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Beating Procrastination

Introduction: Procrastination comes from the Latin pro, meaning “forward, forth, or in favor of,” and crastinus, meaning “of tomorrow.”  However, to go beyond this notion of delay is to encounter considerable disagreement. Not everyone believes it means the same thing, as there are many definitions to the concept. Consider the following:

  1. “The intentional and habitual postponement of an important task that should be done now.” www.procrastinus.com   
  2. “Procrastination is the illogical delay of behavior.” (Sabini & Silver, 1982)
  3. “The act of putting off important tasks over and over again.” Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
  4. “Voluntarily delaying an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse-off for the delay.” Piers Steel

Putting off important tasks over and over again is a situation faced by many people. Everyone procrastinates to some degree – but some are so chronically affected by procrastination that it stops them achieving things they’re capable of and disrupts their careers. The key to controlling and ultimately combating this destructive habit is to recognize when you start procrastinating, understand why it happens (even to the best of us), and take active steps to better manage your time and outcomes.

Why Do We Procrastinate? Most people procrastinate when they put off things that they should be focusing on right now, usually in favor of doing something that is more enjoyable.

Procrastinators work as many hours in the day as other people (and often work longer hours) because they invest their time in the wrong tasks. Sometimes this is simply because they do not understand the difference between urgent tasks and important tasks, and jump straight into getting on with urgent tasks that are not actually important. Hence, wrong prioritization.

They may feel that they are doing the right thing by reacting fast. Or they may not even think about their approach and simply be driven by the person whose demands are loudest. Either way, by doing this, they have little or no time left for the important tasks, despite the unpleasant outcomes this may bring about.

Another common cause of procrastination is feeling overwhelmed by the task. You may not know where to begin. Or you may doubt that you have the skills or resources you think you need. So you seek comfort in doing tasks you know you are capable of completing. Unfortunately, the big task is not going to go away – truly important tasks rarely do.

Other reasons could include: Underdeveloped decision making skills: Most people procrastinate because they lack the ability to stand by their decisions. Hence developing strong will power is necessary to get things done.

A fear of failure or success: Just like some people can’t handle failure, others cannot handle the praises that come with success. Thus to escape their fears they fall into the trap of postponing tasks and most often the effects are devastating.

Poor organizational skills: Most of us face this problem. Organizing yourself to handle daily tasks is not easy. Most often, we fail to set our daily priorities and as such find ourselves wanting when many things we intended to do were not done as a result of our inability to organize ourselves to perform those tasks.

Low Self Esteem: People suffering from feelings of inferiority may believe that any failure to perform to standard suggests inadequacy as a person. To protect self-esteem, they may self-handicap by procrastinating in order to give themselves an external reason, an “out,” if they fail. Sometimes you find people deliberately giving up tasks by desiring to wait for other people they consider experienced to do the job for them.

Overcoming Procrastination: Whatever the reason behind procrastination, it must be recognized, dealt with and controlled before you miss opportunities or derail your career.

 Step 1: Recognize that you are Procrastinating: If you are honest with yourself, you probably know when you are procrastinating. Some useful indicators which will help you pull yourself up as soon as you start procrastinating include:

  • Filling your day with low priority tasks from your To Do List.
  • Reading an e-mail or request that you have noted in your notebook or on your To Do List more than once, without starting work on it or deciding when you are going to start work on it;
  • Sitting down to start a high-priority task, and almost immediately going off to make a cup of coffee or check your e-mails.
  • Leaving an item on your To Do list for a long time, even though you know it’s important;
  • Regularly saying “Yes” to unimportant tasks that others ask you to do, and filling your time with these instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list.

Step 2: Work out WHY you are Procrastinating: Why you procrastinate can depend on both you and the task. But it’s important to understand what the reasons for procrastination are for each situation, so that you can select the best approach for overcoming your reluctance to get going.

