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How to be a better procrastinator


“Procrastinators: Leaders of Tomorrow!”

It makes a good T-Shirt but, unfortunately, most of us have to deal with procrastination in some way, shape or form. Either the effects of it when other people procrastinate, or silently, secretly, quietly, in our own hidden world of guilt and shame when it is us procrastinating.

It’s not the sort of thing that you bring up at dinner parties. (My name is Steve. And I’m a chronic procrastinator.)

Not that procrastination is a new thing.

Hesiod, one of the first recorded poets of Greek literature in 800 BC wrote:

“Do not put your work off till to-morrow and the day after; for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn, nor one who puts off his work: industry makes work go well, but a man who puts off work is always at hand-grips with ruin.”

Professors in Psychology Harriott and Ferrari have shown that procrastination is widespread in the general population. It chronically affects some 15%–20% of adults.

But it doesn’t take a professor to tell you that we all procrastinate.

Talk to any accountant about clients that don’t file tax returns. A survey by H&R Block showed that procrastinating on taxes costs people on average $400 because of rushing and errors it creates, resulting in over $473 million in overpayments in 2002.

So why do you procrastinate?

What do you think the psychologists might be saying?

  • Anxiety: Fear of Failure, Perfectionism – WRONG  (bad luck to self-help book writers)
  • Self-Handicapping – WRONG
  • Rebelliousness – WRONG

It seems that a new approach called Temporal Motivation Theory holds the clue. It is based around a lot of research and a formula (like an em=c2 for procrastinators).

I’ll simplify it a bit:

E x V/T x D

E = Expectation — you are more likely to do things which you expect to succeed at.
V = Value – you are likely to do things you value or you feel that there is a larger payoff for.
T = Tolerance – your personal tolerance for delay. Some people can’t wait long.
D = Delay of Reward — how long, on average, you must wait to receive your payout. We like our rewards to come fast.

Yeah, yeah, great theory. But what does that mean for you?

Let’s break it down.

1. Expectancy – Increasing Success

Either you know the odds are stacked against you or you imagine they are.

  • Do something to increase your odds, get help from someone that doesn’t find this task a problem.
  • Stop catastrophizing, there are some great behavioural change techniques to help with this (if this is you then email me at [email protected], I can send you my “5 Steps To Moving Forward Fast”).
  • Get over it. Some fatalism might help. “Damn It, Let the Chips Fall Where They May!”

2. Value – Make It More Rewarding

You’ve got to make it worthwhile for yourself.

  • Connect to the outcome, close your eyes and see yourself having completed it, or even just one step, and how good you feel for having done it.
  • If it isn’t rewarding, then ditch it or outsource it.
  • If it has to be done, find another way to reward yourself as you go.
  • Link little rewards with each step. Make them small and happen straight after you finish the step.

3. Tolerance – Become Patient

If you have the concentration span of a monkey this might be hard (most entrepreneurs do). But some ways to help are:

  • Get someone to watch over you to make sure it gets done.
  • Block out interruptions; place yourself in a position where you can do nothing else.
  • Just do the first step … that is all. Keep it really short, less than 2 minutes (i.e. pull out your tax receipts and put them in a pile). Then just focus on the next step.

4. Delay – Reward Yourself Sooner

We like our rewards large and quick.

  • Invent mini-rewards for smaller actions on the way.
  • Plan it in bite sized chunks so it isn’t overwhelming. Make the chunks, what can you can do in five minutes.

GET MOVING: STOP RIGHT NOW! What is one thing that you are procrastinating on. Go on, you know there is something. Check the list above and do something on it in the next minute. Before you stop reading this.

Steve Smit is a Business Coach with Reality Consulting. He works with business owners who want to increase their take home profits and work shorter hours. For a free copy of his “Business Accelerator Pack” visit www.realityconsulting.com.au or please email [email protected].

Photo by Jinx!