In his book The Procrastination Equation, Piers Steel claims that up to 95 percent of people procrastinate occasionally and between 15% and 20% do so consistently. Not only is it the most prevalent weakness in the world but it’s probably one of the most difficult to redress mainly because procrastinators are very unlikely to get around to dealing with it.
This paradox is not the only thing that’s ironic about procrastination. A classic self-defeating habit, procrastination can seduce us into acting against our own best interests when, for example, we put off tasks that we know can make life better for us. But it doesn’t have to be like that for you. By following the five steps that have helped me to overcome it you too can break free from this diabolical habit.
Step 1: Acknowledge your weakness
This is easier said than done since denial is such an integral part of procrastination. So maybe the best way to start is to go to www.procrastinationus.com and complete its procrastination test. It takes between ten and fifteen minutes and when I took it I achieved a Casual Procrastinator rating. This category ranks in the bottom 10% to 25% of the population which was encouraging but nonetheless makes it abundantly clear that I need to work on it.
Step 2: List ten items you are currently procrastinating on
Doing this simple exercise gave me a really good insight into my so-called casual procrastination habit. My list of ten items were: 1. Make a catalogue of my library of several thousand books. 2. Re-organise my garden potting shed. 3. Sort out my garden tool shed. 4. Wash the car. 5. Dust my office furniture. 6. Update my will. 7. Change my bank account to the local branch. 8. Re-organise my office furniture. 9 Phone my brother who is recovering from an illness. 10. Overhaul my office filing system.
Step 3: Pick three long standing items from the above list of ten
The idea here is to select three items that (a) have been a problem for years, and (b) getting them sorted out would make a difference. My three were: 1. Re-organise my office. 2. Sort out my garden potting shed. 3. Wash the car.
Step 4: Analyse each of the three items and decide on how to deal with them
1. Re-organise my office. This intimidating task will take me at least a week. As I just cannot spare this time I decided to take the advice of Steel (2011) which he sums up with the saying “Inch by Inch is a cinch, and yard by yard is hard”. Acting on this advice I broke the task down into a series of manageable fifteen minute tasks that I can tackle one at a time.
2. Sort out the garden potting shed. Since this task falls into the same category as item one I also broke it down into fifteen minute long tasks that I can tackle one at a time.
3. Car wash. This is a different kind of procrastination problem in that it doesn’t take as long as the other two and it can be done in one go. However it is prone to being relegated in favour of tasks that have a higher priority at the time. Steel (2011) suggests that establishing a routine is the answer to solving this kind of problem. While routines are often difficult to establish it is well worth the effort because once you get to doing a task on a regular schedule it becomes easier to do.
Step 5: Set SMART goals for each of the three items
These goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. It is also essential to review them at the end of each month and adjust them as necessary.
My three goals are: 1. Break down the re-organising of my office into 15 minute tasks and do four of these each week. 2. Break down the sorting out of my potting shed into 15 minute tasks and do four of these each week. 3. Designate the first Monday of each month as car wash day.
Steel, P. (2011) The Procrastination Equation. Gosport, UK. The Ashford Colour Press.