Mark Twain, always ready with some wit, said: “Never put off till tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow.”
Many of us seem to take delight in that quip and happily put off anything we possibly can. We procrastinate. Truth be told, sometimes that pays off. As in, that thing you were supposed to do, gets cancelled and any effort put in would have been wasted. But that’s exceedingly rare. Much more common is that the end product is not nearly what it could have been, because we procrastinated and then once we did start in, there wasn’t enough time to get the job done properly.
Some of us feel like perennial procrastinators.
But wait! There’s hope. Procrastination is NOT a permanent personality trait. We can change!
Before we get to that point, let’s look at some of the pitfalls of procrastination and why it’s a problem to start with.
Pitfalls of Procrastination
- Missed deadlines – Customers, clients, vendors, etc. are counting on us to complete a task or project. But when we put off completing that task or project, we fail to meet its deadline.
- Hurried or sloppy work – When we postpone a project and then rush to try and complete it, our work tends to be second-rate. We miss details and can’t give the project the attention it deserves.
- Increased stress – When we put off an assignment till the last minute, we sentence ourselves to a life of stress until that assignment is finished. Under stress like that, our health and relationships suffer.
- Missed opportunities – Entrepreneur Victor Kiam wrote, “Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin.” When we put things off till the “eleventh hour,” we’re unprepared to take on new opportunities that present themselves. We’re stuck, trying like mad to finish the obligations that have been piling up and so these new and exciting opportunities pass us by.
- Defeated attitude – Eventually, the consequences of procrastination catch up with us and get us down. We feel badly about ourselves for all our missed deadlines, the stress we’ve caused ourselves, and for letting others down. We find it hard to climb out of this hole we’ve dug for ourselves.
- Damaged reputation – Almost without exception, when there are deadlines involved, other people are counting on us. But when we’re late or produce less-than-quality work time and time again, we get a reputation for being unreliable. And that can kill any business.
As you can see, there’s a long, compelling list of the dangers of procrastination. But what causes it? Why do we fall into the trap? Here are a few reasons why we procrastinate:
- Lack of planning
- Misplaced priorities
- Lack of self-discipline
- Fear of failure
- Fear of the task itself
- Unsure of how or where to start on a project
All those reasons and more can lead us into the trap of procrastination. So, let’s focus on the cure!
The Cure for Procrastination
- Only take on projects that fit. One of the things that promotes procrastination is taking on projects that don’t fit our mission, values, or what we enjoy. Accepting these makes us regret it later and we drag our feet. In the end, nobody’s happy.
- Get it on the calendar. Put your projects, tasks, appointments and any other crucial dates on a calendar that is easy for you to monitor. This is vital for breaking a procrastination habit.
- Prioritize tasks. Check your calendar often to determine what’s due when. Figure out which projects take priority and tackle them in their priority order. Make a list daily and weekly of what you need to complete to stay on track.
- Anticipate and eliminate distractions. This takes self-discipline. We especially must resist the temptation to run after those “shiny things” that present themselves to us and distract us from what’s really important.
- Follow through with action. Action is the antidote for both procrastination and fear. You’ve taken all the above steps, now follow through.
- Get help when needed. Sometimes a project ends up being much larger than we anticipated. Or perhaps the project involves an expertise that we’re short on. If so, partner with someone to help you and do this early enough that you’re not dragging them past a deadline as well.
Procrastination will ultimately kill our joy for our work, destroy our relationships and undermine our business. If you tend towards procrastination, don’t put off following through with these cures for procrastination!