Common causes of procrastination were discussed in detail above, but they can often be reduced to two main reasons:

  • You find the task unpleasant; or
  • You find the task overwhelming

Step 3: Beat it!: If you are putting something off because you just don’t want to do it, and you really cannot delegate the work to someone else, you need to find ways of motivating yourself to get moving. The following approaches can be helpful here:

  • Make up your own rewards. For example, promise yourself some good wine at lunchtime if you have completed a certain task.
  • Ask someone else to check up on you. Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind slimming and other self-help groups, and it is widely recognized as a highly effective approach.
  • Identify the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task.
  • Work out the cost of your time to your employer. As your employers are paying you to do the things that they think are important, you’re not delivering value for money if you’re not doing those things. Shame yourself into getting going!

If you’re putting off starting a project because you find it overwhelming, you need to take a different approach. Here are some tips:

  • Break the project into a set of smaller, more manageable tasks. You may find it helpful to create an action plan.
  • Start with some quick, small tasks if you can, even if these are not the logical first actions. You will feel that you are achieving things, and so perhaps the whole project will not be so overwhelming after all.

Manage Your Time: Time management is not an easy thing to do. In fact for most organizations and individuals, failure in most activities stem from inabilities to manage time. The following points can assist us better manage our time:

Consolidate similar tasks:  By carrying out tasks that are similar, you stand the chance of having an edge in getting things done. You tend to spend less time and enjoy doing things that are related to each other.

Tackle tough jobs first: sometimes, we push things forward because the tasks are hard to perform. If we want to successfully get over procrastinating, then doing tough things first can motivate us to carry on with other activities which are easier.

Delegate and develop others: Successful delegation remains a challenge to many of us. By delegating you enable your collaborators develop themselves and learn many skills. Your ability to delegate is also reinforced

Do not be a perfectionist: Know that perfection is the art for supernatural beings, as human we are liable to make mistakes as we do things. The important aspect here is the lessons learned form these mistakes and how we use these lessons to be better.

Take breaks: The Bible records God Almighty resting on the seventh day. Even machines take breaks. In this regard, getting things done and managing our time does not mean we should work ourselves to death. Take breaks to refresh your memory and recreate.

Avoid the cluttered desk syndrome: Do not pile stuff on your desk. Untidy working environments easily stir us to carry duties forward given that motivation and concentration can hardly be attained in such cases. To do things and gain time, it is better to be in a clean and organized environment.

Get started immediately on important tasks: The best way to get things done is by starting them. So if you have an important task, then your priority should be completing that task and moving on.

Reduce meeting time: Meetings are a good place to get feedback on activities. They can equally be environments for procrastination. Spending time discussing irrelevant issues consumes our time. Once you detect the meeting agenda has been exhausted and there is nothing more to be said, move on to your other activities.

Take time to plan: We all know the five Ps of planning (Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance). To get things done and done well, we need to plan well. Planning well entails careful considerations of our activities and financial details.

Learn to say “No”: In other words, “do what you said you would do”. Maybe because of fear or some other reason we tend to fear telling people we will not be able to do things. If you know you will not perform a duty, say “No.”  As effective people, we should learn to keep our word.

 Key Points: To have a good chance of conquering procrastination, you need to spot straight away that you are doing it and identify why you are procrastinating.

Part of the solution is to develop good time management, organizational and personal effectiveness habits. This helps you establish the right priorities, and manage your time in such a way that you make the most of the opportunities open to you. Do not be tempted to think you will not have instance where you are going to procrastinate. The purpose here is to make us limit it as much as possible

As you fight on, remember these:

“Every duty which is made to wait returns with seven fresh duties at its back” Charles Kingsley

“The best way to get something done is to begin.” Anonymous

Tomorrow is the only day in the year that appeals to a lazy man.”  Jimmy Lyons

“What may be done at any time will be done at no time”Scottish Proverb

“The two rules of procrastination, 1.Do it today.            2. Tomorrow will be today tomorrow.” Anonymous


First Things First Everyday
By Stephen R. Covey et al
Published by Fireside Rockefeller Centre
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020

Procrastination, Personality, Performance and Mood
By Piers Steel et al
University of Minnesota 

Six Attitudes for Winners
By Norman Vincent PEALE
Published by God’s Grace Publication Ltd
Email: godsgracepub@yahoo.com  

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