Procrastination is a thief. It robs you of the one commodity you can’t buy back: time.
When faced with a task that you just don’t want to do, many of us simply put it off until tomorrow. That’s why tomorrow is often the busiest day.
Putting off an unpleasant task until tomorrow simply gives you more time for your imagination to make a mountain out of a possible molehill — more time for anxiety to sap your self-confidence.
Most of us can relate to occasional bouts of procrastination — the phone call you have been dreading, the project you can’t get excited about, the meeting you should have scheduled two weeks ago. But why can’t we just get in gear?
Dr. Gail Saltz, author of “Becoming Real: Defeating the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” says that 20 percent of Americans are considered “chronic procrastinators.” But it’s not about laziness, it’s about fear, she says. Among the reasons:
• Fear of failure. Are you so paralyzed by the fear of failure that you’d rather not try at all?
• Fear of success. Do you think that if you succeed at something, then the bar will be set so high that you will never reach it again? Or are you afraid that you don’t deserve success?
• A need to be defiant. Is life generally a battle for control? Are you taking a passive-aggressive approach to control by procrastinating?
• A thrill-seeker procrastinator. Are you trying to avoid the boredom of daily tasks? Does boredom terrify you? Do you need to create a crisis to keep things interesting? Understanding procrastination will help you break the paralyzing habit of putting off what you need to do. Then you can begin to make the changes that will help you tackle your work with more determination.
Start prioritizing so you won’t get overwhelmed. Create to-do lists and figure out what’s important. As the old saying goes, “Well begun is half done.” Knowing what you need to do is not enough. You need to plan to track your progress.
Then do just one step. Gather some preliminary information, call one person or figure out what tools you need. Once you’ve completed that task, give yourself permission to do something else. In many cases, once you’ve begun, you’ll be more inclined to keep on working. Even if you aren’t, you’ll be one step closer to success when you come back to the task later.
I find it helpful to set a deadline, even when the project isn’t time-sensitive. That way, there’s nothing hanging over my head.
Procrastination is a problem at all levels. Charles M. Schwab, who founded Bethlehem Steel Co. in 1904, was a master of his schedule. He made it a practice of investing five minutes each day analyzing the problems he should tackle the next day. He would write down those tasks in the order of priority.
“This is the most practical lesson I’ve ever learned,” he claimed, and shared this example to prove his point: “I had put off a phone call for nine months, so I decided to list it as my No. 1 task on my next day’s agenda. That call netted a $2 million order.”
Mackay’s Moral: Overcoming procrastination helps your to-do list become your all-done list.
Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.