By DR EUGENE YJ TEE and DR CHOY TSEE LENG
Dangers of procrastination
The stress of juggling deferred tasks increases the risk of mental health challenges in susceptible individuals.
Sleep deprivation and rushing to keep up with deadlines lead to both physical and mental exhaustion.
Procrastination often causes underperformance, in turn triggering feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness.
Missed deadlines and appointments can wear on both personal and professional relationships.
Chronic procrastination keeps individuals from realising their full professional potential, delaying – if not derailing – career progress.
10 Tips for Beating Procrastination
Procrastination can be overcome. We can short-circuit our natural impulses to delay tasks, and direct our minds towards being productive and proactive.
Here are 10 simple tips to beat procrastination and be a proactive leader:
1. Find your power hour
When do you do your best work? There really is such a thing as being either a morning, afternoon, or evening person. Find the hour that makes you feel at your very best, at your most optimal mode of functioning, and set aside the time to do your most urgent and demanding tasks then. The power hour could simply be one hour of intense focus and productivity.
2. Eat that frog
Mark Twain suggested that if the first thing you do in the morning is to eat a frog (meaning to perform the most challenging task) then, any other tasks that follows for the day will seem less distressing. Do the task you find most demanding, or most likely to have you procrastinating over it – and do it.
Knowing that you’ve confronted the most difficult task on your list not only takes you a step closer towards actually completing it, but also gives you a nice motivational boost.
3. Set specific goals
Tasks seem threatening when they are broad and vaguely-defined. Deciding to “Complete the review of business plan” is just another way of saying, “I’ll review that business plan when I can.”
Make your goals specific, and set a deadline while you are at it. “Set aside one hour to review the market analysis of the business plan by 3:30pm today before meeting with senior management” makes the same goal more precise and appealing.
4. Set bite-sized goals
Smaller does not mean less important. Instead of setting a goal that says, “Decide on a replacement for the regional sales coordinator”, set smaller goals of reviewing a number of possible candidates, conducting a phone interview with some of them, and perhaps shortlisting names from your initial pool of possible candidates. Doing any of these three smaller tasks brings you a step closer to eventually completing your larger goal.
5. Flex your schedule
Make your schedules less rigid and restricting. Some days will be busier than others, but you don’t have to be bound to completing a list of a hundred things, just to be productive.
Prioritise, and delegate when necessary. A rigid and inflexible schedule not only tempts you to procrastinate, it also makes your daily plans seem more daunting. If your schedule leaves little breathing room and you find yourself hurried and stressed because of it, it might be time to revise your plans.
I think I’ll just check the news, or my Facebook feed for a bit. That brief lapse and redirection of your attention could very well stretch out into another full hour of non-productivity.
Try limiting your distractions – and that includes people who draw your attention away from the task at hand.
Disconnect from the internet, put your phone on silent, and tell others you are not to be disturbed during this time. Your brain will look for reasons to pull away from that important and demanding task; don’t give it an opportunity to do so.
7. Devote time to getting the right information
Decision-making time should be part of every proactive leader’s schedule. Don’t underestimate how much time it will take to make a good decision. Excellent decisions take even longer.
This important time slot could be devoted to simply searching for the necessary information, consulting with those who have the data you need, or setting aside an hour to collate and summarise facts before to committing to a course of action. That said. . .
8. Don’t try to be perfect
Perfectionism is the partner-in-crime to procrastination. “I won’t start because it won’t be perfect until I say it is.” Wanting to do a good job is great, but striving for perfection rarely helps.
Paralysis by analysis occurs when we absolutely must have every single instance of information before making decisions.
Economists will tell you instead that our rationality is bounded – we can never have all the information needed to make the optimal decision. Decisions may not be made at all if we only ever spent the time searching for information.
9. Reward yourself
Celebrate small victories for having completed your tasks. The reward may be a short water-cooler conversation with a colleague, a stroll to a nearby café for a coffee pick-me-up, or maybe a larger reward such as treating yourself to a movie. Let your brain know that you will reward it for focusing and being attentive.
10. Don’t punish yourself
We will still end up procrastinating on occasion. It happens to the best of us. Don’t punish yourself when you do. Re-evaluate your goals, do a bit of self-reflection on the times in which you work your best, and try again. Your leadership responsibilities and demands are challenging enough. Cut yourself a little slack.
Dr Eugene Y.J. Tee is a senior lecturer at the Department of Psychology, HELP University. His research interests include emotions and leadership. Eugene’s second favourite way to procrastinate at work is to have water cooler conversations about the newest neuroscience research findings. His first? Cat videos. He tweets at @eugene_tee
Dr Choy Tsee Leng is a neuroscientist and lecturer in the Department of Psychology, HELP University. Her research interests encompass consciousness, emotion, music and brain injury. She tends to procrastinate in search of, or in the presence of, pint-sized snacks and desserts.