One day when you least expect it, you will run out of time. And the dream that you buried under all your excuses, under all the promises you made to yourself, but never kept, and all the tomorrows that never came, will die. All you will be left with is a gnawing feeling in your gut when you contemplate what could have been and how you can never get back the time that you have lost.
The Saboteur that has been dubbed the ‘Thief of Dreams’ is unassuming. It is easy to succumb to the lie that you will be better equipped to deal with whatever you are putting off in the future. It will keep you in your comfort zone indefinitely. You might have guessed that I am writing about procrastination.
We have all been guilty of procrastination at some point in our lives: the project that was not that interesting or a dreaded task that we might have put off until the last minute. This is normal and everyone will indulge in this at some point. However, procrastination can become a real stumbling block when it becomes a habit or when it masks an inner fear that prevents us from taking action towards achieving an important goal.
Procrastination breeds stress and unnecessary pressure. It will undermine your performance if you give into it. It can ruin your reputation and shatter your credibility if others are negatively affected by it. As a Coach I have worked with many clients to help them uncover what lies at the heart of their tendency to procrastinate. It can be a deep-rooted fear of failure, negative beliefs, or a lack of inspiration.
Students can procrastinate when they overestimate how much time they have left to perform tasks and how long certain activities will take to complete. This can cause anxiety and undermine academic performance. If you are a student, take the time to plan yourself properly. Give yourself plenty of time to get tasks done and include breaks to recharge. You will perform better if you do not try to pull off all- nighters, just before your exam or project deadline. If you do this throughout your academic career, you will ruin your health. The cycle of procrastination will create chronic stress that will eventually destroy your health.
Executives that procrastinate at work will hurt themselves and their employers. Workplace procrastination is a common phenomenon, which affects people at all seniority levels from junior employees to senior executives. The work environment may be a contributing factor for procrastination. Distractions, lack of clear communication from managers, lack of team spirit and support from colleagues, vague goals and unstructured projects can all create the perfect breeding ground for procrastination.
If you are slipping into procrastination at work, take corrective action now. Try to take small steps to accomplish the tasks you are procrastinating. When you start something, you build momentum and if you keep going, you will get where you want to be. Break your work into small and manageable steps. If it is too daunting to break down a very complex project. Try to identify a few steps and just start. Ask for clarity when expectations are vague or unclear. As you progress through the steps, the path ahead will become more apparent.
The Pomodoro technique is a great tool to beat procrastination which involves alternating between scheduled periods of work and rest. Taking breaks will give you a chance to relax but make sure the five minute break does not turn into a two hour break. Once you identify a task or tasks to complete, set a timer for twenty five minutes, work on the task with no distractions, when the alarm sounds, take a five minute break. Repeat the process three more times. Take a longer thirty-minute break and start again.
Another method to try is to make the task more enjoyable. Task aversiveness leads to procrastination which in turn leads to guilt and shame. What can you do to make that project you are working on more pleasant? Could changing your work environment help? If you sat outside in the sunshine, or in a café with the right ambience, or took a working holiday, could you be more productive? If the task requires intense concentration, reward yourself after every milestone. Just imagine that feeling of accomplishment when you finish the task and all that dread you were feeling ebbs away.
Pre-commit publicly to a task that you are tempted to put off. This will amplify the appeal of taking action and make you accountable. People inherently want to be liked and respected. Procrastinators tend to let people down and this tendency will result in damaged relationships and reputations. Bite the bullet, commit, and stick to your commitment.
Removing hidden blockages is also critical to overcoming procrastination. Work with a coach to investigate the root causes of your procrastination. This is especially important if procrastination is blocking you from achieving a meaningful life goal. Your life has a purpose. Your abilities and gifts are invaluable. Remember every single second you waste is gone forever and the world will be a much poorer place without your contribution.
Article by Shailja Sharma, SBS Faculty Member and Leadership and Career Coach
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