Why put off until tomorrow what you can put off to the day after?, as the old joke goes. But the price we pay for procrastination is no laughing matter. We have known for a long time that one of the key elements that contributes to stress is not having a sense of control. The more out of control we feel, the more stressed we are likely to get, and that can then have all sorts of detrimental effects.
A common reason for procrastinating in the first place is anxiety – for example, putting things off that we don’t feel comfortable or confident about doing (the things we do feel comfortable and confident about are likely to be the things we do first). So, what can easily happen is that our anxiety leads to procrastination, procrastination reduces our sense of control, which creates stress, and that, in turn, increases our anxiety. So, a vicious circle has been established. And, as is so often the case with vicious circles, once they start they can be really difficult to get out of.
Now consider the alternative. We plan our work, we establish our priorities and work our way methodically through them, so that anything that gets left until tomorrow is the least important (not what we feel least comfortable or confident about – which may well be very important stuff). As a result of this, we are likely to have a greater sense of control and therefore feel less stressed, which should then make us feel less anxious. We will then have fewer things that we feel uncomfortable and unconfident about – so it is good news all round! What we have done is take a vicious circle (negative and destructive and a significant source of problems) and developed it into a virtuous circle (positive and constructive and a significant source of confidence and motivation).
I have had the opportunity to speak to a large number of groups of people about this, on training courses, for example. A common response is words to the effect of: ‘That sounds a good plan, I will try to do that’, to which I would normally reply: ‘Why are you saying you will try to do this? Why aren’t you saying that you will do this? It’s 100% within your control’. The ensuing discussion gets them thinking about what they need to do to make the changes in approach. It helps them to realise that saying that they will ‘try’ cedes a degree of control – so they are already falling foul of the problem they are trying to solve.
Of course, the irony here is that the ‘I will try’ approach can easily become a form of procrastination in itself. That is, they go away from the course with the intention of giving it a go, but they soon get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of their normal workplace routines, and before long, the idea has disappeared, left for ‘another day’.
So, if you are going to get the benefit of this more positive and effective approach, you need to grasp the nettle and make it happen. If you don’t, you are back onto the slippery slope of procrastination. It’s in your own hands. Take control and make it happen or let the control slip from your hands. Empower yourself or disempower yourself: the choice is yours.