A friend sent me a meme of Thomas Jefferson that was dated July 3, 1776 and said, “Oh crap, that’s due tomorrow?!” While I am certain Mr. Jefferson had his act together and was right on top of getting the Declaration of Independence done in a timely fashion, you have to admit the meme is funny. It did, however, remind me of a certain affliction that is the bane of existence for many: procrastination.
It is an ailment that strikes down both the poor and the wealthy, the young and the old, male and female. It is a malaise that impacts the lives of even the most organized and successful people at some point. When you procrastinate you end up frustrated, stressed out and disillusioned. You lose momentum, and confidence. You miss your deadlines, your quality of work tends to suffer, and your “to do” list gets overwhelming.
Why does it take so long to swing into action? What are you afraid of? I believe there are several reasons why people have trouble with procrastinating and I know this from personal experience, as I fall victim to more than one myself.
I found this gem on the subject at Boredpanda.com: “Procrastination has taught me how to do 30 minutes of work in eight hours and eight hours of work in 30 minutes!”
So why do we procrastinate?
Lack of Self-Confidence: If you are being honest with yourself, you know you sometimes have moments of doubt about your work and being judged by others. Too often people lack the commitment and confidence to “just do it” and become paralyzed. They keep putting off tasks, especially big, meaningful ones that could be life-changing.
Perfectionism: Do you suffer from perfectionism? Do you have to cross every “t” and dot every “i” three times before you’re willing to share an idea? This is what it’s like when we’re more concerned about what people think than we should be, and we end up missing a deadline or an opportunity while we sit on things and suffer from inaction.
Excusitis: We are all guilty of it. We can come up with a lame excuse for just about anything to rationalize why we put things off. “I’ve got plenty of time. I will do it after I watch this Netflix show for the third time.” Sometimes we think to ourselves, “I am just not sure how to get started,” so we simply never do. One of my mentors, Dr. Ray Lombra, always told me “Well begun is half done.” Get into the action habit and get started.
Distractions: If you have read any of my previous columns or my book then you know that I am a self-confessed “purple squirrel” who is easily distracted and suffers from a mild form of ADHD. OK, some would say it’s more than a mild case. Regardless, people will fuss over small details that are just fillers to avoid getting into the meaty stuff that they conveniently put off. It’s amazing the number of silly things that we let distract us.
Lack of Motivation: Whether it’s low energy levels or a bad attitude toward a project we sometimes simply lack the inspiration and motivation to get our hind ends in gear. We may be scared to start a big project or to do some rote but necessary tasks and need a nudge to get us moving.
How do you combat these bad habits?
Manage your time better: Schedule your day and try to get your most important goal done right away. During my hockey playing days in college, I always did better in season because I had a tighter schedule and had to manage my time better. My son Ryan and his fellow freshmen friends who started the summer session at Penn State are all experiencing this phenomenon. Just a month ago, as high school seniors, they had six or seven classes from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and now they have just two classes a day and a lot of new found free time. Structure your day for better results.
Write Down Your Goals: If you don’t have a map to get to your destination you could end up anywhere. It’s the reason you have to write your goals down and place them where you will see them. How else are you going to know if you’re making progress?
Find an Accountability Partner: If you lack the self-discipline to do the work on a timely basis, perhaps you need an accountability partner. Find someone you trust that will cut to the chase and help keep you on task.
Keep Moving: As golfer Tiger Woods is fond of saying, sometimes you simply have to “grind it out.” Perhaps you are like me and you find that you get more done the busier you are. It’s when you have idle time on your hands that you think you have more time to accomplish tasks then really do. Keep making incremental progress and give yourself small rewards (a coffee break, time to check on your social media) only after you have achieved a milestone.
Stay Focused: You can start by doing a “digital detox” and putting your digital distraction devices away, especially when you need to stay fully focused. Turn off notifications particularly from sites that are simply gossip and full of useless information.
“Getting a Squirrel to Focus,” by Patricia B. Scott is a book that describes strategies for reaching those of us who are prone to multi-tasking and who are easily distracted every time we see a squirrel. I received the book as a gift from good friend John Gray, who I coached back in the early 1990s and who has remained a close friend ever since. He knows his old coach’s strengths, and weaknesses and presented me with the book when I was going through a transition phase of my career.
As a big believer in the proper use of assessments, I think you can learn a lot from self-awareness. I have taken numerous assessments and each time have paid a fee to have them professionally interpreted. I would encourage you to do the same. It will help you to uncover many internal traits that could help you to overcome your procrastinating habits.
In the Predictive Index assessment I am considered a “Maverick.” My results say, “Joe is a very independent, confident, decisive self-starter, intense and driving. He has a strong sense of urgency, can react and adjust quickly to changing conditions, generate novel ideas, and deal with them swiftly.” In the Myers Briggs assessment, I am an ENFP (also called a “champion) which, according to their research, describes me as outgoing and creative, with the key skill of perceiving complicated patterns and information and assimilating it quickly. We are flexible, highly adaptable workers, driven by a keen devotion to our ideals and a strong drive to help others. Less developed is our patience for routine tasks and projection of a serious, committed image. In the DiSC assessment I am a High I, High D, Low S, C. I am considered “inspiring.”
Which means I am enthusiastic, take action, and am results oriented.
This is who I am, and I am not sure I want to try and change that much at this stage of my life. So, I will instead play to my strengths, focusing on what I am good at and where I can help the most people. It means staying focused on the most important things.
Gary Keller, best-selling author of “The One Thing” says it is paramount to focus on your “one thing” that is most important to get done and tackle it right away.
Jeff Sanders wrote a book called “The 5 A.M. Miracle” and hosts a podcast of that same name. In one episode, Jeff gives his own five tips for beating procrastination:
1. Wake up earlier in the day and get to work right away.
2. Plan, plan, and plan some more! Schedule everything.
3. Break big projects down into manageable parts.
4. Make a list of the things that cause you to naturally procrastinate.
5. Take the first step and get started!
Overcoming procrastination may be just what the doctor ordered.
So, I ask you: what are you willing to do more of, do differently, or stop doing to achieve success in your life?
Think about these solutions the next time you say to yourself, “What are you waiting for?”