Procrastination: Putting off today what you can do tomorrow
Reprinted with Permission By Kerry L. Johnson, Ph.D.
Have you ever before procrastinated? Have you put off returning phone calls only to find that you are too embarrassed to return a call when you receive the third attempt from a caller. Have you ever put off doing an assignment for someone and then when it came due, you made an excuse in an effort to gain more time?
Most of us procrastinate from time to time. Most of us also feel very guilty due to our perceived lack of personal self-control. But procrastination is not only undesirable, it is losing business for you. Have you ever been late to an appointment? 10 years ago, as an aspiring consultant, I was 20 minutes late to an appointment with a qualified prospect. Before the days of car phones, I couldn't call ahead. I just showed up late and embarrassed. My prospect entered the waiting room and told me that if I didn't have the courtesy of arriving on time, he wouldn't extend me the courtesy of listening to me. End of meeting. Tardiness is certainly a symptom of procrastination. It could be argued that when you are late, you put off the effort it takes to be prompt. But in my case tardiness cost me thousands of $ in revenue. If you have ever put off producing information or a proposal for a hot prospect, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
There are many reasons for procrastination. The most salient is avoiding discomfort, a feeling of insecurity that you don't have the information to do the task. It could also be the illusion that the task is simplistic enough that there is no rush to start now since you have so much time left to complete it. Unfortunately you may also feel guilty. You have probably heard in the past to "just do it". So if overcoming procrastination is that easy, there must be something wrong with you for being unable to control yourself. Yet there is much more to the problem than an arrogant irritation with your inability to control yourself. The truth is that you need help in controlling procrastination before it affects your "bottom line".
A few years ago, I was assigned a deadline for writing a book. When I was asked by the publisher if I could keep to the schedule I said, "sure". After all, I had about 4 months to do the outline and whopping 30 days to give them a rough draft. But as you might have guessed, I procrastinated until the week before the deadline to even start the project. After the outline was accepted, I then waited 3 weeks before the rough draft deadline to put pen to paper. The project was completed, but to this day I wonder what would have happened if I had taken the time to prepare better instead of rushing at the end. I knew what a big job it was. So I allowed myself to be fooled into thinking that as soon as I did all the research necessary, I could start writing. Problem was, I even procrastinated doing the research.
A key reason for procrastination is self-doubt. It occurs when you are unsure of your ability to accomplish the task. So a way of avoiding the rejection inherent in failing is to procrastinate starting it. This perceived lack in self-competence exists often in those who don't think they can measure up to the job. For example, a salesperson I knew doubted his ability to complete an advanced sales course which would have helped him increase his ability to sell to more affluent prospects. In avoiding taking this course, he experienced significantly decreased sales since his normal prospects were buying less and less. If he had completed the training, he may have increased his income by $100,000 per year. Procrastination costs money.
Self-doubt at times results from the discomfort that there is a no win situation. I've often wondered why prospects refuse to accept phone calls from salespeople who are trying to follow up. It becomes very apparent to even the most green salesperson that the prospects who do not want to do business with you are the ones least likely to return phone calls. The general feeling is that "if I can't say yes, then I'll try to avoid communicating at all. I don't want listen to the salesperson try to overcome my objections". This seeming Catch-22 dilemma exists because your prospect is procrastinating making the call due to a perception of discomfort.
There are 3 basic steps that will help you overcome the self-doubt and discomfort inherent in procrastination. These steps, if utilized, will help you get on the road to getting things done and doing them now. These steps are 1) plan 2) learn 3) observe 4) and engage.
One of the most common ways you block your own success is failing to even start a project. You have likely heard in the past that "inch by inch anything's a cinch". But the hardest inch is the first one. You can make that first step easier if you sit down and create a game plan of what to do in completing the project. One tactic is to utilize down time. I find myself constantly in lines waiting for someone to serve me. These lines are often at airline ticket counters, restaurants or stores. A long down time could be the time it takes an airplane to load and take off. I recently balanced 4 months worth of my checkbook during this wasted time in which most people simply look out the window. So start by making a plan of what you have to do no matter how big and imposing the project. Do it during a time when you have nothing else to do like during down time.
Secondly write down what you will have to learn in order to complete the project. In many ways we feel paralyzed and procrastinate because we don't know ahead of time how to do the job. Recently, I was assigned the task of writing a series of articles for a major magazine. I wasn't as familiar with the topic as I would have liked, so as I planned the project, I put ( ) around the areas I needed to do more research. During the next few weeks I found myself talking to almost everybody I met about the topic and gaining all the information I needed in the meantime. This is a side benefit of planning early. If you wait to start any part of your project until the day that it is due, you will not be able to let your mind automatically solve problems for you.
The first two techniques of observation and planning are great for working on projects like a new marketing technique or painting the house. But what about the procrastination problems that keep you from arriving on time to appointments and cause you to avoid balancing your checkbook? These are the behavioral problems that probably upset you the most.
Get a sheet of paper and list the emotional benefits you receive from procrastinating. Seem silly? It shouldn't. There are definite reasons why you don't get things done. You aren't fatally lazy. Procrastination allows you to avoid looking bad on a job. It enables you to avoid getting rejected. One of my worst problems is tardiness. I recently listed the reasons that being late gave me. I was surprised to learn that I have an intense loathing towards having to wait. I have anxieties about sitting in someone's office reading a useless magazine until the person wrangles enough time to see me. So I try to depart for an appointment at exactly the time that I suppose it will take me to arrive. Unfortunately I rarely estimate drive time and traffic delays well. So I frequently get stuck. All this due to my fear of waiting resulting in procrastinating my departure time. What benefits do you derive? Take some time to list them now. By doing this exercise, you'll take some of the power away that procrastination holds over you.
The last step in overcoming procrastination is to engage yourself in your goal. The most productive of achievers work a little each day on important projects even if it is just opening the folder reviewing what they have done so far. If you mentally engage yourself in doing something with a high degree of frequency, there is absolutely no way you will be able to put it off for long.
Procrastination is one of the our worst problems. It seems to be a prescription for failure in nearly every career and endeavor. Yet by using these techniques to diligently work through this problem, you'll be able to get more accomplished and certainly feel better about yourself as a result. This week, write down at least 2 projects you would like to accomplish that you have been procrastinating. Apply the Plan-Learn-Observe-Engage strategies to deal with them. Then secretly thank me for the extra money you will make as a result of using them this next month after completion. Good Luck.
Dr. Kerry Johnson is a frequent speaker at Financial Services conferences around the world on topics like How to Read Your Clients Mind, Marketing to the Affluent, and, Peak Performance: How to Increase Your Business By 70% in 8 Weeks. In fact his His personal coaching company, Peak Performance Coaching guarantees a 70% increase in business in 8 weeks. He is also the author of 6 books including "Mastering the Game, and his newest book Willpower: The Secrets of Self Discipline." To receive a free subscription to his monthly newsletter, "The Winning Edge- Online, subscribe on his web site at www.KerryJohnson.com or call 800-883-8787.