“I’ll just do this and then I’ll get started on that.” Procrastination. If it were an Olympic event many of us would be on the podium.
There are several reasons why we procrastinate.
- You find the activity unpleasant and think, “I don’t want to…”
- You find the activity difficult or too large and think, “I don’t know how to…”
- You believe that the activity requires more information or perfect work and think, “I don’t feel ready to…”
If the cause is not wanting to do a task, try one of these quick means for handling it:
- Reward yourself. Increase your motivation to complete the activity by selecting a reward. Decide on some pleasant activity or inexpensive gift you will give yourself when the unpleasant task is complete. Reward yourself for each small success, not just major achievements. Rewarding for success rather than punishing for failure is a much more effective way to change behaviour. A note about such self-rewards: keep them in proportion to the task (don’t over reward or under reward yourself); always take them when earned; try not to take them if you procrastinated despite your best intentions.
- Take easy steps. Complete the unpleasant activity in small, easy steps. Often the sense of growing accomplishment can motivate completion of the work. Taking breaks (doing other high-priority tasks) between the small steps sometimes helps too.
- Set a deadline. Setting a deadline for completion of the activity motivates some people to tolerate the unpleasant and move forward with determination to meet the target. “I’ll finish this by two o’clock – or else!”
- Do it first. Get it out of the way and stop worrying or feeling guilty about not wanting to do the activity. Try to think positively about it then move on to an activity that you really enjoy doing.
If the cause is not knowing how to do a large or difficult activity, here are some ways to handle it:
- Develop an action plan. A large or complex activity becomes less intimidating if it is divided into small, sequential steps. Quickly outlining such a plan of activities also allows consideration of the “how to” of the project, which often leads to the realisation that the activity is not as difficult or as prone to failure as you first imagined.
- Get help. When confronted with work that you’re not sure how to do, speak to someone else about it and consider whether training material from any courses you’ve taken might help.
If the cause is feeling that you’re not fully prepared to complete the activity or to do it perfectly, consider responding in one of these ways:
- Make the decision. The perfect decision has yet to be made, so make one last effort to gather needed information and then reach whatever decisions need to be made in order to get on with the activity. As you complete the task, you may see options that you had not considered and make the needed changes. You may be able to bounce your ideas off your manager by phone. Few actions have eternal consequences – there’s always another day to apply what was learned from a mistake.
- Plan to overcome possible problems. To overcome a fear of failure or an unrealistic need to achieve perfection, consider all the things you fear could go wrong. Then for each anticipated problem or obstacle, develop a quick plan for handling it. Some contingency plans will be unnecessary, some will come in handy… but all of them will build your self-confidence and reduce the sometimes crippling effects of fear.
- Start with a “lead task”. Perfectionism sometimes takes the form of waiting for inspiration or the right method to get to work on an activity. If you are using that form of procrastination, begin the activity with a simple, short lead task – something that will at least get you thinking of the activity. It can be just jotting down a quick plan, filling in the date on a reporting form – any simple beginning action that gets you started. Sometimes the key to handling procrastination is simply to start, no matter how slowly or insignificantly. Before you know it, you’ll often be well into the task.