Cleaning Closets: Confessions of a Procrastinator
I have recently discovered the secret of how to get me to accomplish tasks that I do not want to do. And I must say that as a psychologist I am not proud of what I found out!! If I need to clean out a closet, just give me a task that I want to do even less. When faced with a deadline on a difficult task, I end up engaging in activities that while needing to get done, are not a priority. I am a PROCRASTINATOR! Why is it that as a deadline approaches, I sometimes find myself organizing my desk or cleaning a file cabinet, rather than focusing on the project that is my “priority”? I delude myself by thinking that these diversions are important tasks to accomplish as well, but why now?
Most of us engage in some form of procrastination, at least occasionally, and some of us are “pros”. The reasons for procrastination are many, but it is important to note that procrastination costs our organizations and us lots of money, time and emotional energy we could be using for better purposes. So, as we begin this New Year, let us take a few minutes to see how procrastination affects us and as we increase our awareness of this problem, we can decrease its cost to us as individuals and to our organizations.
SIGNS OF PROCRASTINATION
The most common form of procrastination is waiting until the last minute to do something. However, there are other signs that may not be so obvious. These include getting sick when facing an unpleasant task, being hesitant to try something new, avoiding decisions or confrontations, blaming others or the situation for your unhappiness or being “too busy” to get tasks accomplished.
Procrastination can lead to feelings of guilt, inadequacy, depression and self-doubt. It has a high potential for painful consequences. Procrastination inhibits success.
CAUSES OF PROCRASTINATION
The root causes of procrastination can be overt or fairly complex. The dynamics of putting off an important task can vary from individual to individual and from task to task for the same person. Do any of these sound familiar?
- The task does not hold relevance or interest for you
- Perfectionism (holding nearly unattainable standards)
- Shortening the time you actually have to work on the task
- Evaluation anxiety (concern about others’ responses to your work
- Fear of failure (not trying is a form of failure, but not as painful as actually trying and failing)
- Fear of success (e.g. if you succeed, concern over maintaining that level of performance; concern over jealousy of others, etc.)
- Lack of information needed to complete the task
- The need to resist control by someone else
- The task seems overwhelming or unmanageable
- Physical or environmental conditions (including fatigue or a poorly organized work space)
There are many causes, as we can see, however, an overlying cause is fear. Each procrastinator responds to their own constellation and interpretation of their fears. Procrastination serves as an escape, albeit a temporary one, from doing unpleasant or threatening things.
MANAGEMENT STRTEGIES TO DECREASE PROCRASTINATION
If we consider the idea that the basic issue is not “procrastination” per se, but rather procrastination is our response to perceived fears, then our path to a cure becomes more sharply focused. Addressing irrational beliefs, underlying fears and poor attitudes will provide an important place to start taming our problem.
Key to this process is to change procrastinating ways of thinking to a more productive style. In his book “The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination” by Neil Fiore, he recommends change phrases such as:
“I must” or “have to”… to “I’d like to” or “choose to”
“This task is overwhelming” to “When can I start” and “how can I divide it”
“I must do this well” to “I’ll do fine”
“I have no time to relax” to “It is important to relax one hour”
“I see life and work as a grind” to “Life and work can be fun”
Listen to your own self-talk and come up with more productive, helpful phrases to replace the critical, counterproductive ones.
Other strategies include:
- Identify what is necessary to accomplish a task in a given amount of time. Get a sense of the whole project.
- Set goals for what is to be accomplished and break these down into smaller, manageable “chunks”.
- Try the “30 minute plan”—Work on an unpleasant task for 30 minutes and then see if you want to continue. Reward yourself and try to initiate as many 30-minute periods as possible.
- Acknowledge previous successes.
- Focus on your own needs and expectations rather than those of others.
- Examine your standards and evaluate how realistic they are
- Set realistic goals.
- Keep a record of your avoidance of important tasks. Learn about your patterns in order to set a plan to change them.
- “Workaholics” need to learn the value of setting aside time each day for relaxation, socialization, exercise and play. Productive, creative people need to take vacations and play (without guilt)! Schedule some fun.
- Modify your environment. Minimize distractions.
How does procrastination affect you? You could be one of the few persons who is organized and consistently tackles problems on your own terms, however most of us engage in some form of procrastination that limits our productivity, effectiveness, and happiness. Try one new behavior to limit the effects of procrastination—you may be surprised at how much it helps and be encouraged to do more.
As for me, cleaning closets will have to wait…I’ve got 30 minutes to put in on my next project and then I’m off to play with the dog!!