“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
Even Abraham Lincoln knew a thing or two about procrastination.
At its core, procrastination is short-term mood relief. Procrastination is not a time management challenge; it’s a mood management challenge.
At broad brush, procrastination enters the picture when we know the task will be difficult or there is uncertainty on how to handle the task. Of course, both situations can bring up negative emotions. But, generally, there’s more to the picture. So, what is the underlying challenge behind the negative emotion?
To accomplish more, reduce your procrastination by finding the underlying emotion. Here are some themes that crop up for my clients and me:
Fear of failure. We’ve probably all felt this one. We don’t start a project because we are still determining if we can be successful. “What if I start on this remodeling project and something unexpected comes up?” But think about it, no matter what we are good at today, we started as beginners and probably failed. So we need to fail to learn.
Fear of success. Yes, fear of success holds people back almost as much as fear of failure. “If I do this well, my boss will add more work to my plate.” “If I make more money than my friends, they may not want to hang with me anymore.” Fear of change due to success is genuine.
Fear of financial impact. Spending money can be challenging for many people, regardless of their financial situation. For example, want to go on a trip? Chances are you are going to spend money on gas or airline tickets. But, procrastinating buying that airline ticket may cost more in the long run.
Fear of criticism. Although this may sound similar to the fear of failure, it’s much different. This crops up when we believe others will perceive faults or mistakes. We don’t even have to have made a mistake for others to criticize us.
Fear of highlighting previous procrastination. Sometimes procrastination begets procrastination. “I’m already a week late turning in the report. Turning it in now will highlight the missed deadline even more.” Unfortunately, procrastination does not help this process. It’s much better to acknowledge the delay and ask for a revised deadline than to continue procrastinating until the recipient comes to us and asks for a status. I’ve had clients nearly quit their jobs because they were overdue on an assignment.
(Okay, I said to define your five buckets of procrastination, but I’ve thrown in a few extra to think about.)
Lack of self-esteem. Although this may sound like fear of failure, it’s not. A 2014 study found self-esteem accounted for 21% of the variance in procrastination. So, to successfully manage procrastination, we need to believe in ourselves.
Perfectionism. Sometimes we only want to start or finish something when we believe it will be 100% perfect. News flash. Almost nothing is 100% perfect. The same 2014 study found “self-oriented perfectionist personality trait significantly predicted academic procrastination and life satisfaction.”
Over-indexing on responsibility level. Sometimes we procrastinate on a task because we believe we are responsible for the whole thing when our piece may be very small. Let’s use the analogy of being put in charge of changing a process within your company. Chances are you are not going to research, design, and implement the entire process change yourself. Instead, you are going to enlist a group of stakeholders to assist. Other experts will help look at challenges and opportunities, give feedback on suggested changes, and help sell the process change to the executive and implementation teams. We very rarely do something significant 100% on our own.
Conflict with values and needs. This is a biggie. Procrastination may arise when what we are expected to do directly conflicts with what’s important to us. I will use myself as an example. For a couple of years, I procrastinated creating a job-related network surrounding our vacation home. It all made sense on paper, but I couldn’t take the first step. Ultimately, I realized that I was procrastinating because being successful at that endeavor ultimately meant time away from my family (my #1 Need).
Hopefully, you have realized that procrastination isn’t a time-management challenge or a character flaw. Instead, procrastination is a way of coping with challenging emotions and thoughts. To accomplish more, it’s essential to identify what’s beneath the surface.
Cindy Jobs, PCAC, ACC
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