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Change Anything QA

Are You a Habitual Procrastinator?

Change Anything

I received a very interesting question from a reader whose career is being held back by procrastination. Have you had the same problem? And if so, what have you done that has helped you overcome procrastination? I’ve had the same challenge and look forward to blending your best practices with mine.

Share your suggestions by posting a comment below!

Thanks in advance!
Joseph

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Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for business performance. For thirty years, Joseph has delivered engaging keynotes at major conferences including the HSM World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall. Joseph’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500. read more

15 thoughts on “Are You a Habitual Procrastinator?”

  1. If I were honest with myself, I would label myself a procrastinator too.
    I have spent the last 10-12 years of my career being told I’m always late (which I always am), but I’m not a slacker (which is what “On-Timers” intend when they are quick to say “Your Always Late”).

    I have a master’s degree and a career in health care for a large multi-hospital health system in the Midwest and am recognized as an “above average employee”.

    I grew weary of the accusations of the “always everywhere 15 minutes early” crowd (I’ll call them the “On-Timers”) and began reading all I could find about “time management” and learned the most revolutionary things that I’ll share.

    1. Time cannot be managed. Everyone has the same 60 seconds to a minute, 60 minutes to an hour and 24 hours in a day and no-one, not even the “goody on-timers” can add or subtract or “manage time”

    2. All we can manage is ourselves and what we do with our time

    3. Most folks that are “late or procrastinators” are typically the over achievers and underestimate the amount of time needed to accomplish any certain task—–this one was revolutionary for me.

    In my case, it was absolutely true. Although I am the one on the team always late and pushing deadlines…….I’m the one doing the most and getting the most accomplished.

    Those “goody on-timers” are content to waste 15 minutes before every mtg waiting on those of us still working until the last 30 seconds, underestimate the crowd in the hall or the wait for the elevator and rush in 5 minutes late to the mtg.

    If the ‘on-timers’ have 4 mtgs per day and arrive 15 minutes early for each one and wait……they’ve lost 1 hour of productivity that I use to accomplish 2-3 tasks.

    So I schedule in very simple things like walking time, taking the steps time, going to the bathroom time……….all things the “on-timers” probably do for themselves, I just don’t consider these tasks “work related” and underestimate how these times help me stay on-time.

    4. A large part of managing yourself is managing who is allowed to interrupt you and when………another revolutionary concept for me. As often times I was late with my things because I was trouble-shooting and helping out the “on-timers” to accomplish their things “ahead of a deadline”. I can’t remember all the books I read, but most said the same things. One of the techniques I now employ for my day is a “problem hour” for every day. As emails or phone calls or other issues interrupt me, I push them to my problem hour. I can then stay focused on my tasks and my deadlines. If the issues arise after my problem hour of the day, It’s assigned to the next days “problem hour”. REVOLUTIONARY!!! This has taught me that my “on-timer” colleagues really can do a lot of their own problem solving and task completion without my assistance (they’ve learned this too). It’s such habit for many in the work place to “under achieve” that when they don’t have a problem solver to pester, they either figure it out on their own, or decide it isn’t really an issue after all.

    5. The last tip I learned from “Self-Management books” is to block off hours during each day or a couple of days per week that is assigned to “Work Completion”. I take 2, 4 or even an 8 hour day and mark it Off Site, so people know I’m working and do not have any time to be called into any meetings. Out of office is most often used for vacation time and I don’t want my colleagues to think I’m on vacation as I’m not. I am working, but not in a capacity that allows for interruptions during that block of time.

    Our organization uses Microsoft Outlook, but any electronic calendar can help the “Late-Timer or Procrastinator” manage themselves more effectively.
    I can’t say I’m an early bird yet, but I am meeting deadlines more often than not.

    Hope this helps.

