Some researchers estimate that as many as 90 percent of college students procrastinate. And like other bad habits, procrastination is hard to kick. It can often undermine success at work as well. The most obvious effects of procrastination include missed opportunities and wasted time. Perhaps more seriously, reinforcement of the habit can decrease self-confidence and lead to poor performance. Start getting on the right track now by challenging the most familiar axiom of procrastination—“I’ll do it later”—and learn how to identify and overcome the causes of this common problem.
Behavioral patterns and distorted thinking often are the 2 biggest culprits behind procrastination. Examples of distorted thinking can include:
- anxiety or fear of failure
- perfectionism and unrealistic expectations
- self-defeating beliefs or excuses (such as waiting for the right “mood” to start a task)
- negative self-thoughts (such as “I’m not smart enough”)
- underestimating the time necessary to complete a task
- overestimating time available to complete a task
- reliance on feeling more motivated in the future
Undesirable patterns of behavior also can reinforce procrastination. Unfortunately, these patterns often are self-perpetuating. They include poor time management skills and lack of momentum needed to start and finish a task. As in physics, with procrastination, “a body at rest tends to stay at rest.”
Outside factors, such as family problems or difficulty concentrating because of a distracting or unorganized environment, can play a role, too.
Some causes of procrastination may be beyond our control. But with practice, you can positively change many of them. Try these strategies for overcoming procrastination:
- Identify fears and unrealistic expectations. Try to pin down exactly what’s holding you back. If you can categorize the problem, the solution may become obvious.
- Focus on rational self-talk. Write down all of your excuses and examine the faulty logic behind each. Then, write down a realistic thought next to each excuse.
- Try positive self-thoughts. Replace self-defeating beliefs or negative thoughts with motivators, such as, “The sooner I finish this task, the sooner I can have fun.”
- Set clear, realistic goals. To help make tasks manageable, make a list of every step needed to finish the job. Estimate the time you think you’ll need for each step and then double it. That way, you can pick up where you left off after a break or interruption.
- Discipline yourself. Don’t rely on feeling more motivated later. Once you identify the task and steps needed to complete it, make a commitment to see it through. If necessary, tell a friend or supervisor about your plan.
- Post reminders for yourself in obvious places. Tack them on your car dashboard, computer monitor or bulletin board.
- Organize your work area. A clean desk can help you clear your mind. Gather all the materials you will need to complete the task before you start. That way, you won’t waste time looking for supplies. Try to eliminate possible distractions.
- Build momentum to see the task through. Try setting a timer for 5 minutes, then get as much accomplished as you can before the bell rings. If you still can’t seem to find the motivation, make a plan to try again later. But you’ll be surprised at your urge to keep on working. Also, try answering all e-mail and telephone messages immediately. This will keep you moving and help you feel that you’re accomplishing something.
- Raise your energy level. It’s hard to feel motivated if you’re tired. Stand up as much as possible during your workday. Make a habit of taking short walks after lunch. And, monitor your sugar and caffeine intake. While these can provide quick bursts of energy, they can often leave you feeling down after the effects wear off.
By Kristen Knight
©2001 Achieve Solutions
Sources: The State University of New York at Buffalo Counseling Center; Doing it Now by Edwin C. Bliss. Charles Scribners Sons, 1983. Essential Managers Manual by Robert Heller and Tim Hindle. DK Publishing, 1998.