Thursday, July 13, 2006

Five Reasons Why We Procrastinate

Reason 1. You Haven't Really Committed to Doing the Job

You may put off an activity because you aren't really sold on doing it at all. Reasons include:
You don't think it's your job.
You think it's somebody else's job.
The job's a waste of time.

If that's the case, you need to answer two fundamental questions:
What's in it for me if I do it?
What will happen to me if I don't?

The first question may redirect and increase your motivation. You're no longer doing it because someone said you ought to. You're doing it to impress a boss, help a friend, make money, or get to a task you really enjoy.

The second question is the negative of the first. Your motivation may become avoidance of something unpleasant, like a lousy job evaluation, an angry, alienated spouse, or a disappointed child, for example.

If you can find no internal motivation--no benefit for doing the job and no penalty for not doing it, you may well decide not to do it at all.

Even if you can see a benefit to doing the job, you may still decide that the costs in time and energy (and the other things you aren't doing) outweigh the benefits. In that case you can:

1. Do what you have to do to get out of the job. That's not the same thing as simply putting it off. This is a definitive decision not to do it and to accept the consequences, if any. In the long run, that sort of decision costs less, in time and stress, than does the passive resistance of procrastination.


2. Do it anyway--but for your own reasons.

Reason 2. You're Afraid of the Job

This is a hard thing for many of us to admit--to ourselves let alone to someone else. But it may be what's keeping you from doing a job you need and want to accomplish. If you can identify your reluctance as fear and track it to its source, you can deal with the fear and get on with the job. Here are three of the most common varieties of performance anxiety:

· Fear of failure
Consider the student who never studies and flunks out. He can always tell himself, "If I had studied, I would have passed the stupid course." But what if he had studied--and still failed?
For most of us, "won't" is a lot easier to deal with than "can't." If you don't try it, you don't have to confront the possibility that you can't do it.

· Fear of success
On the other hand, if you do pass the course, folks will expect you to do it again, or to go out and get a job, or to apply what you've learned. If you never try, you'll never have to face the consequences of success, either.

· Fear of finishing
"If I pass the course, I'll graduate. If I graduate, I'll . . ." You'll what?
If you don't pass the course, you'll never have to find out what happens next.
If you never write the novel, you'll never have to know whether a publisher would have accepted it.
If you don't finish basic training, you'll never have to know whether you could have really hacked it in the military.

Sometimes the not knowing seems more acceptable than the possible consequences of finding out for sure. But how sad to let such fears prevent you from ever trying.

Identify the fear. Give it a name and confront it. Imagine the consequences of your actions or non-actions as objectively as you can.

The fear won't go away. But if the goal is worth pursuing, you'll be able to act despite the fear.

Reason 3. You Don't Place a High Enough Priority on the Activity

You're sold on the idea that somebody ought to do the task. You'll even agree, if pressed, that you're the person to do it. You may even want to do it. You just don't want or need to do it enough, and you always want or need to do something else more.

Thus, the poor task--cleaning the leaves out of the rain gutters in autumn, for example--keeps getting bumped down the list, below other, more pressing jobs. You've got to go grocery shopping first, because you won't have anything to eat if you don't. You've got to mow the lawn first, because it will look awful if you don't. (And nobody can see the leaves in the rain gutters, after all.)

This sort of procrastination problem may eventually work itself out. As the other tasks get done, those leafy gutters work their way up the list. Or the problem may take on a higher priority after the first hard rain of the season.

Establishing priorities is subjective, especially when dealing with activities that are neither urgent nor particularly important relative to other activities. Take a look at the job that just isn't getting done and see if you can redefine it in terms of the ultimate benefit you'll receive for doing it.

Reason 4. You Don't Know Enough to Do the Task

You may simply not know enough to do the job right. You haven't consciously recognized or admitted this to yourself, but you know it deep down.

Gather the information you need. If all else fails, read the directions (a desperate last resort for many of us). Then plunge into the task.

Learn to discern between the legitimate need to gather information and a stalling mechanism whereby reading the book or going to talk to the guy at the hardware store is simply a way to put off confronting the job. If your problem is "lack of want to" rather than lack of information, you'll need a different strategy, namely, what to do when…

Reason 5. You Just Plain Don't Wanna!

You've got two choices, and you don't need a book on time management to tell you what they are: Gut it out, or Farm it out.

Identify the reason for the procrastination. Confront your attitudes and fears. Weigh the consequences.

Then deal with it!

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