In the video called "Productivity Cycle Alignment", Dr Alex talked about how you can dramatically increase your productivity by simply changing the order in which you do your tasks to match your natural rhythm.
The subject of this video is procrastination, which is one of the leading enemies of productivity. Procrastination has an insidious way of cutting you down and destroying your life prospects, and I am going to talk about it and what causes it. I’ll also go through case studies and the exact steps that you need to take to overcome procrastination, and finally I’ll be giving you that all-important first step to take right now for some immediate results.
You probably know that delaying things does not help your cause – but you might be surprised to learn that the key difference between successful and unsuccessful people is that the successful ones take action, whereas the unsuccessful ones procrastinate.
In other words, when the opportunity presents itself, successful people jump on it, whereas others delay taking action while they wait to have more free time, or to consult their friends and family who will have 50 different opinions about it, or they wait for the conditions to become just right.
Now let’s face it: the conditions are never going to be perfect. And in business in so many cases being first is the deciding factor. Competitors may come with better features and more functionality, but the fact that they’re not first is a decisive one, the battle is already won.
Therefore, procrastination is deadly for your productivity and knowing how to overcome it is very rewarding. Keep in mind that many people know exactly what they need to do, but they don’t do it, whereas the true learning always results in a change of behavior, and is typically the accumulation of tiny changes in managing yourself and your time one step at a time that make up for the dramatic difference in the long run.
Three things are necessary to overcome procrastination: 1. awareness 2. a quick plan of action, and 3. taking the action.
There are several definitions of procrastination, but I like to side with the fields of neuroscience and behavioral economics, which point to procrastination as an irrational delay, whereby we put taking action on hold despite being worse off for it. Steel Piers is a scientist who did an experiment with 4,000 respondents and he measured the delay in taking action by using the the procrastination scale. The results showed that procrastination was indeed an irrational delay.
You may think that procrastination and missing out on opportunities only affect your wealth; however, the fact is that procrastination has been linked to poor mental health and is a true stress generator. In 2010, 195 undergraduate students in London took part in a study on procrastination, mental health issues, stress and mental health help-seeking behaviors. The results confirmed that procrastination stresses you out and erodes your mental health. But the main finding of this study is that the vast majority of people prone to procrastination do not seek any help, and in fact do nothing about it. In other words, many who need to alter their behavior do not.
This is important because no-one works well when they’re not mentally 100%. If you tend to procrastinate, then it is simply impossible for you to function nowhere near your optimal level. Your productivity goes out of the window.
All excuses for procrastination have one thing in common
There are several causes of procrastination, but they all have one thing in common, and that is focusing on the short term, which undermines the long-term benefits, as noted by Dr Tim Pychyl.
Let’s examine some manifestations of procrastination, and in particular the procrastination best-case scenario. For this purpose we are going to introduce an imaginary character and call him Peter the Procrastinator. Now the name has been chosen randomly, so if your name happens to be Peter don’t take it personally.
Anyway, Peter the Procrastinator is given a task and a deadline to finish it, which is 30 days from now. Peter examines at the task and decides that it will take 10 days to finish it, which by the way is very optimistic. Then he says, "OK, I can finish this task in 10 days – easily, there’s plenty of time and no need to start right now, I can start in a week or so."
And time passes; one week becomes two weeks, two weeks become three weeks. All of a sudden Peter realizes that he’s running out of time. At this stage he gets to work on the task, he burns the midnight oil few times and with effort he just manages to finish the work on time.
In this case the task has been accomplished and on time. So, what’s the problem?
Even though the task has been completed on time, there are so many problems with this scenario that I don’t know where to start – so I’ll mention just the top 5.
- Delaying action until your back is to the wall and then finishing the task under pressure on time this is a best-case procrastination scenario. Tasks done this way often miss the deadline and sometimes by a far shot. If you’re a student and you miss the deadline, you lose points. If you’re running a business project and you miss a deadline, there will be a variety of penalties, and the competitor may beat you to it.
- Ending up with a tight deadline generates plenty of stress. For a start, working under prolonged stress is very unhealthy. In this case, finishing on time may even reinforce Peter’s feeling that he only performs well under pressure, and therefore help perpetuate the pattern of procrastination. "Working better under pressure" is a myth. In reality, it lowers your productivity significantly and it also lowers the quality of your work.
- Peter started working on the task not by choice, but because his back was to the wall and he was running out of time. If you train yourself to perform only when you are forced to, when there is a knife to your throat, I can guarantee you that you will NEVER come close to your optimal productivity.
- The quality of your work suffers. Instead of building solid foundations you take shortcuts and settle for the suboptimal. Mistakes are made, giving you shoddy results.
- What you need in your life is a challenge, not stress. A challenge brings your performance one level up, whereas stress wears your body down. When your body prepares you for action, it releases adrenalin into your bloodstream. This is a normal bodily function. However, when you’re under stress, your body produces cortisol to keep the levels of adrenalin up. This damages your health, wears your body down and shortens your life. In short, working under prolonged stress is something you should never resort to.
Finally, There is a chance that the task will NEVER get done. Every time you let the procrastinator in you win, you’re scoring a point against yourself. Score enough points and you become an "accomplished" procrastinator whereby the tasks do not get done at all.
OK, now you know that your productivity is going to receive a tremendous boost when you overcome procrastination – and it’s not just your productivity, your health and your indeed life will become so much better.
Make sure to watch my next video: I’ll tell you how to overcome procrastination, and there will be a case study on Facebook.com and Mark Zuckerberg, the creative force behind it. Facebook.com is the site which managed to climb to the place number 2 in the world by the amount of traffic it generates, and has been valued at $11 billion dollars in 2010, so I promise that watching this video will be a worthwhile experience.
See you in the next video.
Stead, R., Shanahan, M., & Neufeld, R. (2010). “I’ll go to therapy, eventually”: Procrastination, stress and mental health. Personality and Individual Differences, 49(3), 175-180. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.03.028.
Steel, P. (2010). Arousal, avoidant and decisional procrastinators: Do they exist?. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(8), 926-934. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.02.025.