Overcoming procrastination to advance in your career
At one point or the other, you must have dealt with procrastination. It is one of the challenges that you try to overcome to be successful in various spheres of life. Most times, after a critical situation where you miss a deadline, you pledge to yourself that you would never again be caught in the web of procrastination. But you often end up right at the centre of that web, time and time again.
Analysing the science behind procrastination, an article published by the Association for Psychological Science identifies two types of procrastinators: chronic and situational. While for the chronic procrastinator, dallying occurs in almost every situation; the situational procrastinator does not postpone action every time but might do so only in some circumstances.
If you procrastinate, you are not alone. Up to 20% of all people are estimated to be chronic procrastinators; the number is higher for situational procrastinators. This does not exempt some of the world’s greatest achievers, including Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, and Margaret Atwood, one of Canada’s most successful writers.
Time magazine, in 1994, described Bill Clinton as a “chronic procrastinator.” According to his aides, although they give Clinton several weeks to comment on early drafts of important speeches, but they often had to resort to cleaning up the content at the last minute. Hillary Clinton, his wife, also attested that it was “maddening to try to keep him on any kind of schedule.”
The story of Atwood is similar. In the span of her five-decade long successful writing career, Atwood wrote numerous novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, creative non-fiction, children’s books, television scripts, among others. But she spent “the morning procrastinating and worrying, and then plunged into writing in a frenzy of anxiety around 3:00 p.m.”
Although it is a common challenge, it can be managed with simple steps as these:
Take one step at a time
Remember the local expression, “Little drops of water makes a mighty ocean”. The idea behind the saying can serve as a guide. With whatever goal you want to accomplish, irrespective of the length of your to-do list, it is important to keep it start with one item at a time, and from there progress.
Keep it simple
It is not bad to be ambitious in terms of what you would like to accomplish each day. But you must be careful not to cramp your day by setting unrealistic timelines. Break down your bigger tasks into much smaller ones. For instance, it is unrealistic to plan to complete a to-do-list of twenty activities in a workday, when you can select the most urgent or important three from the list. Also, cancel items from your to-do-list you know you would never do. Do not boost your ego with the length of your to-do list.
Get some help
You cannot always help yourself. Various research indicate that deadlines set by someone else other than you are often more effective than self-imposed deadlines. Get someone else to ensure you follow through with your deadline like an accountability partner.
As published by Fast Company, researchers Dan Ariely and Klaus Wertenbroch in a 2002 study hired 60 students to proof-read three passages. Some of the test participants received a weekly deadline for each passage, some received one final deadline for all three, while some chose their own deadline. For every error they detected, the readers got a dime, but were docked a dollar every time they were late. At the end, participants who imposed their own deadlines performed worse than those given deadlines.
Pay attention to the benefits
A major reason you procrastinate is because you focus on the stress and seeming inconvenience of carrying out a task immediately. Next time you are about to procrastinate, quickly imagine the benefits you would derive from immediately executing the task. If, for instance, you need to work on a business proposal; instead of paying attention to the time it would take to generate the content, consider the long-term benefits and let it inspire you to act swiftly.
Start with five minutes
This technique has repeatedly helped many individuals to get started and overcome procrastination. It can help you too. Known as the Five Minute Miracle, it requires you to first inquire of yourself, “Which of my tasks can I accomplish in less than five minutes?” Time yourself to ensure you complete the task in five minutes. Once you start something, you are likely to finish it. This is because once your mind is set on it, you will likely want to finish it, especially because it would take only a short while.
Find your place
Different people tend to be more productive in certain locations. For some, it might be in their bedroom, for others it might be a library, yet for some others it might be a cafeteria. Wherever it is for you, find it and be productive.
For every major accomplishment you make within the set timeline, appreciate yourself for the job well-done. There are a number of scientific studies to show that such incentives would serve to urge you on towards even greater accomplishments next time.
Over all, you must accept that you will not always achieve all you set out to do. Missing critical events because of procrastination can rub off on your confidence, but you must acknowledge that nothing is perfect; you must try to improve every time. Master your time, find your space and find what motivated you to beat procrastination. –