A couple of years ago I wrote about procrastination, how it inhibits our leadership effectiveness, and I offered some approaches to address it. Most people would say, and I would agree, that nearly all of us procrastinate about something from time to time. However procrastination dramatically affects one in five people to the point they deliberately look for distractions in order to avoid undertaking urgent and most important tasks.
Further research on the subject and how to address it has come to light so it is timely to provide an update.
Recent findings indicate that while procrastination is “our willingness to give in order to feel good we can often sabotage our best intentions with needless delay” (Timothy Pychyl).
Probable causes for procrastination include; task difficulty, time required due to the enormity of the task, having adequate knowledge and skills, fear/concern over something, ambiguity around priority, direction or expectations. Findings suggest that when the urge to procrastinate shows up, how we respond varies.
People avoid the situation in different ways; today there are more distractions than ever which is challenging for procrastinators. Have you ever found yourself wandering into to doing useless things that are not urgent and not important? Many people cite getting lost in one of the many social media sites as a prime example.
On the opposite side of the fence are people who actually accomplish things while they are procrastinating; they may clean up their office, clean out emails and messages, or search for content online in the belief they are being productive. In both instances the outcome is the same, they never quite get to the urgent and important or the important but not yet urgent.
So what can we do about it?
Conventional wisdom on the subject suggests that the best response is to get started now! Once there is momentum it is easier. In his research, Pychyl has discounted this as ineffective as procrastination is associated with negative emotions such as feeling guilty about not taking action and it can be these negative feelings fuel procrastination.
He suggests the starting point is to ‘ease up’ on yourself for procrastinating as this reduces the negative feelings, and then:
- Start with the end in mind by ensuring you have a clear intent and outcome as this level of clarity helps to remove ambiguity
- Break tasks down into small steps that can actually be accomplished. Be realistic
- Prioritise your work. We find helping people apply the Eisenhower Matrix really enables them to improve focus on what is urgent and important. To explore this matrix further follow this link http://www.eisenhower.me/eisenhower-matrix
- Make each of your tasks meaningful.
- Eliminate from your thinking and your task list those things you never really intend to do. Be honest!
- Estimate the amount of time you believe it will take to complete the task and increase it by 50%.
Procrastination is a learned response which offers hope because what is learned can be unlearned; the challenge is it will take energy, discipline, and focus, to reverse procrastination behaviour.
Viventé Australia enables leaders and managers to create the conditions that allow their people to do their best work every day thus creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its outcomes.