and the author of The Procrastination Equation, says that procrastination is pervasive, with at least 95% of us procrastinating on a occasional basis. Count me in that group, as I found several ways to extend writing this article.

And we pay a price for procrastination. We miss out on opportunities, we cause ourselves unnecessary suffering, and procrastination also has an economic price. Steel says that procrastination falls into three different categories:

1. Expectancy, i.e., we expect to fail;
2. Value, i.e., we don’t value our work;
3. Time, i.e, we let momentary impulses rule us.

So how do we get beyond procrastination? Here are five tips:

1. Eliminating procrastination is tied to goals. Be sure you have set, clear goals and that you know why you want to accomplish them. You have to know why – your “Big Why.” What value do you attribute to completing these goals? It can also help you to break your big goal into smaller doable goals. And, if you need an extra push, consider finding an accountability partner to work as an external deadline for yourself. I’ve found this to be effective for completing the small doable tasks with my goals.

2. Learn how to prioritize. When you look at your list of activities for the day, which are most important? And, of the most important, are any urgent? One source to consider here is Stephen Covey’s matrix for prioritizing work. He classifies your tasks as urgent and non-urgent and then as important or not important. The problem with procrastination is that we neglect the important but not urgent until they become the fires we need to put out, i.e., important and urgent. We do this by focusing too much time in the not important quadrants.

3. Reward yourself. You can create a system whereby you earn points for each task that is accomplished as you set out, or you can pick a reward for completing the task. This should help focus you on the goal.

4. If low expectancy is one of your problems, try replacing your language. Expect that you will achieve your goals. That in turn will lead to self-confidence and optimism.

5. If impulsivity is your problem, try a technique Dr. Steel calls the “unschedule.”  He asks you to schedule play time into your calendar, being sure the amount of time is reasonable. He also suggests that “you should schedule an activity that represents the temptation you indulge in when you procrastinate.” For example, if you find that when you procrastinate, you surf the Internet, update your Facebook status or watch television, schedule time for that. Steel found that people that he worked with who “unscheduled” were better able to work on the task at hand.

6. Look for reminders that procrastination is a problem. I found the following quote from Victor Kiam – you may remember him as the man who “liked the shaver so much, he bought the company” – that I read periodically to remind myself that I might miss out on something good. Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin. 

Please share your ideas on dealing with procrastination below.

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