Procrastination isn’t just a bad habit it’s an affliction ruining the lives of nearly one million New Zealanders. Research has found that one person in five suffers so badly from the problem that their careers are threatened.
At its best procrastination is time wasting and at its worst it’s a form of self sabotage.
The economic implications are huge. It’s been estimated that procrastination costs the USA one trillion dollars per annum, or $9,724 per employee. Not only are these conservative figures, but they are at least 10 years old. Economist Gary Becker, who won the Nobel Prize for economics, commented that “In a modern economy, human capital (the work people do) is by far the most important form of capital in creating wealth and growth. With a quarter of each person’s work day spent dithering, procrastination is going to be costly.”
Most people have no conscious idea why they procrastinate. A trained therapist will find the hidden blocks in the subconscious mind that are causing it, and will know how to clear them. Some common blocks are:
Fear of failure or fear of not doing a ‘perfect’ job can stop us even starting. Not meeting our own high standards is hard to live with. If we don’t start the task we can’t possibly fail. Not trying is much easier for our egos to stomach than trying hard and still falling short.
Fear of success. There may be implications to completing a particular job or activity. Completing it could lead to something you are not yet ready for.
Fear of being judged, criticised or rejected. What will other people think, say or do if you complete this task? The task is too big or too hard. Tasks seem overwhelming which makes us feel it’s futile to even try.
Feeling overwhelmed by the size or complexity of the task is the most common stumbling block, often caused by looking at the job as a whole rather than the steps needed to achieve it.
For instance, Sam had been procrastinating for two years on a GST return relating to a partnership that no longer existed. With the help of a mindset expert he realised that the first step wasn’t actually sitting down and completing the return.
The first step was making a decision on the date the partnership ended, as the amount owed to IRD would differ completely depending on the date chosen. That decision couldn’t be made until he spoke with his accountant.
He now had two action steps (making a phone call to his accountant and deciding on a date) to focus on. Seemed simple enough, but there was huge resistance to making the call to his accountant. When looking for a downside to completing the call, and ultimately the GST return, Sam realised this would signify the absolute end to his partnership, something he was subconsciously unwilling to accept. When the emotions connected to loss of his partner were cleared Sam was able to take the necessary steps to complete the GST return.
Self help tips to overcome procrastination
Write down the task you are procrastinating on.
List, in order, the actions involved in completing that task. You may need to work backwards (i.e. before I can do that I need to…). These actions may involve having conversations or making decisions.
Look at action number one. What will be the downside of completing it? Address that downside because if you don’t you may be subconsciously unwilling to complete the task and you will continue to self sabotage.
Repeat step 3 for all of the actions on your list.
Finally, begin working on the first action on your list. Keep only that action in your mind and don’t think ahead until you’ve completed it. Dr Wayne Dyer said “Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.” Seek professional help if you need it. It’s not an easy affliction to overcome on your own.
Even the best of us however cannot get everything done and we cannot be perfect. The famous physicist Professor Stephen Hawking said “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist.”
What a liberating thought! It’s scientifically impossible for you to be perfect. You can deal with your procrastination, or alternatively you can forgive yourself and be at peace with what remains undone.