Friday, May 31, 2019

Procrastination is Expensive!

We’ve grown accustomed to lying to ourselves,… we think we can balance it all while putting things off, and we can’t! There is a limit to success if we procrastinate. We don’t know the cost of procrastination and we, therefore, rob ourselves of a bigger success.

I was talking to a financial advisor recently, and he told me a story about a potential client of his he met with a year ago who was in his mid-20’s. He recommended to his person that he invest $1,000 into his savings. The client took some time to think it over and neglected to follow up with the advisor about the investment, and therefore failed to invest the money.

A year later, the financial advisor ran into this young man and took a moment to show him that had he invested that $1,000 last year, it would have potentially been worth $93,000 by retirement. That assumes a 12% return rate in the stock market and a compounding interest rate. However, even if the return was less than that, this young man could still have $70,000-$80,000 by the time of retirement just from that $1,000 he invested in one year in his mid-20’s.

This story illustrates the real cost of procrastination. Usually we don’t have a clear picture of what the big goal is, and so we put off the effort required for success. We decide in the short term to spend our money, or our time, some other way, and it ends up costing us.

So, why do we procrastinate?

One study (Ferrari, Johnson, and McCown, 1997) found that one of the reasons PhD. candidates couldn’t finish their dissertation was because of procrastination. The students believed they would have more motivation in the future to complete their work. They also believed that they had to have the right mindset in order to get their work done and also underestimated the amount of time it would take to complete the work.

If we wait until we are motivated to complete a task, our effort is dependent on external influences; letting the external world control our motivation. We must take the time to let our minds process our internal motivation earlier, we must cultivate the larger reason why we want to do a thing, clearly envisioning what it will be like to possess the success that we crave, before we can have the ability to make the wise choice in the moment of procrastination temptation. Overcoming procrastination in the moment of choice when it tempts us requires the willpower, which was previously cultivated, to say I’m going to or not going to.  It is the integrity to fulfill previous commitments.

The chief reason we procrastinate is because we haven’t figured out what’s important to us. We are overwhelmed with choices and we don’t know how each task relates to what’s the most important in our life.

We need to focus on the big picture! How can we figure out the small details that will actually help us accomplish our biggest life goals? By bringing our life goals into the present and making them our weekly goals.

When our vision is clear, then identifying the important tasks becomes easier.  If, at the end of the day, you don’t finish your to-do list, what are the 3 to 5 things in your life you wish you got done? That’s how you might begin to identify what’s important.

Conversely, not doing 2-3 unimportant things on your to do-list can yield great results. Find which unimportant tasks you can eliminate, then focus your attention on the important tasks, and watch your productivity skyrocket!

Chronic procrastination leads to stress

A recent New York Times article (Goldfarb 2019) shared that it takes our brain time to refocus after distracting our attention from the task at hand. The article indicates that procrastination causes feelings of fatigue and stress. This only stresses us out even more and carries our distracted attention throughout the day. Stress is debilitating and if we don’t learn to let things go, we will continue to make poor decisions due to stress. When we have high anxiety or are stressed about something, it can cause ripple effects into our physical health, it can cost us a pay raise, make us more forgetful, and maybe creating credit card late fees, also creating the need for prescription drugs to address health problems and even more personal issues. Even the common cold can linger because of stress.

Once we procrastinate, we also go through a natural recovery process in which we develop a feeling of guilt. Dwelling in that guilt only prolongs us from getting stuff done by living in the past. To overcome procrastination, we must be willing to forgive ourselves, let go of our mistakes and move on.

Ways to Fight Procrastination

Wake Up Early and Consistently

We always have a momentum. That momentum is always moving us toward or away from our goals. Getting up early moves our momentum in the right direction! If we set a time to consistently wake up every morning, and we can stick to that routine, everything else will fall into place.

For example, if you are used to sleeping in later, but you choose to consistently wake up at 9 a.m. every morning, you can still accomplish more by staying consistent, rather than getting up too early and spending the rest of your day exhausted. Once you’ve been consistent with your wake-up time, try moving that time to a half an hour earlier each week. Do this until your body has adjusted to the desired time you’d like to get up every day.

Track your progress by keeping a notepad on your nightstand where you can record the time you wake up every morning. This creates a sense of accountability and gives your body the routine it craves.

The morning hour has gold in its mouth! Therefore, that first hour in our morning routine is so crucial for starting our day. In order to get the right start to your day, don’t hit the snooze button. That last hour of sleep while hitting the snooze button is worthless sleep, since we are continually waking our body out of its deep sleep, we end up feeling more exhausted.

Once you’ve gotten up, one of the most important things you can do is to make your bed. Making your bed helps you to organize your environment and feel productive at the very beginning of your day. If your bed is left unmade, it’s easier to crawl back in it.  My mother always told me, “if you accomplish nothing else all day, at least you’ve made your bed.”

Identify the Unimportant Tasks and Stop Doing Them

Our to-do lists have become too long and are filled with unimportant tasks. In fact, there are only two categories that each task falls into: the important and the unimportant.

Most of the time people can’t identify the difference between the two categories and often retreat to the unimportant tasks, you know, the one’s you can easily get done and quickly cross off of your list. The term retreat is also known as wasting time. People retreat to watching TV or surfing social media when they’re stressed or confused. Completing unimportant or non-urgent tasks actually increases stress because it wastes more of our time and takes us away from the important tasks that will make the biggest impact and move us closer to our dreams.

Some key important things that we should make a priority, are things people often see as unimportant. What are they?  Exercise, socialization with family and close friends, and enjoyable recreational activities, such as reading or creative arts. Think about the word recreation, it begins with re-create, in it we are creating a new self, we are becoming renewed and refreshed.

We have such an addiction to being busy, we mistake being busy for being productive. Most of my clients are making the common mistake of thinking that they’re productive because they’re busy. However, they’re not doing the things they need to in order to be productive, the important things.

Ask yourself: “What am I doing this week to meet my life goals?” Prioritize those activities.

Use Rewards and Consequences

I always advise my clients to reward themselves where the lift is heavy. However, I’ve found that rewards aren’t always as effective as consequences when not completing a task.

For example, when I was writing my book, I set a goal to write 5 pages per week. If I finished my 5 pages, I would reward myself by eating a half of a chocolate ├ęclair. If I didn’t meet my goal, I had a sealed and stamped envelope ready with a donation written out to an organization with which I did not agree. I was so motivated by the consequence, that I never mailed the check!  The ├ęclair was really just a bonus.

Remember, we have to persistently fight procrastination! We can’t just turn off a light switch and all of a sudden, we’re no longer a procrastinator.  Identifying your larger, longer term dreams is the work that comes first in overcoming procrastination.  Creating new habits and routines can also improve our skill of willpower.  Prioritizing each week the important tasks gives us the mental clarity we need to exercise integrity when presented with distracting choices.  Overcoming procrastination requires intentional work.

Goldfarb, A. (2019). Stop Letting Modern Distractions Steal Your Attention. New York Times.
Ferrari, Joseph & I. Johnson, Judith & G. McCown, William. (1995). Procrastination and Task Avoidance--Theory, Research and Treatment. 10.1007/978-1-4899-0227-6.

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