I would have written this blog sooner, but procrastination took the lead — and stole the lead I had in mind.
It’s OK, though; it’s a studied setback that the “studiers” say has handicapped us all at one time or another. And procrastination, these studies say, is not always
a problem. Daydreaming, taking a walk or reorganizing your closet before you conquer your to-do list can spark big ideas.
It’s not OK, however, when procrastinating becomes more than a delay and interferes with production. Which is why, in a fast-paced agency environment, it’s critical to overcome procrastination — in its sophisticated form, at least — before it becomes widespread and the scheduling norm.
Before we convince ourselves it’s OK to rationalize away, we’re going to identify six reasons we procrastinate — whether it’s out of fear, lack of ambition or lack of energy — along with ways to defeat them:
- I can do it tomorrow (because there’s no cost or consequences). There are several reasons why we put things off with this excuse:
• The benefits of completing your project (whether real or perceived) aren’t valuable to you, so you postpone your efforts.
• The consequences if you don’t do it aren’t substantial enough.
• You’re comfortable in the position you’re in at work, so you don’t feel the need to challenge or expand your opportunities.
- I don’t have enough time, nor the perfect time. This excuse never feels like one, because you’re always busy, which is acceptable — especially if you’re coming in early and staying late. But you can always set aside 10 minutes of time to chip away at a task on your to-do list. If you start to make gradual progress, great! If you don’t, you may find it exceeds your workload. It may also help not to think of your work as one massive pile, but to focus on a task at a time.
- I don’t know where to start because it’s too difficult or I don’t understand. If you don’t know the details of your plan of action (priority, deadline, resources, budget) on a project — or even the next step — you won’t be able to structure your steps and move seamlessly through the execution. Get all the facts, ask all of your questions, and get comfortable with the task.
- Fear of failure. You may have a desire to try something new and challenging, but you lack the belief in yourself to accomplish it, so you put it off. You may even convince yourself that someone else should have been assigned to it. If it’s a task that’s out of your skill set or comfort zone, instead of throwing your hands up in the air and putting it off, collaborate with someone in the know — or take the opportunity to add a skill to your resume and learn it yourself!
- Fear of success. When you consider success as a consequence rather than an accomplishment, it may be because you feel you have a lack of control over the process or outcome. No one wants to waste time and energy on a project you know is going to be superseded by someone else or by uncontrollable outside factors. Or, you may not want to deal with the big responsibility and changes that come with success.
- Catch-all excuse: I’m too tired (or angry, or sad, or stressed). If you’re in a bad mood, all you want to do is stop working and start doing something enjoyable, making it easy to rationalize that your work will be done better once you’re in a better mood. This isn’t a bad thing if it helps you refocus. But sometimes, actually working through the lows may be more uplifting.
10 Tips to Combat the Traps
- Identify which procrastination pitfalls apply to you.
- Prioritize your to-dos for all the pending projects that have been on your list for too long. Do the hard stuff first. It’s hard to do something you don’t want to do. But guess what? Once you do it, it’s done!
- And … action! Fix the problem on your own or with someone you trust to hold you accountable — it can be a teammate, friend or family member. It’s easy to push a project off when you’re the only person holding yourself accountable. And for even more motivation, celebrate your completions with your accountability partner.
- You need to schedule when you are going to work on a project and block out that time on your calendar, just like you would for an important meeting.
- Time yourself. When you are loaded with tasks and assignments, it is easy to overwork yourself. Set a timer so you can be focused for the entire allotted time.
- Give yourself breaks between projects. Take a walk, get a snack, or catch up with a teammate for 10-15 minutes between projects.
- Be realistic and set yourself up for success. Projects often take much longer than expected, so bake in some extra time. Also, look for ways to make it easier on yourself. If you are morning person, schedule your harder tasks for first thing in the morning when you’re fresh.
- When a task seems overwhelming and you are not sure where to start, figure out how you can break it down into manageable chunks. For example, if you want to write a marketing plan, you may choose to write an outline and then commit to researching and writing one section at a time.
- Reward yourself with a treat if you complete your task today rather than tomorrow (or the next day, or the next). Talk about pure motivation with instant gratification!
- Log out of social media! You don’t need to know what your brother’s lunch looked like, how far your best friend ran at the gym or how to make the best couple’s Halloween costume. Rid yourself of distraction and get to work.