If anyone had ever told me I’d intentionally choose to use Larry the Cable Guy’s go-to phrase as a headline someday, I would have said they were nuts. But odious as I find Mr. Cable Guy and all he stands for, his all-too-popular abomination of the English language is just too perfect for a rant about procrastination.
There are lots of us not gitting-r-done, though — and it’s gitting . . . er, getting . . . worse instead of better. A 10-year study conducted by Canadian industrial psychologist Piers Steel found that, over the past 35 years, the number of people who consider themselves chronic procrastinators has risen from 5% to 26%. And nearly 50% of people who procrastinate say that behavior causes them distinct unhappiness — which, in a corporate environment, translates to the unhappy loss of billions of dollars in profits.
Delaying your own obligations is one thing, but putting off tasks that directly impact your company or your customers can have significant repercussions — everything from inconvenience and ill will to lost opportunities and legal action. There’s a personal toll, too; chronically failing to deliver can cause severe feelings of guilt, diminished self-worth and depression.
So are you a procrastinator? Most of us are, at one time or another, but for those who practice procrastination on a regular basis, it’s usually less about lousy time management skills than other, stickier issues. Generally speaking, we procrastinate for one of the following reasons:
- We’re perfectionists.
- We’re afraid of failing.
- We’re overwhelmed.
- We can’t make a decision.
- We’re unfocused.
- We’re not sufficiently motivated.
- We want a deadline rush.
So how do we get past these productivity roadblocks?
- For perfectionists, the key may be delegating. Can you turn the task over to someone whose standards aren’t as exacting as yours, or enlist the help of a partner who’ll push you toward completion?
- If you’re afraid of failing or not doing a job well, run your ideas past a mentor or make an outline to help you ensure that every detail is covered. And who says you have to start at A and move to Z? If you feel more confident tackling K or Q, do those steps first and get a little success under your belt before moving on to more difficult components of a task.
- Being overwhelmed could be due to disorganization. Try implementing systems into your life, from sorting and filing the mess on your desk to creating daily “To Do” lists to help you gradually get caught up. And remember, in the long run, getting started on a task is often more important than getting it finished.
- If decisions are difficult, realize that very few have a life or death outcome. Consider the available options and go with whichever one offers the most efficient outcome.
- Eliminate distractions (maybe email and Facebook should be the first to go?) and assign yourself a finite window of time in which to complete a specific task.
- It’s okay to admit that, while they still have to be done, some jobs simply aren’t that appealing. Deepen your motivation by giving yourself a tangible reward for completing — or even moving ahead with — an assignment, or post reminder notes about the benefits or consequences that lie ahead.
- Remember that adrenaline rushes are hard on your health. Better to pace yourself than come screeching up to a deadline with only seconds to spare. What you see as “saving the day,” others may see as poor planning — plus all that last minute angst is not endearing you to anyone.
I recently discovered a quote that has become my go-to phrase: “Done is better than perfect” is a sort of highbrow (and certainly less grammatically gut-wrenching) variation of “git-r-done” that, when my productivity starts drifting toward intent instead of accomplishment, reminds me a task’s execution is far less critical than its completion. The perfectionist in you may blanch at the idea of doing something less than brilliantly, but your inner list maker (and if you’re a perfectionist, you’re likely a list maker, too) will sigh in contentment at the joy of crossing one more thing off that roster.