Thursday, January 24, 2013

Procrastination ... or always put off til tomorrow...

Do you ever put things off until the last minute?  Or wait too long to tackle a project?  Then you struggle to complete it on time ... or you miss out on sleep or meals to make it happen?  I think we all do it once in a while ... some of us do it more.  Most high schoolers do it at some point...I’ll bet we’ve all had a paper we didn’t start until the night before it was due?

Admittedly, I was worse at it when I was younger.  There were tasks I didn’t like doing ... and I’d stall as long as possible to avoid them.  That’s a common cause for procrastination.  There’s always the hope that “if I ignore it, it will go away” ...and sometimes it actually does.  But I found that most of the time, I was just delaying the inevitable and until the task was finished, it weighed on me like a ball and chain.  I couldn’t enjoy my life and I was often preoccupied with the unfinished project.  As a fairly rational person, it just made sense to change my habit and get those unpleasant jobs out of the way.  In general I’ve been successful in my efforts and it really does make life less stressful.  I can relax and have fun when I’m supposed to have fun without the distraction of a project hanging over my head.

Sometimes a task can seem so small, it doesn’t really rise to the level of “important” ... but that can be deceptive.  If you suspect you have a mouse in your kitchen and you need to set a trap, it’s easy to overlook a task that minor.  But a mouse can do a LOT of damage (and leave disgusting evidence behind), especially to packaged foods and clean dishes putting off that little task can cause big hassles (and real dollars) later.   There’s a reason for the old proverb “a stitch in time saves nine”.

But there is another type of procrastination – a person who says they’ll do something, but they consistently fail to do so.  I think they have good intentions and every desire to do the task but they habitually drop the ball.  The habitual part is the problem.  Frankly, after a while, I start to feel very disillusioned and disrespected...and I find that I start questioning their integrity.  Did they really mean it or did they just tell me they’d do it to get me off their back?  I can cut someone a lot of slack for an occasional disappointment – everyone has stuff happen now and then.  But when someone can NEVER follow through ... well, there's a problem. 

This kind of problem can have an adverse effect for someone in business.  I know a small business owner who is easily distracted.  So when an employee says that materials need to be ordered, the boss always says, “Yes .. I’m on it” ... but it turns out to be days before the parts are ordered.  By then, it’s become urgent ...and stressful.  Production suffers, employees are frustrated, and profits aren’t nearly what they could be.  When production slows down and customers have to wait for their orders, the company’s reputation suffers too.  When a person constantly lives doing only the urgent, my husband calls it “fighting fires” ... and he doesn’t like doing that.  For 13 years, he was a project manager and had to anticipate material and worker needs ...and fighting fires was nothing but trouble.  A little "fire prevention" goes a long way.

So if you’re a procrastinator,  how do you find balance?  How do you get things done in a timely manner?  Part of it is nothing more than good old-fashioned self-discipline – being determined to get done as quickly as possible.  For some, it may help to make a prioritized task list – deciding what is most important and doing it first.  Remove unnecessary distractions.  It may be learning to say “no” – and not taking on more than you can do.  My husband has a terrible time with that one – he can’t help but help people.  I love him for his tender heart ... but every once in a while, he needs a little nudge to say “no”.   You may also have to learn to say “no” to something fun – it can be a bummer at the time – but you can reap some real rewards later in energy, restful sleep,  lack of frustration and peace of mind .... and even profits!  Maybe the most important thing you can do (and I rarely see it done by people who procrastinate) is anticipate what the consequences will be if something is left undone.  If a task is put off, how will it impact your life, your family, your time, your mood, your business, your employees, your bottom line?

So are you a fire fighter?  Or are you on top of your to do list?  Tell me ... how do YOU overcome procrastination?