This week, I’d like to discuss a form of self sabotage that I see all too often: procrastination, the fine art of putting things off. And off, and off, and off…
We’ve all let things slide when we shouldn’t have. It’s not always about forgetfulness, or overwork, or even laziness. In fact, some of the worst procrastinators are busy professionals who are otherwise successful in the workplace.
Ultimately, all procrastination does is generate anxiety and negativity. So why do we hobble ourselves this way? The reasons are rarely clear-cut, but often they consist of some mix of the following:
• Lack of self confidence
• Excess perfectionism
• Fear (of the unknown or a negative outcome)
• A perception of the task as difficult and/or time consuming
• Time pressure (either too little or two much)
• Anger or hostility toward the task
• Low frustration tolerance
What it all boils down to is that the unpleasant (or potentially unpleasant) tasks are the ones we tend to put off—no matter how high their value.
But all that really matters is how you fight procrastination. What can you do, in the real workaday world, to stop procrastination in its tracks?
Visualize. There are two basic kinds of motivation, and you can use both in your visualization scheme. First of all, consider the positive: visualize having that lingering task completed and out the door. What kinds of wonderful things will result? At the very least, imagine how great it’ll feel to have it off your plate!
Personally, I prefer positive visualization; but negative visualization can work too. You know from personal experience that unpleasant things rarely go away if you ignore them. They just get worse. What will happen if you let the unfinished task fester on your to-do list? There might be financial and career impacts.
Some researchers suggest you think of an ignored task as a cancerous cell: if left untreated, it’ll end up gobbling your time and resources, to your detriment. I think that’s a little extreme (even scary), but if you think it’ll work for you, go for it.
Strategize. If you have trouble getting starting, try breaking the task into smaller chunks—which is one of the basics of getting your high-value, high-intensity work done anyway. Plan how you’re going to tackle each individual subtask; if you have to, sketch out on paper how you’re going to handle them.
Put those subtasks on your to do list; and if someone doesn’t do it for you, set deadlines for each, along with an overall timeline for when you have to have the whole task completed. Then set out to meet those deadlines.
Eliminate distractions. How are you going to get anything done if you’re always checking your email, answering your cell phone, or surfing the Internet? If you’re easily distracted, get rid of the distractions until you make some headway on the task. Unplug the landline, turn off your cell phone, disable the Internet, and forget you even have email!
Get Busy. Assuming you have all the information and resources you need to move forward, action always beats meditation. Once you’ve given the task enough thought, leap into action. Focus like a laser on your task. If you have to, grit your teeth and tell yourself, “I’m going to do this, like it or not!”
And in Conclusion…
With some tasks, you simply have to put your head down and bull on through. No, it’s not likely to be fun; but then again, if it was, we wouldn’t necessarily call it work, now would we? While it’s great to love what you do (and of course that’s the ideal circumstance), as realists we know that we can’t love every single aspect of our jobs.
There will be certain tasks that you need to do, jobs that only you can do sometimes, that need your attention at least as much as the fun stuff. So do them. Even if you do it a little at a time, eventually you’ll get that monster task of your plate, so your boss will stop growling about it and you can stop angsting about it.