#276 from Innovative
Leader Volume 6, Number 5
Sapadin, author of It’s
About Time! The 6 Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them
(Viking Press, New York, 1996) is a psychologist and management
provides training and development seminars and is a keynote
speaker and consultant. She
can be reached at 19 Cloverfield Road, Valley Stream, NY 11581;
phone 516-791-2780; email Lsapadin@aol.com.
The task of writing a report may be put off until the last
minute. A messy
office may be cursed for months without ever getting into it.
Discussion about a sensitive, but very important, issue may
be held off. However,
for many people, procrastination is much more than a simple issue.
It’s a chronic, pervasive problem that creates feelings
of powerlessness, ineffectiveness and underachievement.
There’s a fair chance that you manage one or more of
these chronic procrastinators.
You may want to share this article with them.
procrastinators usually focuses on time-management principles.
However, most procrastinators know all about what they should
do; yet, they don’t do it.
Therefore, they need to look beyond the obvious and see
what’s at the root of their chronic self-defeating patterns.
Far from being
lazy, as the stereotype would have it, chronic procrastinators
generally have sufficient energy—the energy gets blocked,
however, and doesn’t flow smoothly from mental preparation to
physical execution. They
want or need to do something, but feel resistant toward doing it
because of some type of fear or anxiety.
This impasse indicates an approach-avoidance conflict, with
no clear-cut solution. Like
a Hamlet in the world of action, the procrastinator is torn
between two impulses—“to do” or “not to do.”
result of procrastination is always the same—broken promises,
wasted time and unfinished projects, all procrastinators are not
the same. My research
indicates that there are six distinct styles of procrastination,
each of them plagued by a different sticking point, which I call
the “But” factor.
It’s not unusual for people to relate to two or three of
I want it to be perfect!”
want so much to do things just right.
Their self-esteem is constantly on the line, pronouncing
themselves a failure if a task isn’t done perfectly.
They either have trouble getting started on a task, or get
bogged down and can’t complete a project because there’s
always one more detail to finish.
Their main problem is having unrealistically high standards
and too much attention to unimportant details, thereby slowing
down their progress.
Focus on what’s realistic, not idealistic.
Strive for accomplishment, not perfection.
Don’t sweat the unimportant details.
Change your “shoulds” to “coulds.”
Instead of always beating yourself up for what you
“should” have done, think about choices. The word “could” reminds you that you have the power to
choose and puts you more in control of what’s happening now,
rather than what “should have” happened.
Set time limits for what you need to accomplish.
Perfectionists can let projects drag on forever.
Give yourself 10 percent over the time limit, then call it
quits. If you need help in doing this, work with someone who will
remind you when enough is enough.
I hate dealing with all those bothersome details!”
Many dreamers are
creative, charismatic, interesting people.
But when you get to the how, when and what of the project,
they get very vague. Whereas
perfectionists get bogged down in details, dreamers don’t pay
enough attention to them. They
are often great at the beginning of a project, but when it comes
down to the actual work of doing what needs to be done, they get
Differentiate your dreams from your goals.
With your goals you need to keep asking yourself
detail-oriented questions such as “Who needs to get this memo?” or “How and when should we
discuss the budget?”
Avoid using vague specifications such as “someday” or
“soon.” Be more
detail-oriented while communicating.
Keep two separate lists.
One “To do” and one “To think about.”
With the former, make a time-line, giving yourself specific
deadlines for each part of a project.
I’m afraid to make a change!”
Worriers tend to
have a too small comfort zone and hesitate to leave their cocoon.
They try to avoid risk or change, which, of course, is
quite impossible. Lacking
confidence in their own abilities and decision-making, they often
let deadlines quietly pass rather than take an active approach to
getting things done and initiating activity.
It’s better to make a mistake and learn from it, then to
keep avoiding tackling something new. Develop more confidence in your abilities—if you don’t
know something, ask or research the answer.
Worriers often catastrophize events by a “What if”
question. When asking
a question, look for answers.
Don’t ask a rhetorical question to just raise your
If something seems too overwhelming, break a project down
into chunks that you can confidently handle.
If there are areas that you truly don’t know enough
about, take a course, read a book, don’t continue your ignorance
why should I do it?”
There are two
types of defiers. One
is the open, aggressive defier who is argumentative, sulky and
resistant; the other is the passive-aggressive defier, who hides
his defiance under a guise of compliance.
The latter type may seem openly agreeable, but doesn’t
keep his part of the bargain.
Defiers tend to react negatively to authority,
automatically resenting and resisting what others want.
Defiers need to learn to work with
their team, not against
it; and if something doesn’t seem right, they need to speak up
and suggest a more effective solution, not just complain or defy.
Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Don’t just say what others might want to hear in order to
get them off your back. Avoid words of blame, attack and righteous indignation.
Learn to “act,” not “react.”
Acting is doing what you know needs to be done, not because
someone else is demanding it, but because you recognize it’s a
task that is part of your responsibility.
I only get motivated at the last minute!”
initially under-react by putting off tasks until the last minute,
then over-react, creating a crisis in order to get it done.
They may rush in as a super hero, making their staff work
all night, until the project is completed.
But they’re only fooling themselves, for it doesn’t
take long for others to recognize that the crisis wouldn’t have
happened in the first place if things were done in a timely
Recognize that you don’t have to feel interested in a
project in order to get started. Often, the interest builds after
you get involved.
Avoid over-dramatic language like, “It’ll kill me to
get it done on time,” or “That’s an outrageous request.”
This kind of talk creates a crisis before you’ve even
Keep a record of repetitive crises, and figure out how to
avoid the constant repetition. If you find you really do need that adrenaline rush, set your
sights on some other achievement; perhaps, some health-related
activity like playing a competitive sport.
Avoid getting your “highs” from putting off work
task—like waiting until the last minute to get a report done.
It’s not worth it!
I have so much to do!”
seem like procrastinators because they are always working.
However, they often work inefficiently and ineffectively.
Overdoers constantly take on more work than necessary,
because they have difficulty saying “no” or delegating
rarely set priorities, lack self-discipline and easily get
distracted, responding to the need of the moment.
They are primary candidates for early burnout.
Say good-bye to the myth of Superman or Superwoman.
You cannot do it all, nor can you have it all.
Certainly not at the same time.
Choose what’s important to you at this time and give it
Learn to say “No.” You can do that graciously, as in “No, but thank you for
asking me” or giving an alternative, “No, I don’t have time
this week, but next week would be fine.”
Avoid speaking about yourself as a victim with no
alternatives, “I have so much to do; I’m so busy I don’t
have a moment to breathe.”
If you truly are overworking, cut your hours; don’t
extend them even more. Take
a break, like a long weekend.
Then, evaluate your time and eliminate tasks that are
unnecessary. Learn to
delegate as much as you can.
CHANGE IS A
PROCESS: You need to
move from denial (“There’s no problem here, just get off my
back and everything will be fine”) to awareness.
Once aware, however, you still have to overcome a sense of
ambivalence and powerlessness.
Once you commit to change, it will be relatively easy for
you to implement many of these ideas to help you reach your goals.
You don’t have to change who you are, just modify some of
the ways you do things.
procrastination is a matter of realizing that what you do with
your time and how you experience what you do is,
in fact, your life. Then
it becomes a matter of discovering how to live and work
productively and efficiently, so you can both enjoy life and
accomplish what’s important to you.
After all, it’s about time!