Fighting the Virus…

Working from home is one of the ways we prevent the spread of the new Coronavirus. But are you prepared to fight also the Procrastination virus? You know about this virus, don’t you? It seems that almost everybody is contaminated, some know about it some don’t. The total leaders are dealing with this is for some time and they get great results. 

More than 75% of people are procrastinating at least an hour a day. How? By postponing at least one task, for apparently no reason at all. That means we simply lose 7 hours a week of our limited, non-renewable time resource.

Of course, our first reaction would be to blame it on the Internet, but that is just one more excuse. Hesiod, a Greek poet, wrote about this problem almost 3000 years ago: ‘Do not put your work off till tomorrow and the day after; for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn, nor one who puts off his work.’

What is procrastination?

Here is a generally accepted definition: ‘Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished by a certain deadline’ (Karen K. Kirst-Ashman; Grafton H. Hull, Jr., 2016).

In other words, you may start a project or a task, something that needs to be done, and you fail, delaying it, but, in the end, with quite a significant amount of effort, you get the work done.

You might say that you are not really procrastinating. This might be happening, for instance, if you delay your work for a good reason, for example, because you want it to be perfect, so you constantly work on improvements.

You might also say that when working under stress, you get better results. Think for instance at students, during their university years. Many of them, including me, would prepare for exams the last two days before the exam date, studying overnight and coming in the morning of the exam with red, tired eyes and funny hairstyles.

Even if this happens a lot, at all ages, we can’t really accept that being in a “State of Emergency” for a few days every week or month and spending the rest of our time delaying and finding excuses, will really help us improve our productivity, whilst still staying healthy, both mentally and physically.

First of all, this is not a sustainable way of living. When we spend our time on small things and then work under pressure, to achieve the more difficult things, which are usually the most important and eventually rewarding ones, we struggle to improve our concentration and consume impressive amounts of energy. It then gets harder to recharge our empty batteries, we become grumpy, we lack patience and we get lost in tiny, time-consuming tasks, switching from one thing to the other, and living under the false impression that we achieve so many things at the same time. We do achieve them, but, in the long term, they don’t matter that much and we might suffer from taking this approach to our work. In the current highly competitive business environment, people could even end up getting fired for low productivity reasons.

One of the first studies about procrastination was published 1997 in Psychological Science (APS Fellow Dianne Tice and APS William James Fellow Roy Baumeister). Their conclusion?

“Procrastinators end up suffering more and performing worse than other people.”

Tice and Ferrari found out that chronic procrastinators and non-procrastinators behaved exactly the same if their task was described as fun – they just did it right away, without delay. What I understand from this is that the difference between postponing a task and procrastination is that the latter occurs when the intention to avoid an important but boring task is not obvious. Procrastination is emotional, whereas delaying something is a rational decision. The time needed for such an important but boring task is then used for tasks of lesser importance, but more enjoyable or more interesting.

All procrastination is a delay, but not all delay is procrastination

Procrastination is not a time management issue, it is an emotional obstacle. We always emotionally decide to move a task (i.e. to procrastinate), and justify it with logic.

The figure above helps us in understanding what could happen when people are really fully interested in what they have to do. And, of course, what could happen if they are bored or distracted.

The ideal case is when people are interested in what would bring high benefits, which is the quadrant 1. 

When things are interesting, but bring lower to no benefits whatsoever (quadrant 2), this is the procrastination kingdom. There are several occasions during the day when, for example, your smartphone reminds you that you really have to talk immediately with somebody. And you are very tempted to leave everything aside and take a call, send a chat or make a call. Any other social media message could also steal your focus quite fast.

This is the moment when procrastination might decide that you have enough time and, more than that, you really deserve a moment or two of relaxation. The result? You will run out of time without even noticing.

When you think that what you have to do is boring, but you are in the Low Benefits area (quadrant 3), the situation is not so desperate, but it will surely be so if you are bored in quadrant 4. Your productivity will be falling down to zero and you’ll miss the target.

 What can we do against the procrastination?

Here is what can be done to stop procrastination:

  1. Set clear goals
  2. Avoid distractions, and mostly, avoid the Internet! I know, quite hard to do that 🙂
  3. Focus, focus, and focus, on one task at the time.
  4. Make your own daily schedule and create a prioritisation system that suits you, is compatible with your daily/weekly/monthly/yearly goals and truly helps you in advancing towards achieving those goals.
  5. Believe in yourself – even when things are tough, you can tap into your energy potential…it takes some time but you will get there with some practice on steps 1 and 2.

Remember that you are human. God may be perfect, we, humans, most probably not. Maybe the final outcome of your work will not be perfect, but it will surely be ready on time. Perfection is the fuel of procrastination.
Do what you have to do now, today! Or maybe tomorrow? 🙂

Published by

Julian Medeleanu
Leadership Development, Sales Development Programs, Helping organisation improve their results.