In my life, the cost of postponing by days, months and at times years of important aspects of life, profession included has been enormous when the past put though this filter. Since majority of time is in profession, the bulk of incidents where I have not done, not started, delayed decisions, commitments has had the effect of pulling me back, slowing me down. I have in fact postponed the exercise to introspect on this aspect for at least a few years. It is a fact that even highly driven and accomplished people also postpone action, decision in some aspects of their life. That is the area where they lack power and are unsuccessful. Invariably those who avoid this habit and get things done in time are at the pinnacle of their carrer and life.
We have learnt in school or heard proverbs of ancient wisdom - in Kannada – Nale, nale yembudu pragatiya shatru; in Hindi- Kabir doha- “aj kar jo kal karna and ab karo jo aaj”( to that effect) , in English- “tomorrow never comes” and their variations in most languages. However, surprisingly everyone of us in some or all areas of our life !!!
Procrastination is the exercising of the choice not to do something now and pushing it to the backburner. At times such jobs get pushed forward again and again. When it would come to the front get started or completed is unsure and anybody’s guess.
Normally the prioritization would be towards the aspects in comfort zone, less work involved, mundane tasks. These important tasks would be taken up only when they become urgent and come head. This habit is different from being lazy which connotes unwillingness to be in action which indicates apathy.
Our basic beliefs ( as conditioned by the environment) are not the heavens truth. They could be pulling us down. Changing them [very much possible with awareness and intent] would lead to a new avatar professional full of vigor and vitality, confident to face any challenge and resolve all of them well in time.
In this article have looked at the devastating impact procrastination can make, what are its indicators, extent evaluation, types of procrastinators, why we postpone and practices and habits to avoid this practice to extent possible.
The habit of avoiding procrastination would lead to you being the extraordinary professional/ leader whom everybody would look upto to.
The impact of procrastination as you would already know could include the following:
- The final work may not be upto your own personal best as it would be done in a hurry, spending sleepness nights, may be not following the best practices known to us.
- All the work at the last minute or done near to promised time or delayed would definitely add stress to self. This would definitely impact health.
- When it happens often, a feeling a overwhelming pervades us. It would erode our confidence as every time we would feel guilty and any reference to it would lead us to make excuses and see who else we can blame. The worst for the professional being blaming the client. Here we start behaving like victims rather the leaders we are as it is convenient.
However, internally, we normally beat ourselves up, making ourselves incompetent/ wrong and not upto the mark when the result of the postponed work surfaces.
- We would provide evidence (handle) for all bosses, colleagues, juniors which could be bought up / misused to show us down or as excuses for their short service.
- Client dubbing us as unprofessional and his confidence and respect in/ for us reducing.
- Loss of wonderful opportunity to reiterate our capability, discipline, sincerity and professionalism which would attract respect we deserve, more work as well as referrals.
- Most important, the long-term impact over years is disliking ourselves, disliking the practice, getting frustrated, disillusioned, demotivated and depressed.
It is true that even for accomplished, effective professionals this habit if allowed to settle can have terrible results. Such people once they allow this habit of later, tomorrow to go on, it becomes part of their character which rapidly disempowers them, feeling guilty, not sure of oneself and getting overwhelmed while outwardly exhibiting bravado.
You would all agree that this habit is detrimental to our professional growth and could be said to be entropy, self-injury or sabotaging our own future. There is an urgent need to reverse it by means of self-awareness and reversal of the habit.
Signs of Procrastination
There is first a need for us to see if we are unknowingly doing it. Some possible signs of this dreadful habit which if known early could help us not to get into the trap or once known can be acted on to avoid as under:
- We avoid making lists of to-do’s on daily, weekly basis.
- We avoid long term goals saying- let me live in the present- which is possibly another excuse.
- We fill up the list with less important matter and avoid entering the challenging ones and feel good at the end of the day/ week that we have done well.
- We do not set time lines/ deadlines which would stretch us a bit.
- At the first point of challenges/ difficulty, inability to follow the study, work etc, we abandon the schedule rather than re schedule and re-dedicating.
- We do not carry forward undone work or at times only carry forward the comfortable ones selectively.
- Ignore the jobs delayed and take up many other works which have come us recently.
- We hardly ever take off from work and are proud of being acknowledged for hard work.
- Forgetting the task itself – applies to me many times.
- You could add to what impacts you more with a bit of introspection. I did that when I wrote this article.
I myself at many times have been guilty of ALL of the above at various points of time.
A short self-evaluation test has been designed by me ( taking cue from a from in the net) for getting a clearer idea as to where we stand. The results as moderated for my bias would speak for themselves. All are encouraged to see where they are which is 1st point of change. The link is as under:
Types of Procrastinators
An attempt to understand this vis a vis different type of people may provide some insights. I am not a behavioral expert and therefore sharing what information has been collated. Am sure there are many other types.