  2. Let me pass on a way to deal with procrastination that one of my colleagues practices. Let me describe it to you in a short story:

    One day, I went to my colleague’s office to ask him a quick question about a project we were both working on. I paused at the door to his office, noticing that he was staring down at the pad of paper on his desk with great concentration. I refrained from knocking, to avoid interrupting his concentration. After standing there for over three minutes, during which time he had not written even one word on the blank paper in front of him, I finally knocked. He looked up, and I asked him, “Just out of curiosity, what are you doing?” He answered, “I have this report to write, and I have not gotten to it for so me time. So, rather than procrastinating any more, I am going to sit here with this blank pad of paper until I write this report.” I asked him whether he had used this technique before to overcome procrastination, and how well it worked for him. He answered that he only used this technique in cases of extreme need, and he found it worked very well. I asked him my quick project question, he answered, and as I walked away from his office I noticed him starting to write on the pad of paper in front of him. So I guess this way to overcome procrastination worked for him. I have since used this approach myself on occasion – not letting myself do anything else until I tackle the task I have been putting off too long. I find it works for me also.

  3. The book Getting Things Done by David Allen vastly increased my productivity at work and helped me “get things done” at home as well. He has a way of breaking down projects that are daunting or complex (I think this causes much of my true procrastination) to achievable and satisfying. I can’t speak to his process enough, I’ve recommended his book to several people and it has turned their lives around as well. Now if only someone could explain to me how to easily monitor my time/tasks to be able to report my time-spent to my bosses, I’d be an ace at my career!!

    I also always remember some advice I got a long time ago (I think it was from mom) that the most difficult thing about a project is to get it started. Once you start it, often it rolls downhill on its own. Sometimes I make that my mantra when that impending project weighs down my project/to-do list.

    @M. Thomas – I really like your suggestions. I definitely relate with being an over-achiever and underestimating the amount of time it takes to get things done. I also get a lot of interruptions during my day and like the idea of a problem hour. How do you break it to the person that they’re getting scheduled later? I’m a helper by nature and it’s very difficult for me to say no (even though I fully realize the value of doing so).

  4. I have struggled with procrastination for years in what otherwise has been a successful career–first in hospital administration and now in private law practice.

    I believe my problem is based in a certain amount of distractibility (maybe an attention deficit) and a certain amount of lack of confidence in my ability to do some projects the best way.

    My solution has been to keep a log of how I spend my time. When I start a task I write down the time and what I’m doing, and then write the time I complete it–then do the same for the next. If I have a phone call that interrupts me I do the same with the call.

    After doing this for two or three days, I am in the habit of staying focused on what’s on my desk and don’t need to keep time every day. When I find myself back-sliding, I get out the log again for a couple days.

  5. Procrastination is a big problem for me, and I was actually talking to a mentoree about it, as he has been having trouble with it as well. Some techniques we came up with to combat procrastination:

    1. Rather than feel overwhelmed by the entire task at hand, schedule time do a little bit on the task each day. Eventually the task will get done.
    2. Schedule slots of time into your schedule similar to a meeting time (I use Microsoft Outlook). Then make sure that time is dedicated only to the task. The Task list in Outlook can also work, but I found it less user-friendly.
    3. Take out distractions in order to focus on a task you have been delaying. Turn off email notifications, unplug the phone, close the door, put in earphones, whatever it takes.
    4. Schedule the most unwanted tasks first thing in the morning. By the afternoon, you are out of energy and more likely to procrastinate.
    5. Reward yourself. Dedicate an hour to a difficult task and then reward yourself by going to get a Starbucks coffee, or by having a chat with a co-worker as a break.
    6. Put post-it notes in bright colors within your eye range. I’ll usually add exclamation points or stars with the task written in bold letters. Seeing the post-it note again and again while working will prompt you to finally tackle the task. Colorful (red) folders within your line of sight also help.

