Career & Finance

Procrastination, At What Price?

Life rewards action. Nothing great has ever been accomplished without it. Nothing ever will be. So why is it then that so many intelligent people are so prone to inaction; or, more specifically, to procrastination (derived from the Latin pro, meaning ‘forward,’ and cras, meaning ‘tomorrow’)?

In particular, why do so many smart professional women put  off until tomorrow what they would benefit from doing today? I’m not necessarily talking about the small mundane tasks (like cleaning out your desk drawers), which have minimal consequence if you fail to do them, but the bigger and more significant actions that can have a profound impact on the trajectory of your career, your happiness and your life.

Things like setting up a meeting with your boss to discuss promotion opportunities,  addressing a contentious issue with a colleague or beginning the process of changing our career path altogether.

Philosopher William James once wrote, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an unfulfilled goal.” Of course, people come up with all sorts of creative reasons why now just isn’t the right time:  Too busy. Too broke. Too stressed. Too risky. Too inexperienced. Too old. Too young. Too disruptive to family. Economy too unstable.

Occasionally our reasons are even valid. But more often, they are simply all too convenient excuses for avoiding the discomfort inherent in change, even change for the better and confronting our deepest, and often unacknowledged, fears.

While on the surface procrastination often looks like laziness, at the heart of it lies fear. Fear of failing, fear of success, fear of rejection, fear of ruffling feathers, fear of looking foolish, or fear that we will be exposed for not being as smart as people think we are. And so our fears drive us to hang on to the hope that if we procrastinate long enough, our misgivings will magically evaporate—and be replaced with a newfound sense of clarity about the steps we need to take, courage to take them, and confidence to overcome whatever obstacles we meet along the way.

Unfortunately, the reverse is generally true. As the days roll steadily by, our fears grow larger, not smaller, until they eventually lead to a burial ground for unfulfilled goals, missed opportunities, and untapped potential. All the time, the knowledge that we are whiling away months, years, sometimes decades, of our life  waiting for the planets to perfectly align before we take our first step forward weighs more heavily on our hearts and minds, both conscious and subconsciously.

We are loath to admit it, but in putting off until tomorrow (or the summer or 2015) what we know we should act on today we are selling ourselves out. And one way or another, it is costing us – in our career (lost opportunity to grow our influence and be promoted accordingly), our business (as our competitors have developed loyal clients that could have been ours), our relationships (as unresolved issues fester, damaging trust and undermining individual and team performance), finances and physical and mental wellbeing.

Not to mention our day to day enjoyment of life!  Of course being honest about the hefty price of procrastination and indecision can make you squirm. But acknowledging the reality that delaying action is increasingly expensive to your success and happiness will make you that much more motivated to step boldly into it.
If you are tired of procrastinating, take one minute right now to read the strategies below that have proven effective in overcoming even the most hard core case of “procrastinitis.”  Then make a decision to implement at least one of them in the next 24 hours, keeping in mind that when it comes to those things that you care about most in life – delay is increasingly expensive!

Seven Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination

  1. Write down a specific goal you would like to achieve in the next six to 12 months, and assign a specific date to achieve it. If you want to use a different time frame, go right ahead! All that matters is that your goal inspires you.
  2. Write down how you will feel on the day you achieve it. Picture yourself on that day. Where you will be? Who will you be with? What will you be talking about? How will you feel? Imagine the different emotions you will feel once you have achieved what you set out to accomplish.
  3. Write down how you will feel about yourself, your career and your life a year from now if you continue to procrastinate. Get really present to the cost of continued inaction. Remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes!
  4. Break your goal into small action steps. If the whole seems too big to tackle (which it probably will or else you would have done it already!), break it into manageable, bite-size pieces. You don’t have to know every step of the way (particularly if you’ve chosen a wonderfully audacious goal!); you just need to identify the next couple of steps immediately ahead.
  5. Set up a reward system to add a little ‘fun’ to your journey and help affirm your progress as you go along. Make your rewards commensurate with the task.  A meeting with your boss to discuss advancement opportunities may be worth a girls’ night out, while finishing that business plan may warrant something even more fun.
  6. Create accountability. Enlist a support team, hire a coach, recruit an accountability partner or join a group of like-minded people. Just make sure you have people around you who are committed to yourself and willing to get on your case if you start to veer off the rails and slip back into your old excuse-laden procrastinating M.O.
  7. Do at least one thing every single day, however seemingly small, that moves you toward your goal. Begin today! Before you come up with another delay tactic!

Creating change is like getting a 747 off the ground… it consumes a lot of energy up front to build the forward momentum that gets you airborne. So however small the first step may be, just take it… your forward momentum is everything!

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"Margie Warrell is an international authority on courageous action” - Wall Street Journal