Learning from a real procrastination expert
We all know about procrastination. You may, in fact, be procrastinating right now, on The American Genius. Well, what’s a few more minutes? You’ve got a deadline creeping up, but you’re finding any number of distractions to occupy you until the finish line is in sight, then you’ll rush to complete your project at the last minute.
Procrastination expert, psychologist, and former professor, Bill Knaus, calls this deadline procrastination. We all know the basic solution to this problem: start your project earlier! But the focus of Knaus’ most recent article is on a more insidious, complex type of procrastination – what he calls behavioral procrastination. Behavioral procrastination is the bad habit of starting a project but “quitting prematurely.”
Don’t get this practice confused with “trying on different hats to see which one fits.” Behavioral procrastination applies to things that you have definitively decided you would like to do because they would clearly benefit you. Knaus gives examples such as joining a health club then quitting, buying books you never end up reading, or writing a plan for a business that never gets launched.
Non-corporate types tend to suffer the most
For all you startups and freelancers out there, behavioral procrastination can be a real killer, as you are often your own motivator. Behavioral procrastination can thwart a project at any stage. Maybe you are a visionary with tons of great ideas, but no follow through. Perhaps you can even get as far as planning and organizing a project, but can’t seem to turn the plan into action. Or maybe you even start implementing the project, but give up in defeat or sabotage yourself halfway through.
Knaus gives a number of specific reasons that we procrastinate. Often our initial enthusiasm for the project is not strong enough to overcome the challenges we’ll have to face. We tend to bail when things get tough, exaggerating the short term inconveniences and losing site of the long term payoff.
Initiating a new project requires changes to your habits and routines, and we have trouble reconciling these changes with our old ways and schedules. You may have to sacrifice some the time watching cat videos on YouTube to make time for your new goals. Projects may also have a built in learning curve of new skills or information you’ll need, and this can intimidate us into giving up all together.
There is a risk of sabotaging yourself
Lastly, we sometimes procrastinate because we fear failure, or because we don’t think we truly deserve success. We sabotage ourselves rather than take the risk of failing, or because we’re not ready to accept how our lives would change if we were successful.
Is there any help for us hopeless procrastinators? Knaus has a few tips to help you stick to your guns. Walking away from a project with a promise to pick it up later almost always fails. These false promises convince you that you are just delaying, not giving up, when in fact, you will probably never return to the project. Knaus advises paying very close attention to your own habits. What is going on for you, logistically or emotionally, just before you want to throw your hands in the air and say “I quit!”? Learn to anticipate the things that are going to thwart you, so that you can respond differently next time.
A simple way to start to overcome procrastination is to visualize yourself crossing a bridge from where you are now to where you’d like to be. When you feel like you’re on the verge of quitting, give yourself step by step instructions for how to keep going forward, then say the steps aloud as you complete them.
Try it with me: step one, I am logging offline right now. Step two, I am opening my work portfolio. You take it from here, readers!