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Four Procrastination Myths Debunked

Four Procrastination Myths Debunked
    Day 115 is courtesy of Jacqui Brown

    There are less than one hundred days left in 2011.

    If you have a backlog of projects that you meant to work on this year, but which you haven’t gotten around to, it’s very likely that procrastination is the culprit.

    Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., creator of the popular web site procrastination.ca, is one of the world’s foremost experts on procrastination. Dr. Pychyl defines procrastination as “the needless, often irrational, voluntary delay of an intended task”. That is, you intend to work on a task but you go off and start working on something else which you know is not as important, and which doesn’t need to get done right away.

    There are several myths, lies, or excuses that we use in order to avoid doing the work that needs to be done. A procrastination myth is when we tell ourselves that there’s a valid reason why we’re putting off an important task, when the reality is that it’s just a lame excuse we’re using in order to defer doing work that requires effort and concentration. Four of the most common procrastination myths are laid out and debunked below.

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    Myth Number 1: “I work better under pressure.”

    You have an important report due in two weeks, but instead of getting started on the report you find yourself cleaning out the refrigerator or reorganizing your closet. In order to reduce the dissonance that exists between what you’re doing and what you should be doing, you immediately start rationalizing this behavior. You tell yourself that you’re just one of those people who works better under pressure, so the best thing for you to do is to postpone getting started on the report.

    The reality is that procrastination harms performance. Scrambling around trying to complete projects at the last minute and cramming the night before a big exam is not the most efficient or enjoyable way to get things done. Planning and pacing your projects always gets you better results, and it’s a lot less stressful than constantly pulling all-nighters and handing things in at the last possible moment.

    If you’re convinced that you simply can’t get yourself to start on a task unless you feel the pressure of a looming deadline, then start creating artificial pressure for yourself. There are many ways you can do this. For example, set a timer and tell yourself that you have thirty minutes to write the first paragraph. You can even pretend that it’s a timed essay exam and that at the end of the thirty minutes you have to stop typing, no matter what. Another method you can try is to get an accountability buddy to whom you have to “hand in” regular updates of your work.

    By using artificial pressure you get the best of both worlds. On the one hand, having artificial deadlines forces you to focus all of your attention on the task at hand, and it prevents you from expanding the work needlessly in order to fill the time available for its completion (Parkinson’s Law). On the other hand, this method allows you to give yourself sufficient time to do adequate research, to check your facts and figures, and to edit your work properly.

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    If you’re still not convinced, conduct an experiment. Take two similar tasks: postpone working on one of the tasks until the last possible minute; pace yourself on the other one. Then, compare the two experiences.

    Myth Number 2: “I need to be inspired or to be in the right mood before I can work on this.”

    Do you put off getting started on important tasks until you’re “in the mood” or until inspiration strikes? Telling yourself that you’re waiting for inspiration to strike is procrastination in disguise. Instead of waiting for the ideas to start flowing before you get started on a task, you need to sit down and get to work with or without inspiration. You’ll find that inspiration is a byproduct of having the discipline to do what needs to be done; inspiration comes from doing.

    Stop wasting time waiting for inspiration. As Picasso once said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

    Myth Number 3: “I need to have at least three or four hours of uninterrupted time in order to work on this.”

    In “Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time” Brian Tracy recommends that you think continually of ways to save, schedule, and consolidate large chunks of time. Then, use that time to work on your most important tasks. However, if you don’t have a large chunk of time available to work on an important task, such as a report that’s due in a couple of weeks, it’s a mistake to keep postponing the task until you do have a few hours of uninterrupted time.

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    Instead, you should apply the “Swiss Cheese Approach”. This is a method that was introduced by Alan Lakein in his book, “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life”. Of course, Swiss cheese is easily recognizable because it’s full of holes. According to Lakein, “the underlying assumption of the Swiss cheese approach is that it is indeed possible to get something started in five minutes or less. And once you’ve started, you’ve given yourself the opportunity to keep going.”

    In a nutshell, the Swiss Cheese Approach consists of the following:

    • Work in small holes of time, such as fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, or half an hour.
    • Poke small holes into a large task on a consistent basis.

    This approach works for the following reasons:

    • Once you get started on a task, it no longer looks as difficult and overwhelming as it did before you got started.
    • By poking small holes in a project you’ll be making constant progress at a good pace.
    • This approach allows you to create a sense of forward momentum.
    • Each time that you get a little bit of the task done, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment.
    • You’re making good use of small pockets of time, instead of wasting that time.

    When you only have fifteen or twenty minutes to work on your project, instead of telling yourself that you’re better off waiting until you have more time to work on it, ask yourself the following questions:

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    • “What can I get done in these fifteen minutes?”
    • “Is there a small segment of the project that I can get started on?”
    • “How can I use this time to poke a small hole into this project?”

    Keep poking holes into the project whenever you have a few minutes to spare, and soon you’ll be surprised to discover that you’re practically done with the project.

