Procrastination is a serious issue. And, if you're like me, a daily struggle

It makes you poorer, unhealthier, and unhappier. It shoots stress levels through the roof. It causes companies to lose valuable income and the gross national product of nations suffer. Professor Piers Steel says "the U.S. gross national product would probably rise by $50 billion if the icon and sound that notifies people of new e-mail suddenly disappears."

I wouldn't disagree. 

As an associate professor of industrial psychology at the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business, Steel conducted a 10-year research project on this phenomenon. He reported his findings in the American Psychological Association journal.

He says the amount of chronic procrastinators in the US has risen to 26 percent. Comparatively, it was just five percent in 1978. He made this observation in 2007, so one can only guess where that number is today.

What, then, is responsible for the rise? TVs in every room, online videos, web browsing, social media networking, cell phones, video games, iPods, iPhones, you name it.

Even though procrastination existed long before scientific advancements, technology has really done us in.

And the workplace is not spared as e-mail, the Internet and games are just a click away, making procrastination as easy as pie.

So, what can be done? How can we overcome the habit of putting things off until much later? Scientific research has uncovered the following solutions:

1. Make a commitment contract.

This basically requires that you pre-commit to your goals and set a costly deadline.

Let's say that you want to create a new sales process in your organization. You go ahead and inform your colleagues of your plan and tell them exactly when you want to execute. You then set a punishment for not meeting the deadline.

A study by Ariely Dan (Professor of Behavioral Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Wertenbroch Klaus (Professor of Marketing at INSEAD) backs this up. It says setting self-imposed deadlines improve task performance. 

This reminds me of StickK, the app that promises to help you achieve life, business, health, and career goals. Created by behavioral economists at Yale University, the free goal-setting platform influences behavior change through loss aversion and accountability. It requires that people sign contracts: if they fail in their goals, it costs them money.

2. Set macro goals and micro quotas.

This simply means you should set audacious goals and come up with tiny steps to achieving them.

Steel says self-knowledge is required to make this work. "Self-knowledge," he says, "might include knowing that the goal is large and then breaking it down into easier, step-by-step tasks in order to succeed." 

Most writers, myself included, talk about committing to a daily quota. Entrepreneur and author, Nathan Barry writes 1,000 words every day, and best-selling author, Jeff Goins wakes up to write at 5am daily.

This is a habit that can perhaps be adopted across the board in the workplace. It sets expectations (for both employer and employee), it provides a stable working rhythm, instills discipline, and gives a workable roadmap for achieving organizational goals. 

3. Always hit the ground running.

In Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey profiles the daily rituals and habits of 161 artists (ranging from comedians to filmmakers).

113 out of the group got to work within two hours of waking. They worked first thing in the morning while the late-rising ones began work as one of their first activities of the day (whether in the afternoon or night). This, obviously, helps to avoid paralysis by analysis.

It is worth considering as Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. has revealed that our willpower and energy dissipates as the day wears on.

4. Regulate your mood and emotions.

In a ground-breaking research, published in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality in 2000, Timothy A Pychyl, Ph.D. pointed out the important role the human mood and emotions can play in procrastination. He says procrastination is not just a time-management problem.

"Emotional regulation, to me, is the real story around procrastination, because to the extent that I can deal with my emotions, I can stay on task," says Pychyl, a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada).

Even though we live in a society considered impulsive, Pychyl believes we can attain emotional control to beat procrastination.

Whatever solution you decide to go with, it's obvious that putting off until tomorrow what you can do today is costlier than you care to admit. 

What tricks do you use to stay on task? Please share in the comments below. 

Published on: Nov 21, 2017
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