Procrastination is one of the most self-destructive shortcomings of human beings. There are few easier ways to derail success than to put off a task that should be handled immediately. It’s rarely justifiable and almost never beneficial, yet so many of us continue to do it.
There are many reasons why we put off tasks, but all procrastination can be boiled down to two causes; laziness and fear.
This one is the simplest to explain and is probably the most common. The lawn is getting tall and the neighbor is starting to shake his head every time he glances toward your house, but you just don’t feel like hauling out the mower, gassing it up, repeatedly yanking on the starter cable and pushing that thing around for a couple hours so you let it go. “Maybe tomorrow,” or “I’ll do it later,” helps us capture a few more hours, or days, of leisure but what happens when your yard looks like a blighted, abandoned property and/or you get a letter or a fine from your Home Owner’s Association? Now the grass is so high that the mower can barely move through it without stalling. The process that would have taken an hour or two now takes 4 and you’ve taken a year off the life of your lawn equipment or maybe even broken it. In the end, delaying the inevitable and putting off a rather simple task has a higher, calculable cost. Was it really worth it to be lazy?
Fear is a complex emotion in that it impacts our minds and bodies in very different ways. It manifests itself in many forms, but in relation to procrastination, there are two categories: fear of the task (confrontation), and fear of the outcome (failure).
Conflict avoidance is a very deep force. Our fight/flight instincts are at the core of our being and so when those instincts are triggered, we often lose rationality. For some people, fear-induced procrastination hinders simple, but important tasks, like dealing with a customer service issue, or addressing inappropriate employee (or children’s) behavior. This type of procrastination can be the most destructive, because it typically impacts more than just the person engaged in putting off a task and the consequences can be very severe. Conquering this type of procrastination usually involves leadership, coaching, or even therapy. It’s difficult to break bad habits caused by deeply-seated emotions, so it can take a long time to overcome.
Being afraid of an outcome is far less rational. Worry is something that most of us feel from time-to-time and it has no bearing on the result unless it contributes to procrastination. Not doing something because we feel we might fail is failure in itself. The fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We fail at 100% of the things we do not attempt.
Fear of failure is more easily addressed. Success breeds success and it’s easy to demonstrate how addressing issues and tackling tasks when they are small leads to quicker and better results. Sometimes, when a project is bigger or more complex, having a mentor or coach is helpful or even necessary, but it can be successfully addressed by breaking it up into smaller, manageable pieces. Small wins can provide the confidence needed to generate momentum and break out of the habit of procrastination.
What are your thoughts on procrastination?
Has putting off something until later had a positive or better outcome than if you had addressed it sooner?
What do you do to break out of the habit of procrastinating?
- The Unexpected Antidote to Procrastination (hbr.com)
- How To Break The Procrastination Cycle (lifehack.org)
- Self Sabotaging in the Name of Fear (basegirl.com)
- Procrastination: When Good Things Don’t Come to Those Who Wait. (drvitelli.typepad.com)