  6. Breaking it down:

    Case A. If a task can be broken down into small pieces: a. plan one piece for each day (1-3 hrs) b. attack it at the first possible moment in the day c. then give yourself permission to not worry about the next piece until tomorrow

    Case B. If the task doesn’t lend itself to making small pieces a. plan an 45 min-1 hr where you agree with yourself, and others not to be interrupted by anything b. attack it at the first possible moment in the day c. then give yourself permission to not worry about the next time block until tomorrow

    In both cases, track your progress, either by checking off tasks in Case A, or keeping a series of your iterations in Case B (for example, when I was editing a paper, I kept a dated series of drafts so I could see how my writing was improving and changing each time)

    I find this works because it keeps the task from being overwhelming on a daily basis so your willpower can hold out during difficult tasks, so you don’t feel like your failing every day. Then when you finish each daily chunk you feel accomplished, and it builds an emotional reservoir to help you get through the next part.

  7. I have worked on overcoming procrastination myself, being a recovering Perfectionist, and have helped many others~!

    My quickest tip:
    • Set up your environment for no interruptions: turn off email notifications, put your smartphone/blackberry where you can’t see it/hear it, close your door
    • Choose a task that you’ve delayed starting
    • Set a timer for 10 minutes
    • Start the task, telling yourself you only have to focus on it for 10 minutes
    • At the end of 10 minutes, decide if you want to keep working on it or not
    • If you decide to keep going, set the timer for another 10 minutes or just dig in!

    I read every VitalSmarts/Crucial Skills newsletter because they’re relevant, warmly written and valuable. Keep ‘em coming!

  8. My favorite procrastination advice is: “If you have to eat a frog today, do it first.” (the day can only get better after that)

    The second part of the advice is: “If you have to eat three frogs today, eat the biggest one first.”

    On the top of my weekly planner page is the reminder in red ink: “Frogs First” so I consciously look for the frog and do it. (yes, I’d soon ‘forget’ and they would multiply)

    When I see your procrastination article, I know I’ll be tempted to read it before I eat my frog, but I’ll try to maintain my discipline and use your article as a reward. (That’s the second tip. Always reward yourself for eating the frog!)

    After I eat my frog and get my reward, I pick three things, and only three things, that must be done today and that will most advance progress on my work or someone else’s and I do those.

    Then I’m free to pick off my ToDo list all the fun tasks as I desire.

    Thank you for asking!

  9. I struggle with procrastination, so I put this note on my PC
    “Production before Perfection” to remind myself to create something even if it is imperfect and then focus on perfection.

  10. Procrastination generally occurs because one is ‘afraid’ he/she is not up to the task or fearful of the potential outcome OR it appears so daunting. I have this same problem at times. If I sense I am afraid of not being able to perform capably or what the outcome may be I tell myself this is a battle and I am going to win; i.e. get my competitive jucies flowing. If a daunting task (cleaning our walk-up attic at home) I tell myself get at least one corner done so I can see progress and be positively reinforced rather than doing a little here & a little there. I.E. have a plan!

    1. I loved the eight questions. I’m finding more and more how our behaviors are a manifestation of things in our past. This was worth the read, and very introspective.

  11. 6 Steps to Productive Procrastination
    1. Stop calling yourself a procrastinator. It is an extremely rare person who puts off everything, so be specific. Create a list of the discrete tasks or deliverables that you tend to put off. “I put off completing my expense reports for the last 6 months” is much more actionable than saying, “I’m a procrastinator.”
    2. Pick from the easiest tasks on your list and set some super easy goals for choosing new behaviors and measuring your progress. Starting easy builds confidence with very low risk. Work your way up your list until you feel confident that you can take on the high-impact items.
    3. Rediscover trust in your sense of timing by noting all the things you do on time. Sometimes a delay serves the end goal and reflects a legitimate need to wait for more information or different circumstances. Building your conscious confidence will help you discern strategic delay from simple willfulness.
    4. Stop obsessing about why you delay. Spending time on why is another delaying tactic and, on a practical level, ‘why’ just doesn’t matter.
    5. Expect to fail. Expect yourself to fall back on old habits, particularly when you’re under stress, tired, or just plain cranky. Get over it, see #5, and try again.
    6. Cut yourself some slack – identify a few non-critical, low-risk tasks and give yourself permission to be late on those. If you try to turn the screws too tight you’ll get resentful and sabotage yourself, so build in some guilty pleasure that has no downside.

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