Th 269729

It can wait ... or can it?

Dec. 1, 2007
A year ago, my December column was about making New Year’s resolutions. Well, the Times Square Ball is about to drop again, so let’s revisit one thing I said.
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by Doug Young, MBA

A year ago, my December column was about making New Year’s resolutions. Well, the Times Square Ball is about to drop again, so let’s revisit one thing I said. "Before you can begin to blaze a trail to a better future, you must reflect back on where you have been." This still sounds like good advice to me, so to paraphrase Dr. Phil, "How did 2007 work for you?" If your answer is in the "It was my best year ever" category, you can turn the page or sit back and watch a bowl game. But if you responded with something like "My expectations and my reality traveled down two different roads," then maybe you should read on.

If 2007 has not turned out the way you wanted it to and your achievements did not match your goals, the question to ask is, "Why?" There could be an endless list of reasons, but for many of us, these reasons can be summarized in one word — procrastination!

Procrastination is a part of human nature. To some degree, nearly everyone intentionally puts off tasks to the last possible minute. Many of us fail to take procrastination seriously, and dismiss it with statements like, "That’s just the way I am." But is it a problem? It certainly is when it disrupts some aspect of your life.

Procrastination can downgrade the quality of your work. It has been shown to erode self-confidence and self-esteem, and to create guilt. It can cause serious conflicts in relationships. It destroys teamwork in the workplace, and it can even increase the probability that you will get physically sick.

Is procrastination ever good? Yes, procrastination can work in your favor. More time to gather information or to think more deeply may lead to a better decision. You can legitimately postpone one activity because another has a genuinely higher priority. But too often, procrastination is about avoidance, and its impact is predictably negative.

There are many degrees of procrastination, but 20 percent of the population identifies themselves as chronic procrastinators. These folks don’t just constantly postpone paying their bills or doing their Christmas shopping. Procrastination becomes a lifestyle, and it impacts all aspects of their lives. You didn’t want to hear that, did you? I know I didn’t!

What causes procrastination?

Procrastination is a habit, and figuring out why you procrastinate can help you initiate more beneficial behaviors. Here are a few of the causes:

  • Lack of motivation: A common factor in not tackling an unpleasant task is lack of motivation. You’ll get no argument from me that some tasks are no fun, yet they must be done! Millions of people don’t enjoy doing their taxes, but they get them done on time and the IRS never comes knocking on their door. So where does the motivation to do the undesirable come from? Think in reverse! It isn’t motivation that allows you to begin a task. Starting the task — taking that first step — is the real motivator. That first step energizes you for further action, and taking that first step is within your control.
  • Fear of failure: For some people, attempting something and failing is worse than not trying at all. After the Denver Broncos lost four Super Bowls from 1977 to 1989, some fans were so upset that they didn’t want the Broncos to get into another one for fear of losing again. If fear of Super Bowl failure is a factor for football fans, imagine what fear of personal failure can do to the individual! Procrastination becomes a way out.
  • Fear of success: Achievement may mean that on your next project, even more will be expected of you. You may have concerns about your capability to elevate your performance, so you procrastinate because you’re not prepared to take that risk.
  • Lack of instant gratification: We have a problem in today’s society. Much of what needs to be done is really hard work and the reward may be a long way down the road. But when there is no immediate payback, many aren’t prepared to pay the price and so they postpone action until there is no choice.
  • Perfectionism: Procrastinating means protection from the possibility of not meeting your own unrealistically high standards. Stress and anxiety caused by the potential of imperfection create a procrastination spiral and paralysis is the result.
  • Feeling overwhelmed: In today’s turbulent White Water world, there is so much to do and so much pressure to do it well that we frequently can’t see a way through the rapids. Sometimes we feel like it’s better to stay out of the raft!

The procrastination habit can be beaten

There is no quick fix, but take heart! No one is beyond help! Once you have determined why you procrastinate, look for help in the following strategies:

  • Reframe your thinking: Stop sabotaging yourself and instead, dwell on success. Stay away from downward spiral talk — "There is no way I can get this done." Be realistic, but adopt an enabling mindset — "This is a huge challenge. It will take a clear focus and my best work, but it is possible."
  • Modify your environment: Eliminate whatever it is in your working environment that distracts you. Noise and clutter kill focus. No, this does not give you permission to spend the next three months organizing your office. If you are working at home, turn off the TV. I guarantee your favorite team will not lose because you are not watching.
  • Plan ahead: If your task has a formal due date, set an earlier personal deadline to allow for the unexpected. The computer never crashes two weeks before something is due. It always self-destructs at the last minute. This is an irrefutable law of the universe. Challenge it at your peril!
  • Compare your actions with your core values: Your core values are the guiding principles by which you choose to live your life. If achieving your goals is important to you, your desire to act congruently with this value can help you find the internal strength to get the task started.
  • Break the task into smaller pieces: Getting started when you feel overwhelmed is difficult. Even the most daunting project can be broken down into a series of manageable steps.
  • Monitor your progress: Enlist the support of a friend, coach, mentor, or colleague to help you do this regularly. By doing so, you are making a public declaration of intent and you are asking this person to hold you accountable to the promises you have made to yourself.
  • Don’t stop yet: Work on a project in predetermined blocks of time. After the completion of each block, do one more thing before stopping. You will accomplish more and your satisfaction level will go up.

A reasonable goal

Let’s deal with reality. Your goal is not to wake up tomorrow and never procrastinate again. Your target is to implement a few key strategies so that you can look back over the year and say, "I took better control of my life. I got more of my top priorities completed, and I did so with more satisfaction and less stress!"

Doug Young, MBA, and his spouse Marlyn, MCC, have a professional speaking and executive/team coaching business in Parker, Colo. They co-author this column and share an interest in leading-edge business concepts, achieving personal and professional potential, serving patients, and improving how people work together. Marlyn’s insights into people and relationships and her coaching skills complement Doug’s motivating and mind-expanding presentations. Contact them by e-mail at [email protected] com.com, by phone at 877-DMYOUNG, or visit their Web site at www.dmyoung.com.

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