Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Are You A “Last-Minute Loser”?

“Procrastination is the thief of time” is a saying with which many of us were brought up, but we’re all guilty of it!  How many people do we know (apart form ourselves) who put off doing things until they have absolutely no choice, and end up doing just an “OK” job?

Procrastination or putting things off is a natural human instinct, which usually kicks in when:
  • It’s something unpleasant (writing a report);
  • We think we’ll fail;
  • We can only work (or think we can) in “high-pressure” situations;
  • We under-estimate our ability to do it;
  • We’re overloaded as it is.
How many job adverts have we seen for “self-motivated” staff, or job descriptions that state that one of the qualities a jobholder needs is “self motivation”? 

Most of the reasons for procrastinating above boil down to three basic causes:
  • We’re in a bad mood (I’ve been there…);
  • There may be no obvious “benefit” or reward in doing it (me again);
  • No one expects us to do it/there’s no deadline (oh dear…).
Instead, to fill the time and make us feel less guilty, we tend to do those “harmless” tasks that make us feel “busy” but actually don't move things forward. 

What are the main results of procrastination?  Researchers say that the habit of delaying has a number of negative effects, including:
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Irrational beliefs
… meaning we may put off doing things even more.

I’ve also noticed that, when people wait until the “important” becomes the “urgent”, they often ask colleagues to drop what they’re doing to help them because otherwise the business will suffer.  Is this fair?

So what can we do about this?  We can’t expect our managers, colleagues or others to act as cheerleaders, but by understanding what drives us to procrastinate, we may be better able to control our tendency to indulge in it.  If we want/need a real “cheerleader”, then we should surround ourselves with the sort of people who we see are those who “get things done” (not always possible in the workplace, I know).

One technique I was taught many years ago was the “banjo” technique.  “Banjo” here stands for “Bang A Nasty Job Off”.  What happens when you finish something you didn’t want to do?  You feel good about yourself, your mood improves and you feel more motivated for the next task. 

We can also reward ourselves - whether by a trip to the coffee machine, a biscuit or maybe a takeaway dinner this evening, depending on the magnitude of the task.  The idea that there will be some tangible reward at the end can change our mind-set about doing something.

The above suggestions bring to mind the importance of taking regular breaks during the day.  Remember school?  Lessons usually didn’t go on for more than 40-45 minutes.  Breaks refresh the mind and reduce stress.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that, when I exercise regularly, my energy and motivation levels increase, and that improves my performance.  Another (long-term) benefit of exercising and eating healthily is that we live longer.

We’re all guilty of putting things off.  What we do about it is up to us.

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to offer solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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