Dealing with procrastination starts with understanding why you procrastinate. Then you can change it.
Ottawa-based productivity expert Chris Bailey, who discovered when he kept a log for a week that he spent six hours procrastinating, says in Harvard Business Review that it's part of the human condition. One survey he came across found 95 per cent of people admitting to procrastinating and he wonders if the other 5 per cent were lying.
Seven triggers make a task seem more averse, encouraging procrastination, according to Tim Pychyl, author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: Boring, frustrating, difficult, ambiguous, unstructured, not intrinsically rewarding (you don't find it fun, say, or feel any payoff) and lacking in personal meaning.
Procrastination involves a tussle between the emotional part of your brain – those triggers – and the logical part, with emotions winning. "The logical part of your brain surrenders the moment you choose Facebook over work, or decide to binge another episode of House of Cards when you get home," Mr. Bailey writes.
But he offers five ways to give the logical side of your brain the upper hand:
- Reverse the procrastination triggers: Determine which of the seven triggers is making you dread the task. Then think positively, finding ways to consider completing the work more enticing. As an example, if writing a report is boring, see how many words you can write in 20 minutes – hopefully the challenge will get you going.
- Work within your resistance level: Think just how resistant you are and how that might translate into the time you devote to the task now. If the task is completing some research for a project, how resistant are you to spending one hour on the task? If that seems unpleasantly long, might 30 minutes be okay? “Shorten the amount of time until you find a period with which you’re no longer resistant to the task – and then do it,” he says.
- Do something – anything – to get started: It’s easier to keep going on a task once you have overcome the resistance to starting. The task, after all, is rarely as bad as our emotional reaction to it has suggested. You might get by the triggers if you do anything to get started.
- List the cost of procrastination: Consider how procrastinating is hurting you. That may not apply to not wanting to go for your evening run, he notes, but could apply to putting off saving for retirement. He says it can be helpful to create a list of the things you put off, professionally and personally, large and small, and what the cost is for each in delaying.
- Disconnect: Triggers may be the main reason you don’t procrastinate but distractions such as e-mail and social media can be other reasons, since they can seem so attractive. “When you notice yourself using your device to procrastinate, disconnect,” he writes. Follow his lead and put your phone in the other room at times or disconnect the WiFi. There are also apps that prevent access to enticingly distracting sites.
He says those five strategies can help you reduce your procrastination.
How to make your point and be heard
It can be frustrating to not be heard when you make a point in a meeting or in a quick conversation with your supervisor. Consultant Jesse Lyn Stoner, on her blog, suggests:
- Provide a context: Before giving your thought, help the person to receive it by providing a short sentence explaining your intention or the assumptions you are making. She gives these examples: “I have a thought on a different way to approach this” or “I’m assuming the budget is an issue here. I have thought on how we can save some money.”
- Get to the point quickly: Keep the message brief – but also, complete, with all the information needed to understand your message. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean every thought or piece of information you have. Stay focused. Don’t ramble. Don’t repeat yourself. “People get confused when you pack too much into one statement and don’t know what the most important thing to respond to is,” she says.
- If you’re not understood the first time, say it in a different way: If you have to repeat, don’t use the same words. Try to provide different information.
- Ask for a response: Sometimes in groups conversation moves quickly onto other subjects. Don’t assume your point was not heard or valuable if nobody comments. Specifically ask, in a neutral way: “I’d like to know what you thought about my idea.”
- Use “I statements”: It’s easy when nervous to detach ourselves from the suggestions we are making, using phrases like “some people” or “our group.” Take personal ownership, so people know what you really feel and that you aren’t just passing on somebody else’s thoughts.
- If you are having strong feelings, name them: “If you are having a strong feeling that you don’t acknowledge, people will react to your emotions not your statement,” she says. Instead of angrily saying, “I have a different idea for how to approach this,” you could say, “I’m frustrated with our approach to this problem because we keep doing the same without getting different results. I want to suggest a different approach.” Again, she stresses using “I statements.” Saying “You’re making me angry” is a no-no. Instead: “I feel angry.”
- Get feedback on how your communication came across: If there’s a pattern of your messages being dismissed, ask someone you trust for feedback.
Questions that will change your life
Here are 10 questions that psychologist Travis Bradberry says will change your life if you ask them regularly:
- How do people see me differently than I see myself?
- Am I being true to my values?
- If I achieved all my goals how would I feel? What can I do to feel that way as I work to achieve them?
- What haven’t I taken the time to learn about?
- In what area of my life am I settling in, accepting less than I am capable of?
- What do I want my life to be like in five years?
- What would I do if I wasn’t scared?
- Who has qualities I would aspire to develop?
- What’s stopping me from doing the things that I should be doing?
- What’s the most important thing I have learned so far in life? Am I living that lesson?
- Try dividing your to-do list in three, as productivity author Robert Pozen suggests in Fast Company: The first section details events, meetings and calls you need to attend that day; the second section has what you hope to get done during those appointments; and the third handles other to-dos that need to be done but don’t have a calendar slot.
- Goals must be written and set in stone, says author Chris Brady. A goal is not a goal until written down and it must be backed by full commitment.
- When somebody is frequently opposing ideas in your team, it’s tempting to want to figure out a way to make them happy through a compromise. But entrepreneur Seth Godin says maybe being oppositional is making them happy and the best way to satisfy them is to let them keep objecting.
- Watch your words when selling. Ottawa consultant Shaun Belding found a big difference when the common retail phrase “Can I help you?” was changed to “What can I help you find today?” For a financial institution, instead of saying, “You’re going to have to talk to a loans manager about that” it was more effective to say “Our loans manager will be able to help you with that better than I can.”
- Writer Jessica Stillman recommends on Inc.com the app FollowUpThen for keeping track of your e-mails that require follow-up. In the BCC space set up a reminder at the desired time. For example, typing “firstname.lastname@example.org” will get you a reminder in three days.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter.