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Don't Put it Off Any Longer: Cure that Procrastination Virus

By Michelle Collins |

It's 3 a.m., you're tired, and you want nothing more than the comfort of a warm bed. But a client's deliverable is due in a few short hours and you still have piles of work before it's ready. If only you hadn't spent the day running all those little errands that could have waited, you would be enjoying a peaceful slumber.

Does this sound familiar? You're not the only person who procrastinates: the majority of people defer responsibilities, despite best intentions that each time will be the last. "All of us put off tasks. Most of us have some tasks in our life that we avoid, and that's just normal," says Dr. Lilly Walker, procrastination expert with Memorial University in St. John's, Nfld.

Everyone may do it, just like everyone catches the common cold, but a range of factors influences the procrastination virus. Procrastination habits can stem from simple distaste for a task, such as completing tax returns, to a greater problem of depression. Research into the area reveals four central reasons that lead people to avoid tasks.

Disorganization: Do you take on all the little things that could wait until tomorrow, or even next week, simply to avoid that one big project you dislike? Then you are likely a disorganized procrastinator. "I think in a small business there are two things to look for: What are the tasks that need to be done? And who in your organization can do them?" says Walker. Prioritizing your schedule and that of your employees will go a long way towards overcoming this habit.

Fear: If you feel nervous and anxious about completing a task, fear is likely the motivating factor behind your delays. It's common to avoid the unfamiliar, and small business owners have to learn plenty of new skills. Walker points out that learning a new skill set provides a certain excitement and satisfaction, and even if it's not a favourite job, it should be done first. "Sometimes we have to do the thing we dislike first and then reward ourselves with the better things."

Perfectionism: If it can't be done right, then there's no point in doing it at all. These are the words of the perfectionist procrastinator. These people are so caught up in getting each detail to fit their own specifications that they don't have time to finish the whole project. Or worse: they fail to start because their perfectionism takes up so much of their energy. If this sounds like you, Walker has some advice: break the project into pieces and work on finishing each one in a specific timeframe, and then move onto the next piece.

Indicator of something greater: If you find that you cannot finish any tasks, including those you could do quickly, then your procrastination could be a sign of a deeper problem. "For some, [they] procrastinate to such a great extent that they really avoid everything, and they don't make the big important decisions; then they start feeling badly, and a negative cycle happens," says Walker. This cycle can lead to great anxiety and depression.

Yet some people thrive on the last-minute deadline, says Walker. "[These] individuals procrastinate intentionally so that they have all that energy and are able to produce a lot in a short period of time."

Walker says that although we don't like to admit it, procrastination works for us, otherwise we wouldn't do it. When the risks start to outweigh the benefits, the procrastinator will see a need to change. Once you have identified your type and feel that you need to do something about it, you can slowly work towards adjusting your thinking patterns and behaviour. "You can't just say you're going to adjust thinking patterns overnight. [Look] for a piece of the pattern that can change and change that piece first. It's like a puzzle."

It's also important to reward yourself for not procrastinating. If you start the day doing things you dislike, then you have the rest of the time to devote to projects that are more favourable. "You set a goal, a small goal, and achieve that goal, and do not procrastinate about it, and you realize that you can do that task," says Walker. As you gradually move from putting off the things you dislike or are unsure of completing to achieving each goal, you are on the road to recovery from that nasty virus. Greater success lies just a little further along that road.

Walker advises small business owners stuck in the procrastination cycle to look at its effect on overall profits. "You love what you're doing, and you've got to make money. If you don't procrastinate, it actually helps you make money and do what you want to do."

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