Innovative Leader Volume
12, Number 5
Company’s Number One Killer:
Caruth and Ms. Handlogten-Caruth are human resource management
Rockwell, Texas (email email@example.com).
They are authors of Managing
Compensation (and Understanding, Too) (Quorum Books, Westport,
popular belief it is not poor judgment, or lack of resources that
is the main killer of businesses. The leading business killer is
procrastination. Putting off until tomorrow, next week, next
month, or next year has killed more ideas, innovations,
improvements, and human initiative than all other faults combined.
Procrastination is a chronic malady that lingers on and on. It
drains individuals of vitality, robs organizations of
opportunities, strips people of income, and causes the premature
death of careers. It is the destroyer of positive ideas that could
become realities, but remain forever fiction because of inaction.
The insidious methodology of procrastination is death through
procrastination is a disease that can be treated very
successfully. It responds well to treatment and the cure rate is
high for those who follow the prescribed regimen. The treatment
for this malady consists of two parts. The first requires merely
that you understand the causes of procrastination so that you can
detect the presence of this potentially dangerous condition in
yourself. (And if you are able to catch it in its incipiency, so
much the better). The second part of the treatment requires some
simple actions to eradicate the procrastination disease and
prevent its recurrence.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Why do we fall
victim to this disease? Why do we tend to procrastinate so often?
Why do we frequently put off until later--to the very last
possible moment, usually--the things that should really be done
now? There are seven major causes of procrastination. (Actually,
excuses is a better term than causes.) Recognizing them is the
first step in dealing with the problem.
Fear of Success. Success carries with it the
responsibility to continue to be successful. For some of us this
price is much too high to pay. Consequently, the more we
procrastinate, the less our chances for success and the more
remote the possibility that we will have to face the awesome
responsibility of being successful. In this context,
procrastination becomes a way of avoiding any personal
accountability for the responsible, profitable use of our time and
Fear of Failure. The thought of success may be
overwhelming, but the thought of failure is totally abashing.
Failure causes a loss of face--a blow to the ego that few of us
are able to confront constructively. Procrastination keeps us from
failing for the simple reason that we cannot possibly fail at
something if we never attempt anything in the first place.
Low Frustration Level. When a thing is too difficult,
too messy, too complex, or too arduous, the temptation to delay is
unusually great. We may feel that we will only be frustrated or
thwarted in our efforts should we undertake the task. Thus, the
perception of possible pain or discomfort results in postponing
things until later (or perhaps never) to avoid the hurt and
frustration of doing those things that we think will cause us
Misplaced Priorities. When you do not know what you
should do first, it is easy to do second or third things first and
let first things fend for themselves. Besides, we all know that
second and third things are much more fun than first things. They
are not as hard, frustrating, complicated, or pressure laden. They
tend to be quick, simple, easy, and mindless activities.
Unfortunately, they are also low in profitability and payoff. Low
priority items allow us to spend our time in pleasurable pursuits
without accomplishing anything really meaningful.
Poor Time Estimating. Underestimating the time required
for a project leads to procrastination because the task is then
perceived as one that will not take long and can, consequently,
always be done later--we hope. Overestimating the time needed for
an activity also results in procrastination because of the feeling
that the activity will take too long and thus cannot be started
now because there is not enough time available to complete the
job. In either case, underestimating the time required or
overestimating the time required, means nothing is accomplished
because nothing is started.
Lack of Motivation. Often we procrastinate because we
are not willing to put forth the effort required to do a
particular thing. We are not motivated to expend the necessary
energy. Maybe the anticipated payoff appears too small, or the
expenditure of energy required seems too large, or perhaps we just
do not want to do the job, whatever it is. The end result? The
project never gets finished since we are not willing to start
working on it in the first place. When motivation is lacking,
results are always absent.
Perfectionism. The need to do a job more than right,
more than correct, or as close to an exaggerated idea of
perfection as possible is another great paralyzer that freezes
many of us into inaction. The procrastinating perfectionist
typically suffers from a severe case of the paralysis
of analysis. Always needing more data to make a perfect
decision, always needing more time to take a perfect action,
always waiting for the perfect moment to do a job “right,” the
perfectionist waits for just the right time before doing anything.
Since this time never comes, the task is continually put off.
Procrastination wins again!
There we have
them--the major causes of this fatal disease called
procrastination. But identifying the underlying causes is only the
first part of our treatment program. Let’s now turn our
attention to elements of the cure for procrastination.
How to Cure Procrastination
If you do not
suffer from procrastination you are a rare person indeed. Being
afflicted with procrastination, however, is not a crime. Failure
to do something about it is. What can you do to overcome the
problem? Consider the following actions.
Recognize the Problem. When you are procrastinating
recognize it and freely admit it. Do not try to rationalize it. Do
not attempt to kid yourself about it. Do not try to fool yourself
into believing that you are actually waiting for more data, the
right moment, or a sufficiently large block of time to tackle a
task when, in fact, none of these things are true. When you are
procrastinating, simply admit it and acknowledge it. Do not try to
cover it up. But then commit yourself to doing something about it.
Examine your Reasons. Once you have gotten your
procrastination out into the open and have honestly acknowledged
it, ask yourself why are you avoiding action? Is your reason valid
or is it just an excuse? Are you holding back because of fear of
success or fear of failure? Is it lack of motivation? Or lack of
priorities? Chances are you are procrastinating because you have
created your own excuses for inaction. If so, recognize that they
are excuses, not reasons; throw them out; and get to work!
Do Not Feel Guilty. When you are procrastinating for a
valid reason (but make certain it is a good reason), do not feel
guilty about it. There are times--although not as many as we would
like to believe unless we are making wine or cheese--when delay is
the best approach to take to an activity. If you are putting off
doing something for a reason that makes good sense, one that
stands up under careful scrutiny, do not mentally flagellate
yourself for your inaction. Feeling guilty, particularly when it
is unnecessary, will only make matters worse.
Keep Your Priorities Straight. You must at all times
keep the truly important pursuits clearly separated from the
really unimportant activities. Focus on the vital few things that
must be done, not the trivial many chores that can wait. Do not
put second things first. Know what has to be done and when it
needs to be done. Remember, there is always time to do the most
important things in life, if you but know what is really
important. If you do not know how to assign priorities, make it
your number one priority to learn how to do so.
Do Not Put Yourself Down. Never underestimate your
talents and abilities to the point where you are afraid to attempt
a task. Do not play “poor little ol’ me” or put yourself in
the “pitty potty.” These are negative mind games guaranteed to
lead to even more procrastination--and fewer positive results. You
are always capable of doing more than you think you are. Even if
you fail at a task, do not let that become an excuse for future
procrastination. Do not think any less of yourself for what seems
to be a failure, just get up and try again until you succeed.
Do the Difficult First. A difficult task does not get
easier, less messy, or more enjoyable because you delay doing it.
In fact, many jobs get more difficult the longer they are
postponed. Doing the hardest project first does, however, get it
out of the way. And that certainly makes the “fun” things even
more enjoyable to do when you get around to them.
Reward Yourself. When you have undertaken and
successfully completed a task without procrastinating, reward
yourself. “Goof off” for a while if you consider that a
fitting reward. Do something purely for fun. Give yourself a
mental pat on the back for promptly completing a difficult or
bothersome job. Onerous tasks of the future will not appear in as
dreadful a light if you reward yourself for prompt performance in