The Arrogance of Procrastination

Zig Ziglar proclaimed that, “The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want now.” If you looked back at the end of each day, how often would you see that you placed the vast majority of your time and energy on those things that you have prioritized? Procrastination and greatness don’t go hand in hand. Procrastination is an interesting problem because it’s so complicated. The fact is simple; I’ve got something to do and I should do it now, but I’m going to do it later and I’m going to pay a price for that. But it’s so tricky to deal with because the causes are complicated: anxiety, arrogance, feeling entitled, self-esteem issues – that’s a short list.

Procrastination is always based on a dysfunctional worldview, such as that “short term relief or pleasure is better than sacrifice for long-term rewards,” along with irrational disregard for negative consequences. The procrastinator fails to engage in the appropriate course of action either due to a distraction of some sort or an inadequacy in their own behaviour. Various distractions that can cause procrastination include, but are not limited to Addiction, Anxiety, Arrogance, pride, Aversion, Bad habits, Discouragement, Disorganization, Distraction, Family problems, Fear of failure, Feeling overwhelmed, Frustration, Guilt, Ill-conceived goals and unconscious motives, Indecision, Lack of awareness, Lack of morals, Lack of time management skills, Low ambition, Low frustration tolerance, Low self-esteem, Low tolerance to stress, Objective conflict, Paranoia, Perception of difficulty, Phobia, Poor attitude, Poor self-control skills, Poor study skills, Rebellion, Resentment, Self-centeredness, Self-deception, Uncertainty.

In the previous instalment, we established the 8 most common effects of procrastination that can destroy not only your productivity, but your life. In this instalment we will look at how procrastination can be overcome.

Tips for Beating Procrastination

Procrastination can be overcome. We can short-circuit our natural impulses to delay tasks, and direct our minds towards being productive and proactive.

Here are 10 simple tips to beat procrastination and become more proactive:

1. Find your power hour

When do you do your best work? There really is such a thing as being either a morning, afternoon, or evening person. Find the hour that makes you feel at your very best, at your most optimal mode of functioning, and set aside the time to do your most urgent and demanding tasks then. The power hour could simply be one hour of intense focus and productivity.

2. Eat that frog

Mark Twain suggested that if the first thing you do in the morning is to eat a frog (meaning to perform the most challenging task) then, any other tasks that follows for the day will seem less distressing. Do the task you find most demanding, or most likely to have you procrastinating over it – and do it. Knowing that you’ve confronted the most difficult task on your list not only takes you a step closer towards actually completing it, but also gives you a nice motivational boost.

3. Set specific goals

Tasks seem threatening when they are broad and vaguely-defined. Deciding to “Complete the review of business plan” is just another way of saying, “I’ll review that business plan when I can.” Make your goals specific, and set a deadline while you are at it. “Set aside one hour to review the market analysis of the business plan by 3:30pm today before meeting with senior management” makes the same goal more precise and appealing.

4. Set bite-sized goals

Smaller does not mean less important. Instead of setting a goal that says, “Decide on a replacement for the regional sales coordinator”, set smaller goals of reviewing a number of possible candidates, conducting a phone interview with some of them, and perhaps shortlisting names from your initial pool of possible candidates. Doing any of these three smaller tasks brings you a step closer to eventually completing your larger goal.

5. Flex your schedule

Make your schedules less rigid and restricting. Some days will be busier than others, but you don’t have to be bound to completing a list of a hundred things, just to be productive. Prioritise, and delegate when necessary. A rigid and inflexible schedule not only tempts you to procrastinate, it also makes your daily plans seem more daunting. If your schedule leaves little breathing room and you find yourself hurried and stressed because of it, it might be time to revise your plans.

6. Disconnect

I think I’ll just check the news, or my Facebook feed for a bit. That brief lapse and redirection of your attention could very well stretch out into another full hour of non-productivity. Try limiting your distractions – and that includes people who draw your attention away from the task at hand. Disconnect from the internet, put your phone on silent, and tell others you are not to be disturbed during this time. Your brain will look for reasons to pull away from that important and demanding task; don’t give it an opportunity to do so.

7. Devote time to getting the right information

Decision-making time should be part of every proactive leader’s schedule. Don’t underestimate how much time it will take to make a good decision. Excellent decisions take even longer. This important time slot could be devoted to simply searching for the necessary information, consulting with those who have the data you need, or setting aside an hour to collate and summarise facts before to committing to a course of action.

8. Don’t try to be perfect

Perfectionism is the partner-in-crime to procrastination. “I won’t start because it won’t be perfect until I say it is.” Wanting to do a good job is great, but striving for perfection rarely helps. Paralysis by analysis occurs when we absolutely must have every single instance of information before making decisions. Economists will tell you instead that our rationality is bounded – we can never have all the information needed to make the optimal decision. Decisions may not be made at all if we only ever spent the time searching for information.

9. Reward yourself

Celebrate small victories for having completed your tasks. The reward doesn’t have to be anything exceptionally huge. Let your brain know that you will reward it for focusing and being attentive.

10. Don’t punish yourself

We will still end up procrastinating on occasion. It happens to the best of us. Don’t punish yourself when you do. Re-evaluate your goals, do a bit of self-reflection on the times in which you work your best, and try again. Your responsibilities and demands especially if you are in a leadership position, are challenging enough. Cut yourself a little slack.

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