Thursday, June 30, 2011

How To Stop Procrastinating

I’ve never come across a single study showing that procrastination has benefits. But even thought it’s bad for us, we’ve all been guilty of it from time to time. "I don't feel like it today.  I'll do it this weekend,” we say. Then it becomes next weekend, and so on, until whatever it was slips away from consciousness altogether.

Procrastination is a choice you make, and it’s absolutely under your control. You make this choice for several reasons: aversion to the task you need to perform, preference for doing something else, and yes, sometimes plain laziness. The negative impact it has on your life depends on the degree to which you allow it.

When we allow our children to procrastinate, they may squander their true potential because they will almost certainly not do well in school. Poor study habits and inadequately done homework (if it’s done at all) will set the stage for a loss of confidence and a potentially lackluster future.

When homeowners procrastinate too much, they pay the price. I like watching home improvement shows, and there are several that teach homeowners what needs to be done before they can expect to sell their house. I am not talking about the "staging" aspect or the extra cleaning we all do when company comes - I am talking about the need to fix the evidence of poor maintenance habits such as water leaks, peeling paint and missing tiles. These homeowners were obviously content to live in a state of disrepair rather than calling the plumber or applying some elbow grease  - until it was time to sell.  Then they came to regret putting it all off for so long.

Procrastination affects us at work as well.  The hastily written report just before the deadline probably won’t contain the well thought-out new ideas that will impress the boss. Procrastinators spend too much time getting themselves out of hot water, and end up dealing with (completely unnecessary) stress and anxiety.

If you are tired of being stressed or embarrassed because you wait too long to get started, or to finish, important tasks, the answer may be to become more prevention focused.  This is a term psychologists use to describe what happens when you think about your goals in terms of what you might lose if you don’t succeed. Prevention-focused people believe that even with "the best laid plans of mice and men,” something may go wrong, and usually does.

For example, imagine you are working on a project, and you estimate it will take a certain amount of time.  To get into a prevention focus, you would then think about all the bad things that would happen if you couldn’t complete the project.  Yikes.  Immediately, your mind switches into a mode where you need to stop that from happening.  You realize that the project could take even longer than expected – what if there’s a delay in getting the parts?  What if someone gets sick?  What if the weather is bad, or if you get called away by a family emergency?  Suddenly, you feel the urge to get going, don’t you?

Study after study shows that when people think about their goals in terms of what would happen if things go wrong, they procrastinate less.  They feel a sense of urgency, and they are far more likely to get the job done.  If you are talking to your children and want to discourage procrastination, try focusing them on the consequences of failure they’ll want to avoid, rather than the benefits of success.  I know that, like so much of the advice I give, this doesn’t sound like much fun.  But it is really effective.

Good luck with your goal!

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