Procrastination is something that we deal with in our professional and personal lives. Our own ability to get a handle on this is key to our long-term career success. In fact, doing what we say we will do when we say we will do it is key. This week’s podcast is with Dr. Tim Pychyl who is the graduate chair in the Department of Psychology and Director of The Procrastination Group. Tim is an expert in the area of personality, behavior and procrastination. I have to say I am envious of Tim’s job. He gets paid to study how to be a great procrastinator – when he gets around to it.
I want to share a personal example about this whole topic. Today I changed the time on my flight to our Halifax office. Now I’ve known that I "should" do this for the past few days, however, there was always something to do. Each day as I was getting closer to my trip, I was thinking: "I need" to do this. I could have waited until the day I had to leave, rush to the airport, and hope that the flight I really wanted was not full so that I didn’t miss an important meeting with one of our University partners. On top of the stress, I would also pay to my dear friends at Air Canada a $150 fee for changing my ticket. My alternative was to spend 5 minutes, go online, change the flight and pay $40. I chose the path of least amount of cost and personal stress. I did go online and book it. I am now fully prepared and ready for my trip. I can focus on making the most of the trip to our office in Halifax.
If procrastination, for the most part, is not good for our mind, body and career, then why do we allow it in our professional lives? What are the benefits to procrastination? We do it to avoid the hard stuff. Research shows that we will choose the short term gain over the long term gain. We believe that we can do this tomorrow. We can believe that the problem will solve itself, or we truly believe in the last minute Hail Mary throw. In Tim’s research, there is one particular group that thrives on the risk, stress and adrenaline that comes with waiting until the last minute. For most of the rest of us, it just creates unneeded stress in our lives.
Tim defines procrastination as, "The gap between our intentions and our actions". In layman’s terms, we avoid what we should do and do something else. This becomes a problem when it starts to sabotage our success. Here is the good news. Research shows that the quality of work is not affected by this action. It may not always affect your own stress level; in fact, you may be addicted to the adrenaline that is stimulated by the last minute push to the deadline. Thank goodness for the 24 hour Kinko’s. There are some key factors that contribute to this, namely, perfectionism, personality and disorganization. There are lots of different and valid reasons. Many of us now have a multiple of demands in our professional lives. Many are carrying more projects and are responsible for larger teams. The nature of the 24/7 work world – we simply have more to do and less resources. With the latest technology, we all have access to email, blackberries and the web. Workplace studies show that as much as 40% of our time can be absorbed by inefficient use of technology (except for us Apple folks). You may lack the skill set for the task that you have been given. You may find that you are working alone and you do better in working with a team. You may not be clear about what is expected from you on the project.
Here are two simple ideas to help you now!
1. Why? "I exercise so that I can make better business decisions". Jim Balsillie, Co-CEO of RIM. He is a very busy professional and there would be lots of reasons not to have time to exercise. Jim is laser focused on why he exercises. You need a clear and tangible benefit to help you stay focused and anchor behavior towards completing the task. The clearer the benefit, the more likely you are to take action when you don’t feel like it. Get clear!
2. Just start it. According to Tim, this is one of the most effective ways to get movement. He calls this "Implementation intention". Just put aside 15 minutes, turn off your email alert and get started. Don’t worry about how much you will get completed. I personally have had much success applying this principle since my discussion with Tim. You can get a little bit done rather than trying to solve the entire problem. In Tim’s research, it also showed you were more likely to get more accomplished than you anticipated in that 15 minutes and feel better about yourself. Start it!
So why do we all need to work on this area in our personal and professional lives? "Dealing with procrastination is ultimately getting on with your life, finding out who you are and what you stand for. Are you going to do those things? Go find something that will get you off of your butt". This is the real why! You may have been delaying a move to a new role or changing projects or even careers. Ultimately, you have a choice and it is up to you to "just start it".
Today, take one step towards a better career situation. Need help with that step? Book an initial consultation today. Your career and your life await!
Along the road with you!