    Myth Number 4: “I’ll be able to do a better job tomorrow.”

    We all have a tendency to think that things will be different in the future, even if that future is just tomorrow. In the future we’ll have more time, we’ll be better organized, we’ll have more impulse control, we’ll be better rested and have more energy, and we’ll be better equipped to get things done. Therefore, we keep handing our present-day responsibilities over to this superhero future self.

    The reality is the following:

    • Unless you start taking steps to become more productive and effective today, you’ll be as time-starved tomorrow as you are today.
    • Unless you take steps to become more disciplined today, you’ll be just as undisciplined tomorrow as you are today.
    • Unless you take steps to become more organized today, you’ll be just as disorganized tomorrow as you are today.

    This can be boiled down to the following tried and true adage: don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.

    Conclusion

    Most of us have probably used one or more of the myths above as a way to excuse ourselves from getting to work on a task that made us feel uncomfortable–because we were afraid of doing a bad job, because the task was complex and we felt overwhelmed, or because there was something else we would rather have been doing. Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll stop saying these things to yourself when it’s time to get to work on an important task.

    What myths have been sustaining your procrastination habit? Please share in the comments below.

    More by this author

    Marelisa Fabrega

    Marelisa is a lawyer and entrepreneur who blogs about creativity, productivity, and getting the most out of life.

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    Last Updated on August 6, 2020

    Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

    Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

    Bristol is the most congested city in England. Whenever I have to work at the office, I ride there, like most of us do. Furthermore, I always make sure to go at off hours; otherwise, the roads are jam-packed with cars, buses, bikes, even pedestrians. Why is that? Because everyone is working a traditional 9 to 5 work day.

    Where did the “9 to 5” Come From?

    It all started back in 1946. The United States government implemented the 40 hour work week for all federal employees, and all companies adopted the practice afterwards. That’s 67 years with the same schedule. Let’s think about all the things that have changed in the 67 years:

    • We went to the moon, and astronauts now live in space on the ISS.

    • Computers used to take up entire rooms and took hours to make a single calculation. Now we have more powerful computers in our purses and back pockets with our smartphones.

    • Lots of employees can now telecommute to the office from hundreds, and even thousands of miles away.

    In 1946 a 9-5 job made sense because we had time after 5pm for a social life, a family life. Now we’re constantly connected to other people and the office, with the Internet, email on our smartphones, and hashtags in our movies and television shows. There is no downtime anymore.

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    Different Folks, Different Strokes

    Enjoying your downtime is an important part of life. It recharges your batteries and lets you be more productive. Allowing people to balance life and work can provide them with much needed perspective and motivation to see the bigger picture of what they are trying to achieve.

    Some people are just more productive when they’re working at their optimal time of day, after feeling well rested and personally fulfilled.  For some that can be  from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m; for others, it could be  2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

    People have their own rhythms and routines. It would be great if we could sync our work schedule to match. Simply put, the imposed 8-hour work day can be a creativity and morale killer for the average person in today’s world.

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    Productivity and Trust Killer

    Fostering creativity among employees is not always an easy endeavor, but perhaps a good place to start is by simply not tying their tasks and goals to a fixed time period. Let them work on their to-do list at their own pace, and chances are, you’ll get the best out of your employee who feels empowered instead of babysat.

    That’s not to say that you should  allow your team to run wild and do whatever they want, but restricting them to a 9 to 5 time frame can quickly demoralize people. Set parameters and deadlines, and let them work at their own creative best with the understanding that their work is crucial to the functioning of the entire team.

    Margaret Heffernan, an entrepreneur who previously worked in broadcasting, noted to Inc that from her experience, “treating employees like grown-ups made it more likely that they would behave the same way.” The principle here is to have your employees work to get things done, not to just follow the hands on the clock.

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    A Flexible Remote Working Policy

    Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously recalled all her remote workers, saying she wanted to improve innovation and collaboration, but was that the right decision? We’ve all said that we’re often more productive in a half day working from home than a full day working in the office, right? So why not let your employees work remotely from home?

    There are definitely varying schools of thought on remote working. Some believe that innovation and collaboration can only happen in a boardroom with markers, whiteboards and post-it notes and of course, this can be true for some. But do a few great brainstorms trump a team that feels a little less stressed and a little more free?

    Those who champion remote working often note that these employees are not counting the clock, worried about getting home, cooking dinner or rushing through errands post-work. No one works their 9-5 straight without breaks here and there.  Allowing some time for remote working means employees can handle some non-work related tasks and feel more accomplished throughout the day. Also, sometimes we all need to have a taste of working in our pajamas, right?

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    It’ll be interesting to see how many traditional companies and industries start giving their employees more freedom with their work schedule. And how many end up rescinding their policies like Yahoo did.

    What are your thoughts of the traditional 9-5 schedule and what are you doing to help foster your team’s productivity and creativity? Hit the comments and let us know.

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