PROCRASTINATION – SOMETHING FOR LATER
Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what
should have been done the day before yesterday. Napoleon Hill
Procrastination is perhaps one of the biggest issues that business
owners and professionals experience on a day-to-day basis. In
this article, we are going to establish what procrastination is,
identify why you do it, and then look at three ways of tackling the
WHAT IS PROCRASTINATION?
Wikipedia Encyclopaedia defines it as follows:
‘Procrastination is a human behavior which is characterised by
the deferment of actions or tasks to a later time.’
This definition is an interesting one because procrastination is
identified as a behavior and that actions are directly related to
that behavior. Psychology researchers use three criteria to
categorize procrastination: for a behavior to be classified as
procrastination, it must be counterproductive, needless, and
delaying (Schraw, G., Wadkins, T., & Olafson, L. 2007). Those
behaviors are based on decisions.
We are decision-making creatures. Decisions are thoughts that
are converted into behaviors. Everything we do is based on the
decisions we take, including when to eat, drink, sleep, wake up,
communicate with each other, planning, taking action, and so on.
These are all behaviors. Procrastination, therefore, is a series of
decisions we make which are then converted into behaviors.
The question is what causes us to decide to assign a higher
priority to tasks that are counterproductive, needless and
delaying to those that are important business critical?
WHAT MAKES US PROCRASTINATE?
If it were not for the last minute, I would not get anything done. Anon
To answer the question I want to outline a client’s use of
As a senior partner in an accountancy firm Muriel was responsible
for submitting tenders for work. She had one on the desk that had
to be finalised by Friday. It had been on the desk for three days
and today was Wednesday. She had not yet started. She set the
day aside to complete it. It was nine o’clock. Initial tasks – make
the coffee, switch computer on, read the mail, check the email,
make a few phone calls, check the newspapers, check the
meetings diary, check the TV news, etc, etc, etc. Time – 11am.
Next tasks – more coffee, read files on the desk and file, check
email, phone the vet, etc, etc. Time 12:30 – time for lunch. Time
13:30 – time for coffee, pick up the tender and read the brief (for
the fourth time), more phone calls, etc, etc. By the time 16:00 had
arrived, she had still not started the tender.
She did everything she could to delay the starting of the tender,
which was important to the business, by completing irrelevant and
unimportant tasks – why?
We discovered a number of underlying issues, including the
• Values and beliefs around being perfect
• Overwhelm – the task was too big
• Fear of failing – not completing on time
• Avoidance of critical feedback – non acceptance of the bid
• Fear of succeeding – having to live up to a high level reputation
Muriel had, over a period of time, developed a decision making
process that ensured that she avoided (or minimised) the
perceived negative outcomes of her issues. She rarely
considered her successes and chose instead to concentrate on
the failures. She had developed an ‘avoiding’ decision making
process that was presented through procrastinating behaviors.
The task for you is to identify what your procrastination behaviors
are which will help you understand your decision-making
Then what do you do?
Three WAYS TO BE A NON-PROCRASTINATOR
The following three methods will help you identify and then rectify
your procrastinating behavior.
1. Take on an apprentice. I want you to imagine you have an apprentice
and that you want them to be as good as you are at
procrastination. List all the things that you do when you are
procrastinating and then, against each entry, describe in detail
what you do to be so effective. When you next start
procrastinating, check your list and add to it – make sure you add
as much detail as you can. Keep revisiting and reviewing until you
have a comprehensive process document. Your final task is to
identify, against each item, the actual positive outcome you want
in each area and then think about what you need to do to get
there. Then get on with it.
2. Think elephant. You have possibly heard about the view of how to
eat an elephant - break it down into smaller chunks and eat a
piece at a time. Sit and think about the task and list all the key
elements. Put them into a priority order and then allocate a period
of time against each one. Put a name against each one (if you
have staff available). Put a start and finish date against each
element. Then get on with it!
3. Think three quarters. If you normally sit for hours (without a break or
limited breaks) at the desk working on a task, be it a tender,
project, paper, book, etc. then use the three quarters/one quarter
rule. Our maximum period of concentration is between 45 – 60
minutes, anything past this mark means that the quality of
concentration will be inferior as will be the outcome of your work.
Set aside 45 minutes (3/4) for the task you want to work on and
then take a break – this could be for a coffee, or just turning away
from the desk and doing something else for a few minutes (15=
¼). Then repeat the process.
We have found that procrastination is a set of behaviours that
have been generated by a your decision-making processes,
developed over time. I have given an example of the outcome of
those decisions as well as three ways that you can use to combat
“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”
Now is the time to do it differently – you could of course leave it
Peter Mackechnie of Extreme Management Solutions specialises
in adapting business behaviour
0845 458 2549