When my children make less than ideal choices, my father likes to remind me that it is “payback” for what my sibling and I put him through in our youth.  A recent reminder of his patience and perseverance occurred last night when my oldest let me know that a huge report was due today and she needed my help to do it.  After the initial shock, all I could do is smile.  More than a few times, my father sat up with me late into the evening to type a paper or report that I owed the next day.  My most common scenario included developing great initial intentions after receiving the assignment, gathering numerous sources with the thought being to write a major expose, falling victim to my own procrastination and losing weeks of work time, and rushing to complete a pittance of my original plan on the final evening before the assignment was due.  Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Clearly, procrastination plays a key role in who we are, as human beings.  A recent survey by HCS found that employees procrastinate on basic tasks as much as 60 to 70 percent of the time.  Most of the things that the average employee procrastinates involve simple day-to-day assignments.  If you have been looking for that missing expense report, now you know what happened.

Interruptions – As we discussed in the last post, sometimes the degree of interruptions prevent us from every really finishing something.  As the stress of interruptions increase, we create more excuses and procrastinate more.

Fear – Some, even simple tasks create a certain amount of fear.  The fear may relate to the lack of comfort with the subject, bad history of dealing with the issue, or simple dread.  For example, going to the doctor possesses some basic inconveniences, but our procrastination comes more from fear of being sick.

Current state – Economic research has identified a human tendency to value what we have now more than what we could have in the future.  The name for this preference of the “here and now” is hyperbolic discounting.  Part of the tendency to prefer the current state pertains to stress trade-off.  Although there is a certain amount of relief that accompanies something being dealt with, some chose to stay in their current state to avoid the spike in stress of addressing the need.  In other words, people may stay in an environment of constant, yet lower stress to not deal with a significantly higher level of stress to resolve the matter.

Psychological research shows that we can overcome procrastination.  Some best practices include:

  • Focus on the task details and impose deadlines;
  • Keep the goal in mind throughout your effort;
  • Reevaluate your approach and progress as you go along; and
  • Commit to moving on to the next thing.
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