Without realising it, most of us sub-consciously retreat to our comfort zone and never leave it. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our professional lives. People who suffer from the learned habit of procrastination often suffer career stagnation. Have you ever felt bored with your job and frustrated with a lack of career development? We’ll be reviewing some of the causes of this behaviour and suggest some possible ways to ensure your career doesn’t stall.
We avoid tasks for this simple reason: Taking action will cause us more perceived pain than perceived pleasure.
To understand this concept, close your eyes and try the following:
Think of an action you’ve been avoiding. Imagine yourself starting to take that action. Concentrate on what you feel. Did you feel something unpleasant?
That unpleasant feeling is some sort of pain. Under this broad definition, fear, guilt, vulnerability, embarrassment, boredom and so on are all forms of pain.
There are many different reasons for procrastination. Some of the common ones are: lack of understanding, perfectionism, inadequacy and laziness. Let’s look at some of these in more detail.
• Lack of understanding or ability – If a person doesn’t know how to do the job, or doesn’t believe they will be able to do it, they will put off starting it. Sometimes it may be that they don’t understand the urgency of the task, but more often it’s not understanding the work itself. Communicate your tasks clearly and effectively and always set a deadline. I’ve noticed this in my startup, if we set a task 2 weeks for completion it will usually get done in 2 weeks. Setting the same task 3 days and it’ll get done in 3 days. Setting no time at all is the trap that most people fall into so schedule everything and stick to your commitments.
• Perfectionism – People who feel everything has to be perfect often put off doing things for fear of not reaching perfection. Not starting work or for being late is less painful for a perfectionist than not reaching perfection. They often have tens of folders or internet tabs open at once. They’re always striving for perfection on each task rather than publishing something half baked.
• Laziness – We all have times when we’re feeling lazy and self-indulgent. Personally, I love my job, I don’t see it as work but there are always times when I would rather switch off rather than keep burning the midnight oil. Some people keep putting things off because they don’t want to work that hard; even if it is something that isn’t a lot of work. It’s usually a task they know how to do and know they need to do, but they just don’t want to do it. We often tell ourselves that we don’t have the time. In reality, you always have time if it’s important enough. This is often the result of successfully avoiding work in the past with this behaviour. They think “if I put this off long enough, maybe they will forget about it or will get tired of asking me to do it and they will do it themselves.” Once it gets forgotten or done by someone else this reinforces the behaviour and a habit is born.
• Fear – Many of the reasons people procrastinate are fear based. Fear of doing a less than perfect job, as we just reviewed above, is one example. Other examples of procrastination causing fear include: fear of doing it wrong, fear of showing weakness, and fear of looking foolish. Fear of success is commonly found in the workplace. Often people who’ve recently joined a company won’t put their hand up for promotion for fear of losing friendships despite being the most suitable candidate.
• Inadequacy – some of us don’t believe we deserve something therefore will put off doing it or asking for it. Let’s face it you’re not going to be the best in your company at everything. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but by focusing on what we’re not good at makes us feel hesitant to really push ourselves which creates procrastination and keeps us locked in our comfort zone.
How to Avoid Procrastination
Overcoming procrastination requires a change in perception about the task. These behaviours and excuses are so ingrained because they have been successful for you in the past as ways of avoiding pain.
Step 1 is recognising that you are procrastinating – When you start making excuses or start getting frustrated with yourself for being indecisive recognise this as a call to action.
Step 2 is get leverage on yourself – We procrastinate because taking action causes pain and putting it off is more comfortable, therefore we need to start associating taking action with pleasure and not taking action with pain. Not just a little pain – only by associating putting the task off with huge, immense and relentless pain will you start to take action. Our perception is the trigger. Start by asking yourself questions like: “if I keep putting this off what will happen?”, “who am I hurting by not doing this?” and “what is procrastinating costing me and what will it cost me in the future”. Gather as many strong reasons as you can, write them down and focus on all the negative consequences of not taking action, picture them vividly. Then write another list of all the great things that taking action is finally going to give you. The sense of relief. the sense of achievement. The possibilities that taking action opens up.
Step 3 is take action – This creates a window of opportunity. This is your time! You have to jump through it now, don’t put it off or wait another second. Get it done!
Step 4 is celebrate – Reinforce your new behaviour by celebrating every little success, from making a phone call you wouldn’t normally make to hitting a financial goal. If you want your new behaviour to become a habit you must recognise all the positives that facing your fears has given you. Do something that scares you everyday and you’ll soon find the things you used to procrastinate over become easy to you.
Finding this kind of self-discipline on a regular basis is one of just 5 tools outlined in the new book called The Tools Book by Phil Stutz, and Barry Michels that helps people defeat procrastination.
How Procrastination Affects Your Career
Have you ever stayed too long in a job or company you knew wasn’t helping you reach your full potential? This is often the result of debilitating career procrastination. A state of indifference towards your job is what ends up limiting the careers of many talented professionals. The bad news is that when we’re standing still we’re actually going backwards. Career plateaus make us seen less attractive to other employers, less likely to be promoted internally both now and in the future. This leads to career regression.
There’s no doubt that keeping your head down and staying busy leads to missed opportunities to accelerate your career development. Worse still, have you ever been approached about your dream job but shied away from going for an interview for fear of not being ready or being too busy? Whatever your comfort zone is, you pay a huge price for staying inside it. Procrastination is a lack of courage. It’s focusing on fear instead of possibility. The smartest people always have options to progress their career even when things are going well. Failure to anticipate the road ahead is the key reason so many people experience frustration and lack of development. Keeping updated on great opportunities as and when they arise is critical.
The best time to look is when you’re happy. Keep your options open. Make connections. Never say never. When you procrastinate you squander the most precious asset we have; time. Henry David Thoreau once said that most people “live lives of quiet desperation and die with their song unsung.” Don’t let yours.
Our purpose at Talent Rocket is to help you find yours. We’re helping busy people keep updated with career opportunities in the companies that they want to work for. So there’s no more excuses for career procrastination.