01 May Procrastination isn’t a personality type, it’s a curable disease
A bulging workload can make you feel overwhelmed, stressed and out of your depth. You might feel like you’re working non-stop and not getting anywhere. Is it workload or are you procrastinating?
Don’t accept procrastination as part of who you are. It is not a personality type, it’s a negative situation that you have the ability to change and become someone with a wide range of skills and competencies.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is a stress reaction usually stemming from feelings of inadequacy or a values conflict. Think about the things you put off. Usually they are tasks that you’re not naturally good at, don’t enjoy doing, have never done before and have no idea how to approach or make you feel uncomfortable. None of us like to experience feelings of incompetence and pushing through them can be unpleasant. This is why we procrastinate.
The signs that you are procrastinating are simple. You know what they are. If you’re being honest with yourself, you know when you’re putting off a task or if you’re needlessly worrying. Try to be aware of when you’re procrastinating. Quickly stop yourself and ask yourself why.
- Is it a task you’ve never done before?
- Is it a task you have done before, but don’t like doing?
- Is it a task that is against your values?
There are methods for pushing through each type of procrastination. Resist the temptation to delegate the task because you will learn nothing this way and may feel even more inadequate. At the same time don’t assume you are all alone and have to figure it out by yourself. There are many resources at your disposal.
New, unfamiliar tasks
You can sit there worrying about your new task or you can phone a friend. Research is the key to finding a starting point. You are not the first person in the history to encounter this task. Find out who may have done a similar task before or might know a bit about the topic you’re working on and make a phone call. You may not have a specific question at this stage, but if you explain the task you’ve been given and start to have a conversation about it, ideas will start to flow and you should find your starting point. If you don’t know who to call, start searching the topic through journal articles, newspapers and the internet.
When the ideas start flowing, the volume of tasks can seem overwhelming. At this stage you have to tell yourself to stay calm. Write down all of these tasks and ideas to get them out of your head and on to paper. When it’s written down, the task is now a known quantity. You may even find it’s not as big and bad as you had originally thought.
- Don’t suffer in silence
- Research the task through a friend/colleague or articles
- Write all ideas and tasks down
Tasks you don’t like doing
I am a big believer in working as part of a team, where we all work to our strengths. It means that we all do what we are comfortable and good at and the job gets done quickly and well. There are some things however, that we can’t delegate and at some point we have to muck in and do it ourselves. We all have things we don’t like doing and unfortunately the only way to remedy this is to practice them. Practice may not make perfect, but at least you will start to feel in control and capable. The upside to this, is that you come out the other side a more capable, confident and able person. Some of our most challenging times are also the most rewarding. Not all things will come naturally to us, but we learn to deal with them anyway.
I used to try to do everything I could to avoid making phone calls. I dreaded picking up the phone, even to make appointments. I suspect in this online age, there are a lot of people who are losing confidence with phone calls.
Phone calls are just one of those things that will never (and should never) go away. Even the broadest range of emoticons can’t replace tone, inflection, relationship building and the clarity of purpose that can be conveyed on the phone. Phone calls also provide instantaneous confirmation. We can grow old waiting for a return email and we have all experienced problems caused by misinterpreted emails.
These days, would you believe, it is my preference to pick up the phone. I realised that it was actually interfering with my life and I’d just have to figure out a way to get over it. I started by writing down what I needed to say verbatim. After a bit of practice, the notes I’d write down would be limited to key facts such as dates and times. I made a rule that if a phone call needed to be made I would make it immediately before the dread of it would creep in. Now I pick up the phone even when I don’t have a clue what I’m going to say, but I feel confident and capable on the phone. A wonderful feeling to have.
- Figure out the baby steps you need to start performing the task on your own.
- Get started on the task as soon as it comes up to prevent negative feelings about it.
- Keep practicing
Tasks against your values
Your values are your sense of right and wrong and the degree of bending the rules you’re willing to make in any life decision. Each person has a different value rating. For example, we all might value honesty, but some people who easily lie might value honesty to 50%, others might embellish a story to make it sound better and value honesty to 70% and others are sticklers for the facts because they value 100% honesty.
Someone with a vastly different value rating to yourself might not understand why you are struggling to complete a task. Bending your values might sound easy enough, but it creates an internal battle of what is fundamentally right and wrong in your eyes. Or put another way, what you can live with and what you can’t.
Values are not static. They change as experiences shape our decisions. We may tighten up on certain values and loosen up on others. This is usually a gradual change over time. It can be very confronting to try to adjust your value settings too quickly or in one big decision. At the end of the day, you want to be able to feel good about your decisions. If you feel the need to defend or justify them, perhaps you don’t actually agree with them.
Sometimes we make the wrong decisions. Sometimes our actions make us feel bad. Don’t go through these uncomfortable moments for nothing. If you’re feeling bad, what does that tell you about yourself? What do you value and what can you live with?
The only way to get through this situation is to change the task. There is always more than one way to get to an outcome. You may need to find out more information about what you’re being asked to do. Do some research, find a fact basis and reasoning behind why the task is required and think about it laterally to determine a different way of achieving what is asked or even a different outcome altogether. Time is your friend in these situations. Often these decisions are made in haste and may be driven by negative emotion. Insist that the time be taken to review the decision thoroughly and make your reasons for this clear.
- Try to pinpoint the value that is being challenged and your position on this value.
- Express your concern and seek more information
- Evaluate the problem and determine alternatives
Don’t let procrastination in
Take control of your life. Be the capable person you aspire to be. Be aware of the signs of procrastinating and slap yourself on the wrist each time you defer a task. Be honest with yourself and address the reasons for your procrastination. Work through your procrastination and you will never look back.
To learn more about how to get process improvements off the ground and implemented quickly without procrastinating, download the Process Improvement Handbook.