The Procrastination Problem
As a career coach, one of the biggest hurdles I have to overcome when working with my clients is procrastination. An example is a client that I will call Ryan. Ryan acknowledges that even though he has a degree in Information Systems, he is stuck in a dead end job in Help Desk Support.
Ryan would love a great new job as a computer programmer. I have worked with him to create a plan of action that includes updating his skill set while simultaneously putting his resume out there to see if a potential employer will nibble on it.
However, no matter how many pep talks and reminder emails I send Ryan, I can’t get him to take any action beyond putting the plan on paper. Why? Ryan is a master procrastinator just like many of us out there who just can’t seem to get started on the projects that mean so much to us and our future.
If Ryan does not overcome this problem, he will never gain the fulfillment of moving into a new career, nor will he enjoy the benefits of doubling his salary which becoming a computer programmer will undoubtedly give him.
So, What Makes Us Procrastinate?
Why does Ryan or anyone else procrastinate? There are different reasons, but the most common are:
- A perception that a task is unpleasant or overwhelming
- Fear of the Unknown
- Fear of Change
- Fear of Failure
The Cost of Procrastination
While procrastination seems to be a benign human fault, it can eat away at the quality of your life with devastating results. Like my client, Ryan, huge benefits that are just at your fingertips will slip away from you. Opportunities to be all that you can be will pass you by.
Not “getting round” to your annual medical or dental check up can result in death if beginning symptoms of a deadly disease are overlooked. Not “getting round” to balancing your checkbook can result in huge overdraft fees and ruin your credit report.
Not “getting round” to purchasing life insurance can leave your young children destitute if anything should happen to you. Not “getting round” to your car’s oil change can shave years off the life of your car and result in major repair costs or constantly having to purchase a new vehicle. The list goes on and on.
What’s on your “Put It Off List”?
A New Year is a good time to dig out all the things you have left undone and begin to tackle them right now. The good news is that with this article in your hands, you will have proven strategies for success in actually completing these tasks. Here’s your very first task.
Right now, before going on, make a list of five things that you’ve been planning to do, but haven’t. DO IT NOW. Just grab a pen and paper and make a list of five things that you’ve been putting off. Then read the rest of the article. You will be able to start applying these tips to accomplish them right now.
How to Overcome Procrastination
Step One: Visualize the End from the Beginning
First, create a vivid image of what it is like to have completed the project. Bring all your faculties of imagination to bear on it. Visualizing the completed task ? the benefits you are reaping, the feeling of success or the admiration of your spouse will help you anticipate the achievement you are striving for.
After visualizing the completed task, visualize the process of actually working on the task. Imagine sitting at your desk and turning your computer on, opening up your textbook and reading the assigned chapter, gathering notes for your article, purchasing the tools for building your deck etc.
This visualization will change your attitude toward the task and invigorate you with the energy you need to overcome any inertia you feel.
Step Two: Count the Cost
When procrastination sets in, sometimes it is because we have bitten off more than we can chew. One of my clients once set a goal of studying for her IT certifications so that she would be ready to return to work when her children started school the next year.
As time went on, I noticed that she was not making much progress with her study and was on the verge of giving up. On further investigation, I discovered that she was trying to study while her two toddlers were at home with her in the same room! I finally convinced her to accept the cost of hiring a baby sitter for a few hours twice week so she could study.
She completed her certifications with flying colors and went on to get the job she wanted at the salary she wanted.
Before putting a task on your list, be realistic about the time, cost, interest and expertise that the task will require. You may need to hire a professional or ask for help or raise more money to complete a task.
Step Three: Brainstorm
If you feel like you are stuck on a project or task, brainstorming is a great way to introduce new energy and break the “block” that is facing you. Sit down with a blank piece of paper and a pen and simply write down all your ideas and possible steps for the project.
Browse through books and magazines related to your project and glean ideas from them. Don’t criticize any of your thoughts and don’t stop until all your possible thoughts have been put on paper.
Step Four: Make a Public Commitment
We tend to improve our performance when we know that we are being watched. Tell your spouse or your boss what you plan to achieve. Sometimes telling your enemies or catty friends can work to motivate you because you’ll do whatever it takes to avoid failing with them watching.
Step Five: Gather Material
Buy a box and begin tossing in any and everything that it related to your project: Books, articles, news clippings, tools, fabric, color swatches etc. This process will give you the feeling of having gotten your project underway. You will have also overcome another project-killer: disorganization.
Because you have all the material for your project together in one spot, it will be easier for you to find what you need when you need it instead of stalling because of an itty-bitty item that has mysteriously disappeared.
Step Six: Break it down ? Do it One Step at a Time
Now you are ready to tackle your project, but wait, don’t dive in yet. You need to break down the entire process into small, simple and doable steps. Having these steps written down on paper creates a kind of automatic action trigger when you look at them.
You know that each day you work on your project, you only have to focus on one of the steps at a time. This will prevent procrastination from being triggered by the feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer size of the project.
Step Seven: Sweat It Out For Ten Minutes
When you find yourself not working on a project and continually putting it off, a good way to get yourself jumpstarted again is to set a timer and work on the item with your full item for ten minutes. No matter how unpleasant or stressful you find the task, you can bear to do it for ten minutes at a time.
When your ten minutes are up, you can stop and go do something else. More often than not, you will find that just ten minutes of focused work will get you on a roll and you will want to continue the task to completion. For the days that you are still stressed after ten minutes, stop and proceed to another task and return for another ten minutes the next day.
Step Eight: Set the Bar Low
When an otherwise talented and ambitious person is also a chronic procrastinator, the cause is usually a deep seated tendency toward perfectionism. This perfectionism creates an expectation in the individual that he or she must do the job perfectly the first time around.
This expectation creates stress, anxiety and the fear of failure. The individual is likely to put the task off indefinitely so that he never has to evaluate his performance and can keep his imagined perfection rather than improving his actual performance. The solution to this is to set the bar low for the initial results of the project.
Remind yourself that you can revise your article as many times as you need to once you get your thoughts down on paper. Remind yourself that you can always paint a room over if you botch the job the first time.
Apply these steps to your to-do list and you will find that the things you’ve wished for are easier to obtain than you formerly thought. You will win more victories than defeats just by showing up. You will increase your performance and your ability to create excellence in your life and work.
You will decrease anxiety, stress and depression and watch your self-esteem rise. Overcoming procrastination will also earn you a reputation for being dependable and successful.
I wish you great success!
Kingsley Tagbo – IT Career Coach