Javier was finally on his way to work, late again. But it wasn’t like he didn’t wake up on time – he did. He just could never seem to get out the door when he wanted to. Friends often joked about being on “Javier time”, meaning when he was with them they just planned to run about 20-30 minutes behind their planned schedule. He didn’t want to be this way, but was at a loss as to how to fix it.
Brenda was hardworking and extremely detail oriented. But sometimes the level of attention she gave to things actually hindered her ability to work, and certainly to work well with others. She’d often spend so much time mulling over an assignment that important deadlines would be missed, causing problems for co-workers and subordinates. After her last copy underwent 12 revisions before finally being sent out to customers 2 weeks late, her boss let her know something needed to change.
Diedre loved being in school, but she hated doing school work. It wasn’t the content itself, but the constant looming deadlines. Her teachers consistently praised her abilities and raw intellectual faculties, but were equally critical of her procrastination and utter refusal to start on key projects until the last minute. After her most recent 36-hour work binge to research, write, and complete a 20-page paper, she nearly fell asleep at the wheel while driving to turn it in.
Procrastination and Time Management Issues Defined.
Anyone who’s struggled with time management and procrastination knows the definitions all too well. The terms bring to mind incidences of felt laziness, guilt, inadequacy, anxiety, or just plain ol’ stupidity. But in the strictest sense, procrastination refers more simply to avoiding something needing to be accomplished. Time management is the effective doling of resources to achieve a task in a reasonable time frame.
What Causes Issues with Procrastination and Time Management?
There is no one cause for time management issues. Some are simply an issue of ineffective practices – you haven’t applied the right strategies or the right number of resources in a particular area, or haven’t assigned it proper priority. But more often, its complicated. In order to come to a better understanding, it helps to analyze the individual situations in which you find yourself struggling with time management or procrastination. However, at the same time, you need to analyze the themes of your time management and procrastination struggles, particularly if you know how to manage time effectively but aren’t employing your skills. Here are a few more serious reasons people avoid work or don’t manage their time effectively:
- Personal Meaning – You may struggle with getting things accomplished if they’re not relevant or personally meaningful.
- Someone Else’s Goals – Related, if a project has been imposed or assigned to you without soliciting your involvement, and therefore, your interest, you may not see it through all the way.
- Being a Perfectionist – If you have standards that are unachievable, you may spend too much time on tasks, or avoid them altogether.
- Performance Anxiety – The way other people respond to your work is really out of your control. When took much value is assigned to others’ responses, it can create the kind of anxiety that interferes with accomplishment.
- Uncertainty – If you’ve got little or no direction on a project, or the rules of engagement are ambiguous, it may be difficult to make headway.
- Fear of the Unknown – You don’t have any way of knowing how well you’ll do in new subject areas. That realization may inhibit your desire to start.
- Above Your Pay-grade – You may genuinely lack the necessary training, skills, or ability to complete a task, and thus avoid it.
Surprisingly, many people are only vaguely aware that procrastination or time management is an issue. Certainly, many people who struggle in these areas don’t believe they need counseling. Here are some quick, commonly shared experiences of people who legitimately procrastinate:
- Acting as though ignoring a task will make it go away. Example: You ignore your report that’s due next Tuesday, but no amount of ignoring makes it disappear.
- Underestimating the work involved in tasks, or overestimate your abilities and resources in relationship to it. Example: You tell yourself 4 hours is necessary to complete reorganizing your desk, when in fact it will likely take you closer to 6. By saying it will only take 4, you allow yourself to delay beginning longer.
- Believing that a mediocre performance or lesser standards are acceptable to you. Example: Anything after which you find yourself saying, “Oh, I could’ve done better but I didn’t want to.”
- Substituting one worthy activity for another. Instead of doing one necessary task, you do another. But the original task still has to be done. Example: You need to compile your taxes but instead you vacuum the house.
- Deceiving yourself into believing that repetitive “minor delays” are no big deal. Example: You give yourself 5 minutes to talk on the phone with a friend instead of starting your budget. After 5 minutes, you say, “Another 10 minutes won’t hurt”, and on and on it goes.
- You mimic elements of task completion, rather than following-through. This keeps you in a constant state of non-productive “readiness” for work, but never actually working. Example: Taking your computer with you on vacation but never opening it. Or, turning down invitations for something because of work conflicts, but still not pursuing what needs to be done.
- Persevering on only one part of a task. Example: Making outbound sales calls but never answering your phone when people call back.
- Paralysis in decision-making surrounding different options. Example: Spending so much time weighing the pros and cons of two different caterers that both are booked by the time you’re ready.
Some healthy steps to follow on your own.
- Find yourself in the above experiences and examples. Expose your intentional reasons for avoiding work. Be honest!
- Get the most bang for your buck. Weigh the results of differing levels of investment of time and energy into whatever you want to get done. Find the optimal return for your investment.
- Nip guilt in the bud. If you only want to spend a limited amount of time or energy on a task, don’t beat yourself up. Guilt will likely just make it harder to do anything of consequence.
- Talk positively. Tell yourself yourself out that you do want to achieve certain goals and accept the responsibilities involved in meeting those goals. Repeat this step out loud, regularly until the task is done – at least each time you go into a restroom and look in a mirror.
- Brass tacks: Distinguish between activities that mimic work, and those that really involve task completion. Get rid of the theatrics – only do what’s actually work, giving only the precise amount of time necessary to complete each portion of a project.
- Reward: Reward yourself! The real world isn’t going to give you extra credit for doing what you were supposed to do, so if you want some, it will need to come from you!
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