Procrastination is, hands down, our favorite form of self-sabotage.
As we settle in at the table for his coaching session, Rick* has this sheepish grin when he reports, “I didn’t complete my personal work for this week.” Immediately the irony dawned on me … the exercise is “Procrastination: How to Move into Action”.
He details his reasons for not completing the reflective coaching exercise and mentions how “ironic” it is. We share a laugh, for now.
What do you say?
Once we discover what we like and don’t like there is this oft repeated phrase: “I don’t want to”. Am I right? It matters very little whether the speaker is age 2 or 82 only the Story changes.
From the beginning, it seems we have this bent to delay doing something until later IF we don’t want to do it. Remember? How long did it take you to pick up your toys…clean your room…do your homework…write your term paper…complete your dissertation…make the doctor’s appointment…renew your driver’s license…clean out the garage…go to the dentist…file your taxes…or have that difficult chat with your direct report or the boss? Later!
Want to be more successful?
What do you think it will take for you to become more successful in your work? Greater innovation…more sales…social media savvy or more friends and followers…longer work hours? What if it’s as simple as to stop procrastinating?
Mark Goulston wrote Get Out of Your Own Way at Work…and Help Others Do the Same. In his book he addresses how to conquer 40 self-defeating behaviors on the job. Which behavior do you suppose he addresses in Chapter 1?
At work, procrastination is an epidemic, and one of the most common self-sabotaging behaviors. It’s one thing to procrastinate about something that affects you alone, such as going on a diet. It’s another thing entirely to hinder the productivity of other people. When that happens, you’re courting trouble and inviting resentment from others. (Page 14)
It’s More than Being Time Poor
Although I do believe the breakneck speed of life contributes to procrastination there is another answer…decision making and fear. Dr. Goulston points this out as he writes,
At its core, procrastination is not merely putting off doing something; it is putting off making a decision. It results from feeling overwhelmed…When you feel overwhelmed, you become paralyzed. (Page 15)
This habit of putting off important tasks until another time and replacing high-priority actions with tasks of low-priority is a psychological matter; according to Wikipedia:
Psychologists often cite such behavior as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. Schraw, Pinard, Wadkins, and Olafson have proposed three criteria for a behavior to be classified as procrastination: it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying.
Here’s your litmus test for procrastination, simply ask: Is what I’m doing 1) counterproductive, 2) needless, or 3) delaying? If yes, you are a practicing procrastinator … when you get a moment, please stop.
Four Steps to get Moving, Now
Here is part of my coaching exercise, if you are a practicing procrastinator, walk through these four steps:
- Identify. What task are you putting off? What is the decision to be made
- Reflect. What is the cost if you continue to put off taking action? Make your list…
- Acknowledge. What is driving the delay?
- Subjective Avoidance – that “uneasy feeling” that pushes you away
- Indecision – analysis paralysis, looking for the “right way” or delayed by “What if?
- Stress – often deceptive the belief is: “I work best under pressure!” Really?
- Other drivers…?
- Action. A little help to get moving?
- How great is the desire to get it done? How could you increase your desire to act?
- How could you tie this task to your purpose, passion, or mission?
- What consequence(s) are associated if you fail to act?
- What reward will you give yourself when you complete this task?
- With this situation in mind, answer this: “What’s one thing you can do that is so doable it’s laughable?
“Procrastination is the thief of time.” – Edward Young
My question for Rick referred to a high stakes situation under his watch. “How do you think procrastination factored in xyz?”
He connected the dots and saw how his procrastination opened the door for an “unfortunate” situation to develop. Suddenly, the self-sabotaging side of procrastination became very real as he reflected on truth in The Story. No longer was it about a coaching exercise “left for another day”; in fact, it is about his influence as a leader.
How does procrastination affect your life and leadership?
*Rick is not his real name.