Archive for May, 2012

Causes of procrastination

May 31, 2012

Sometimes it’s difficult to start large tasks

Think of all the times you have found excuses, justified something or were able to blame other people or circumstances for your inactivity. Unfortunately the required or desired tasks rarely go away and this just makes the situation worse. The last person we blame is usually ourselves. Do you want to be good at making excuses or good at getting results?

If we recognise the causes of procrastination then we have the opportunity to do something about it. Over the next two posts I will list the top ten reasons that I believe perpetuate inaction. The first five focus on the issues that may involve external influences and the second are more internal.  See if any of the following ring true with you.

Priorities. People who cannot sort out tasks and assign priorities to them often jump from task to task with little or no understanding of where they wish to end up. These people find it difficult to know what’s important, so they have a go at everything and end up with too much to do, and then continue to put it off.

Risk. People who are afraid to take risks procrastinate to protect themselves from the consequences of their actions. The risk of failing and destroying their dream, the risk of success which may force other changes in their lives or the risk of having to perform, such as getting a promotion and then not knowing what to do. Much of this is about staying in the comfort zone.

Dependence. Some people are unwilling to do things for themselves and don’t wish to be in a position where they’re responsible for their actions or results. These people depend on others to tell them, show them or help them with what is required in life. They will postpone significant tasks until there is someone to help them or do it for them. And of course if they fail they always have someone else to blame.

Responsibility. Some people will do just about anything to avoid responsibility. They will procrastinate and rationalise the delays by blaming others or making statements such as ‘this isn’t my responsibility’ or ‘this isn’t part of my job’. They have to be accountable for their actions and don’t want to expose themselves to the consequences of being wrong. So they do nothing.

Peer pressure. People who fear the opinion of others often procrastinate in order to avoid criticism or even approval. This often happens when the person wants to step outside the norm and create something different for themselves. The jealousies and inadequacies of others often push you to stick to the same path as everyone else. Everyone is safe in the middle of the herd.

Why we put things off

May 24, 2012

Why don’t we?

This post, the next in the series on beating procrastination, explores why we put things off when we know we shouldn’t.

It’s easy to postpone the things you should be doing and fill your time with easier and less important activities. And it’s often a difficult task that you know is there but can’t quite get to it.

Procrastination causes stress – it’s that line on your to do list that never gets crossed. It nags away at you causing tension, anxiety and fatigue. It can also keep you from reaching your goals, the ones you say you’d do anything to achieve. It stifles personal growth and can keep you from living a happy, healthy and prosperous life.

So why do we do it? There are lots of reasons. You can be afraid of failure or success, feel insecure, feel unable to cope with things that are difficult or simply be put off by effort and concentration that you can’t or won’t apply now.  Sometimes the dream is better than the reality, and if you never try you can’t fail.

When it comes down to it, there is a cost for everything; time to write a book, application to gain a qualification, pain and exertion to lose weight and money to start investing. Often the cost of doing something is perceived to be higher than the benefit. I really want to lose weight but I just love food so much and I’m too tired to exercise. Then sometimes the rules of the game change. You have a mild heart attack and suddenly eating those foods and not exercising has a much higher cost.

Then the benefit, living, is more important than the cost and you find the time to make the changes in your life. Deadlines can do the same thing. You can put things off until the price of not doing it – failing or being reprimanded – is higher than the pain of doing it – so it gets done at the last possible moment. Unfortunately that is rarely a recipe for the best possible outcome.

Clearing your inbox of 30 urgent but not important messages may provide a sense of satisfaction but it doesn’t achieve anything meaningful. Tackling the difficult task is more difficult, requires sustained activity and has consequences if not done properly. So we stick to the easy, the quick and the unimportant in the illusion of productivity.

But no one thanks you for that. And you aren’t getting closer to achieving your goals. So you’re stuck in a rut feeling bad about yourself. What’s your priority for the rest of today? Will you waste the day on irrelevancies?

Are you a procrastinator?

May 14, 2012

Think big, start small

Do you procrastinate?

Don’t worry, it’s not like admitting some dirty little secret – but it is recognising the reality and demands of modern life.

Most of us procrastinate from time to time but we don’t want to make it a habit; we want to be more effective and find it frustrating when we’re not.  Often the reasons for our procrastination are pushed into the background mayhem, leaving us feeling less than fulfilled.

Admitting that you procrastinate is the first step to being more productive, and you could end up making some significant positive changes in your life. Procrastination isn’t laziness, although if you’re lazy this certainly won’t help, and it doesn’t mean doing something the second you think of it. We all have to prioritise and it makes sense to let an idea develop before launching headlong into a new project.

We all know people who get so excited about their latest idea that they drop everything and jump right in. These people tend to have several projects ‘on the go’ and rarely finish anything before chasing the next big thing (their next sure fire plan to instant success and fortune). They get an ‘A+’ for excitement and enthusiasm but an ‘F’ for follow-through.

Yet they also jump to the next thing while procrastinating on the first thing they started. Or sometimes the idea is there but the action isn’t. The four Ps – Preparation, purpose, planning and persistence – will beat procrastination.

We need to find a middle ground, where ideas, effort and execution come together in a meaningful way. There’s a great prize for those that find it. The hardest part is starting, and by reading this post you have started!  In the next post we’ll look why we procrastinate at all.

Beating procrastination

May 7, 2012

No time like the present

I’ve been meaning to write a post on procrastination for a while but I just haven’t got around to it. I’ve procrastinated as much as anyone and knowing I’m doing it is very frustrating. It’s easy to fill your time with useless activity achieving very little. I’ve let a lot of life go by unattended.

Then there are times when I’ve felt unstoppable and got so much done. So I learnt how to get things done when I had to. And I remembered what I’d learned. So each time I have to complete an important task I know what I need to do.

Still, sometimes I feel the pull to waste time and do a succession of easier but less important tasks. It comes down to accepting what needs to be done, focusing on the important over the urgent and resisting the urge to check email and phone messages.

Sometimes the most important thing you can do is be with your family, free of invasive distractions. At other times it’s the important tasks at work or that personal project that demand your attention. The trick is to know when to focus on each.