Procrastination: The Enemy of Your Success

If you are a normal human being, then you will not be immune to the temptation of “putting off until tomorrow that which should be done today.”  Despite all our best intentions to be efficient and fruitful, the habit of pushing tasks back until the last minute is all too powerful. Important components of our professional, scholastic, and even personal lives are often not done optimally, because we succumb to the “it can wait another day” attitude.

Procrastination is the enemy of our success on multiple fronts.  Waiting until the final possible moment to tackle and important chore will more often than not result in decreased potential and performance, and in extreme cases can cause failure.  Putting off a work report, an academic essay, or even failing to handle your personal life in a timely manner can damage your desired outcomes and make you appear unprofessional, sloppy, or uncaring.  To be blunt and to the point, the adage of “you can either pay now, or pay later” is epitomized when we make the conscious decision to succumb to our own laziness. 

However, there is help to be found in overcoming the universally negative phenomenon of procrastination!  Ms. Megan Bruneau, M.A. RCC, (https://www.forbes.com/sites/meganbruneau/2016/09/11/5-simple-steps-to-overcome-procrastination-focus-and-be-productive/#579474f53b2f) offers five simple steps to help us defeat the temptation to delay the inevitable and get down to the business of focus and productivity.

Five simple steps to help you beat procrastination

1. Take note of what causes you to procrastinate and then remove the temptations

Take note of what causes you to procrastinate in the first case.  When you are faced with a task, do you use your perceived need to check your social media accounts as an excuse to take up a few more hours?  Or do you feel the need to address your hunger, housework, feeding your dog, washing your surfboard…?  The easiest way to free yourself from usual distractions is by changing your environment to one that you associate with work – in other words, you are more likely to be productive in a library than in your dorm room.  And turn off your phone and internet!  Set and stick to a schedule.  Give yourself breaks at intervals, maybe every 45 minutes?  And, take an actual break; don’t play with your phone or use the “break” to check your social media!  If you do, you’re screwed.

2. “Good enough” is good enough

If you are a perfectionist by nature, the temptation to obsess over small details can be distracting and cause you to wait out a problem.  This rarely, if ever, works.  Aim for the 75-80% solution rather than the 100%.  Let’s face it, you’ll rarely hit 100%, and seeking the additional 20% will cost you five times as much in time and effort than the first 80% that got you to the “good enough” level.  In a situation where perfection is absolutely required, this point does not apply, but how many times do you really need 100%?  Just a question…

3. Set goals and write them down

This should be self-explanatory but let’s take a moment to comment.  Use the SMART metrics for setting your goals:  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Oriented.

Specific:  Describe to yourself precisely what you plan to do.
Measurable:  Be sure you will know when the task is completed.  Include definable metrics, such as “I’m going to spend at least two hours on this project”.
Attainable:  Do you have all of the resources needed? Is your goal realistic? Make sure nothing depends on someone else doing what they are supposed to do; this is all too often a recipe for disaster.  Rely on yourself!
Realistic:  Come on… can you really do the task you’ve set for yourself? Are you actually going to read 1000 pages in three hours, or is 100 pages more realistic?  Just a question.
Time-Oriented:  Set a realistic timeline. Nothing derails a plan quicker than trying to cram too much stuff into an insufficient schedule.

4. Be nice to yourself

You are only human.  This is not intended as an insult, but a statement of fact.  So, don’t shame yourself when you sense you are not being as productive as you should be.  Shame and guilt are useless emotions – get over them and FOCUS!  Don’t dwell on the past.  Get on with your future, and do it now!  All of us are our own worst critics, but now is not the time for that.  Psych yourself up to your tasks and don’t be weighed down by past inefficiencies.  The time is now!

5. Do everything with purpose and full vigor, but…

Just do it!  Don’t hesitate, don’t negotiate…just go for it!  Vigor – full vigor! However… If and when you truly need a rest, make sure you get it before you try to do the work!  You cannot perform at your best if you’re rushing flat-out at the last minute to complete something you should have finished days ago.  The product will not be your best, you will not be proud of it, and your reputation and/or grades will suffer. Get a good night’s sleep.  Take a break. Focus on something else… Then, come back to your task recharged and ready to go. Your results will be better.

Taking into account that we are human (whether we like it or not!), procrastination will always weigh heavily on our productive lives.  Although we’re not going to be perfect in our response to the temptation to just let things slide for another day, we can seek to reduce the most damaging effects of our slovenly selves by heeding Ms. Bruneau’s five points of advice on getting things done.

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