It’s October 15th, and your taxes must be filed by midnight tonight. You are finally just starting on them and thinking that maybe you will just file for an extension. You just haven’t had “time” to get them done. But here’s the thing: We always find the time to do those things we really want to do. And we are always too “busy” or still “thinking” when big decisions and actions must be taken that we really don’t want to make or do. This is called procrastination.
Intermittent or Chronic Procrastinator?
If putting off your taxes until the last minute is the only example of procrastination in your life, you are pretty normal. You might also put off things like cleaning out the garage or getting that oil change. But 20% of the U.S. population is comprised of chronic procrastinators – people who constantly put off making important life decisions and taking important action to move forward with their lives. These are the people who miss great opportunities and rewards because they cannot make decisions and get into “action mode” – both in their personal and their professional lives.
Chronic Procrastination is a Lifestyle of Sorts
Our lifestyles are determined by patterns of behavior that we have established over time. And the “procrastination” lifestyle is no different. Chronic procrastinators delay and “put off” until decisions are made for them, either by other people or by circumstances, and then they feel some relief because the burden has been lifted from them. They actually make life decisions every day – the decision not to act at all. And, usually, this decision is made out of insecurity or fear.
Reasons for Procrastination
There are 4 classic reasons for chronic procrastination:
- Fear of Failure
- Insistence upon perfection
- Thrill of the risk of doing things at the last minute (e.g. taxes)
Fear of Failure: When there is a strong aversion to failing, people will keep themselves busy with small tasks so that they can justify not getting to the big decisions and actions. This keeps them in a “safe place,” but it also means that a productive and fulfilling life is sacrificed.
Insistence upon Perfection: There is always some more research to be done; there is always the need to look at other options. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook has a great saying, “Done is better than perfection,” and she is right.
Defiance: it may be a leftover from growing up in a dictatorial household, but many people procrastinate because they simply say, “No one can tell me what to do and when to do it!” Unfortunately that defiance, often manifested as passive-aggression hurts no one but the defiant one.
Thrill of the Risk: It is fine to state that you work better and make better decisions when the pressure is on, but the negative aspect of this is that someone else may step in, make the decision for you, and then you have to live with it.
Curing Chronic Indecision/Procrastination
There are both practical everyday “fixes” for indecision or procrastination and more long-term permanent cures. And if you are a chronic procrastinator you need to do both, for the short, temporary benefits and for a more permanent cure.
There are things that you can do today, right now, to reduce your indecision and procrastination.
- Nag Yourself: You have been offered a promotion that involves a move to another city. You have been given 30 days to make this decision, and you have avoided making it, perhaps out of fear of the unknown. The deadline is approaching, and you are stalled. Start making notes to yourself all over the place – on your bathroom mirror, on your coffee pot, on your desktop, on your pillow – keep nagging yourself until you finally get moving on making that decision. Those notes should say things like, “make a list of pros and cons of this move,” or “research the city and find out more about it.” Don’t stop nagging yourself until you have taken action toward that decision.
- Think of Alternative Tasks that are More Dis-Tasteful: You have a huge report to produce. You can’t get started because you are worried that it won’t be perfect and others may find fault with it. What is the alternative today? You could go down to that horrible place – the garage – and spend several ours getting dirty by cleaning it out, or you could dig in, get the report finished as best you can – remember – “done is better than perfect.” And people are counting on you.
- Divide up a Large Task into Smaller Pieces: Here’s a simple example. You need to clean your house, so on your “to-do” list is the item, “clean the house.” Instead of that, break it down into several items – vacuum, dust, kitchen floor, bathroom, etc. As you complete each smaller task, cross it off and feel really good about that. Each cross-off will be a reward and will motivate you to move on.
The More Permanent Cure – Changing Your Blueprint
We all have two “minds” – our conscious and our subconscious. Our conscious minds are based in the reality of today. Our subconscious minds are based upon all of the experiences and thoughts that we have programmed in there over our lifetimes. So, if our thoughts have been that we can never be wealthy, that we can never have a wildly successful career or relationship, then when opportunities for these things present themselves, our subconscious minds will force us to stop, to procrastinate, to fail to make decisions that would move us in those directions. Here’s a simple example: You are overweight; you don’t diet or you quit a diet and exercise program mid-way because your subconscious is telling you that the dominant thought is that everyone in your family is overweight and so you should be as well.
Re-Programming is Hard and Long-Term: You have to change your conscious thoughts, because they are what keep programming your subconscious. You need to replace all of the “bad” stuff with the “good.”
Start by making a list of all of the things you intend to do and become. Read this list out loud to yourself, with conviction, at least twice a day. Tackle some tasks and decision that you have been avoiding; when you have been successful, add those successes to your list and repeat them out loud as well.
Procrastination is a killer of opportunities and dreams. Get yourself off of that treadmill and onto a real path that keeps moving your forward.
I’m a passionate traveler, writer, blogger and educator. Working as a consultant I am trying to help people become successful and find internal balance. Currently, I work for a new project – GetAcademicHelp. Get in touch with me via social media.