Antidotes For The Procrastination Epidemic

One of the most common requests I hear from clients is, “Help me stop procrastinating.” It seems as if procrastination is a problem for people of all ages – from school age children not doing homework to Baby Boomers not preparing for retirement.

How motivated are you when you have to do something that is not important to you and/or does not use any of your strengths? Would you like to know how to get things done on time with less stress?

According to a recent study by Dr. P. Steele (University of Calgary) published in the American Psychology Association’s Bulletin, we are at risk of a procrastination epidemic. In l978, only five percent of Americans thought of themselves as chronic procrastinators in comparison to twenty-six percent today. In addition, ninety-five percent of those surveyed said that they procrastinate occasionally.

Why are people having more difficulty getting things done?

• Tasks do not utilize your strengths or match your values which can cause you to underestimate their importance.
• Lack of confidence may contribute to procrastination. If you have difficulty believing you can do something successfully, you are less likely to begin a task, let alone stick to it.
• Disorganization and distractions make it harder to start a task and stay focused. Advances in technology add to the distractions: iPods, cellphones, email, Blackberries, video games, and the internet to name a few.
• Difficulty prioritizing the increasing number of tasks creates feelings of “overwhelm” which decreases motivation. You have to know where to put your focus and energy in a timely way to feel a sense of accomplishment.

The consequences of procrastination affect you physically, emotionally, and financially.

When you delay a task that needs to be done, you increase your stress which can affect you physically. Stress hormones lower your immune function. Can you remember catching a cold after studying hard for tests or completing a big project?

Procrastination can cause feelings of guilt which trigger anxiety. It is difficult to concentrate or focus when you are anxious. It takes longer to complete tasks.

Missing deadlines at work may prevent you from getting the raise you wanted. If you miss a financial payment, a penalty fee is charged. Dr. Steele’s study estimates that delays in filing taxes can cost people up to $400 a year.

Using competencies from Daniel Goleman’s model for Emotional Intelligence (Primal Leadership, 2002), the antidotes for procrastination are:

• Accurate self-assessment and awareness. You need to know your strengths and what is important to you (your values). It is easier to start a task that requires your strengths and is important to you. When you need to do something that is not one of your strengths, allow more time to complete the task. Make sure your expectations are realistic. Avoid negative self-talk.
• Self-confidence. You need to have a realistic sense of your capabilities and healthy sense of your self-worth. Also, you need to believe that you can do the task. Use positive language (I can…., I will…., by….). The best way to build confidence is to begin doing what you need to do. Action precedes confidence.
• Self-management, emotional self-control, and adaptability. These competencies help you keep impulses under control, stay calm, and clear headed while adapting to changing situations. They are necessary in overcoming obstacles and juggling tasks without losing your energy or focus. Build in meaningful rewards and breaks to recharge.
• Achievement and initiative. You need to set realistic goals, accurately calculate risk, be ready to act and seize opportunities. Break tasks down into small steps; keep your to-do list short. Picture the finished task to keep you motivated. If you use the above antidotes, you will move forward. You may need to start by choosing one antidote to work on. As you improve, add another one. If you need support, hiring a coach who has training in Emotional Intelligence can help hold you accountable and increase these important competencies.

To avoid the procrastination epidemic, stop listening to the negative voice in your head. Begin with small, doable tasks, and control your urge to jump from one thing to another. Motivation and confidence will follow.

Copyright (c) 2007 Maurine Patten