Type 1- Pressure Worker: Believes that he/ she work best under pressure. Attitude is I can manage therefore does not start off till the deadline is near. Impact is would possible deliver late & more importantly the product/ service would not be upto the mark/ or upto his/her potential/ capability.
Type 2 – Blames oneself: Keeps making himself wrong and beating self. May be working very hard. Maybe assume that they are good multi taskers and consider that they are among the 2% of humans who are effective which may not be true. Almost all the achievers be it Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teressa, Musk of Tessla, Stephan Curry, Usian Bolt are successful as they are focused on a few goals.
Type -3 – Busy bee: Always busy- restless type whose calendar is always full and overflowing. Maybe full of almost done, half done and at times routine works mixed with important works. Their life is quite cluttered. May be avoiding matters which look like a lot of work.
Type -4 – Entrepreneur Outlook: Always looking for challenges. Anything new comes, parks the present and launches into the new project till something else interesting comes on.
Human beings are complex and therefore we may have the above types in part and maybe a hybrid.
Why Do we Postpone?
The common reasons why we may be making a habit of not reaching deadlines include:
- Deep down we do not believe that we are competent and wonderful. This conditioning may have been there from teachers, family that we cannot do something.
- We are hooked to distraction- maybe serials, games, TV, mobile whats app, Instagram etc. We have not allocated any specific time for this. This eats directly into the work time and is so interesting that one can stay hours being entertained in between work.
- We are needed to do something which we do not enjoy or think is unimportant.
- We are stubborn and adamant and do not change or resist change.
- We are afraid to be evaluated or reviewed. We do not want to be found short, ridiculed and abhor negative feedback.
- We are not sure what people will think about our work.
- There could be many others which you could arrive at on further contemplation.
How We can break this Habit?
Once we understand why we do what we do, possibly there are some ways to overcome this challenge and live a full, confident and effective professional life. Some actions to resolve could be as under:
- Let technology help you to be efficient and effective which it does. Let it not run your whole life, getting hooked. Use mobile, lap top, TV to your advantage and let it not control your life. Every 2 minutes checking messages, every 15 m emails are surefire ways of getting trapped.
- In life choose to be a leader rather than a victim. We are professionals need to decide the focus- whether educational or entertainment. Google for more insights.
- At the cost of repetition, it is proved that when we have timelines or deadlines put in place and shared with all related people, procrastination can be controlled. If there are no time lines or deadlines, there could be procrastination to such an extent that the job is forgotten and buried for good. Video Lecture by Tim Urban on this aspect can be heard for self-emphasis of its importance and truth.
- Fear is the single biggest reason and therefore facing one’s fear would break the shackles. Google – Wilma Rudolf, Jessica Cox, Michael Jordon. Watch the videos and get inspired to face and overcome.
- Since our beliefs determine the way we are - change the belief by positive affirmation, visualization, making a declaration ( to self ( read every day) and declaration colleagues, friends, family and other). Over a period the sub conscious mind would alter the belief. Lectures of mindfulness may help.
- We can choose to only do what we love and enjoy it and not do anything else which we do not enjoy if possible. In case that is not possible due to practical reasons then learn to love what we do.
- Put realistic deadlines for all work (considering the present and invariable intervention time) and have a shorter internal deadline for self. Important start immediately, rather than wait till it becomes urgent- For Type-I above this is imperative and for others a good solution. 70% of professionals could be in this category. See how Important Vs Urgent applies to you.
- Take a break from work, start a hobby at least on week ends, add exercise/ game to your life to give a chance to reorient and get the right chemicals released to improve. Type – II should try this.
- Stop giving excuses or defending yourself, blaming circumstances, people outside self all the time even though they may have some role to play in the delay. Take ownership and responsibility and in case of coming short- be courageous to say- sorry and ensure next date kept up. Declutter and organise work space/ area and mind. A desk full of books, files, papers does not inspire much confidence. This may be needed for Type- III.
- Hardly 2% of effective leaders are multi taskers. If above average then do not multi task. Complete work one at a time. May be useful for Type- IV as well for those who are under the myth that they are in the 2%.
The penning of this article after a couple of days of research, applying to our office people at all levels including self, partners, qualified, articles and administrative staff has provided some insights on this common problem of human kind. Hope that the alternatives as applicable to you could be applied to empower yourself and all those around you at home and office. My wish:
- Don’t postpone your greatness – strive to be your best self
- Don’t postpone your speaking the truth [ without hurting other unnecessarily]
- Don’t postpone being the biggest optimist in any place you go
- Don’t postpone loving ( may be more applicable to me)
- Don’t postpone being authentic even if nervous
I would love to have your feedback on a) additional insights b)what worked for you and what did not. [email protected]