We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals. Stephen Covey
Most of us have been guilty of procrastinating. Anyone who’s handed in a term paper, taken an exam, balanced a checkbook, filed a tax return or cleaned a bathroom has probably fallen prey to “putting things off.”
However, procrastination is a way of life for many people – especially those who consistently identify too many tasks as critical (i.e. they fail to prioritize) and / or put important things off until the last minute until they become a true emergency.
These folks are usually easy to identify as you can recognize a problem procrastinator because they demonstrate one or more of the following symptoms. They:
- Describe themselves as “idea” people.
- Get things done sloppily or not at all.
- Look for bandages to stop the bleeding, instead of long-term solutions.
- Make avoidable mistakes that cause time-consuming rework.
- Tend to juggle multiple projects at once.
- Wander aimlessly from one project to another.
- Say “yes” to any request.
- Appear distracted and overwhelmed.
- Lack energy to complete even the smallest jobs.
As you can see, when left unchecked these symptoms make it nearly impossible for procrastinators to achieve even a modicum of success, because their confusion, frustration and exhaustion mean that important tasks get lost in the shuffle, forgotten and dropped.
If this sounds like you it’s imperative to uncover the root causes for your procrastination and learn ways to end it.
But first, what causes procrastination?
According to experts, people are more likely to put off tasks that make them feel uncomfortable – physically, emotionally or intellectually. Very briefly most of us procrastinate due to a shortage of:
- Confidence – They worry that their lack of poise and self-assurance will cause them to fail.
- Knowledge and skills – They question their talent and experience.
- Clear direction and / or adequate tools – They’re concerned that they don’t have complete and easy-to-understand instructions or acceptable equipment.
- Concern regarding the outcome – They worry that their hard work won’t achieve the results they most desire.
- Time – They are involved in too many other activities and choose not to carve out necessary time.
- Interest – They find the task dull or irrelevant.
However, procrastination can be more insidious than this. Have you ever heard someone referred to as “his or her own worst enemy”? Do you wonder why many of us often seem to interfere with our own success? Why, in spite of our constructive intentions to “do” something (e.g. launch a web site, lose weight, call a relative, or go after that promotion), don’t we always follow through?
Many experts believe it’s due to a subconscious choice to achieve two opposing goals – ones that essentially make it impossible to accomplish either, because they cancel each other out. Called, conflicting intentions, they come in every imaginable form.
Here are a few:
- “I want to earn six figures next year working two hours per week.”
- “I’m working hard to get rich even though my gut tells me that’s a selfish goal.”
- “I’m trying hard to increase my business but I’m not sure I’m ready to take on more customers.”
- “I want to be successful but I don’t want to do things that I don’t like.”
Without understanding why people who suffer from conflicting intentions often feel trapped and confused. Often their dreams seem futile and they experience second-rate results for their efforts. And yes, they tend to procrastinate more than others.
The Good News…
Procrastination is not something we’re born with. Once we acknowledge that it exists we do have the power to make positive changes. Following are some quick tips for getting started.
- Stop making excuses, and act- Find out what’s causing your procrastination then, face it, trace it and erase it.
- Recruit an accountability partner- Ask someone you know and trust to hold you to your commitments
- Get organized- Break tasks down into more manageable chunks…
- Adjust your standards – make sure you’re okay with completing tasks at an acceptable level rather than striving for perfection.
- Learn to say “no” – and when you take on something new get rid of something else.
- Delegate – Drop time-consuming and unnecessary jobs and outsource as much as possible.
- Prioritize – Create and prioritize a daily “to-do” list and tackle the most important ones first.
- Master Your Calendar – Become a careful scheduler…even if it means scheduling lunch with yourself.
Moreover, if you believe that your procrastination may be due to conflicting intentions, try the following:
1. Make yourself a promise and write it down. For example, “I promise that I will spend one hour five times per week reading a good book.”
2. Underneath your promise, make a list all of the things that could prevent you from keeping your pledge. For example:
- I have to work late most nights so won’t have time.
- I have too many important responsibilities that should take precedence.
- It’s an hour I won’t spend with my spouse.
Tip: Numbers 1 and 2 actually represent your conflicting intentions… Number 1 is encouraging you to act differently – to change in a meaningful way. Conversely, the items you listed in number 2 are convincing you that your promise is not worth the price you’ll pay and urging you to let it go.
3. Now, go back to the list you’ve made in Number 2 and write down your supporting belief for each one. For example, under “It’s an hour I won’t spend with my spouse” you might put, “I’ll be perceived as selfish and uncaring.” If you dig even further you might come up with, “If I don’t pay attention to my family, they’ll stop loving me.”
After you’ve completed this invaluable internal assessment, challenge the veracity of your beliefs and work hard to gain mastery over your conflicting intentions. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so small steps in the right direction will be worth their weight in gold.