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Procrastination Kills Careers

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Procrastination is defined as putting off intentionally the doing of something that should be done. People who suffer from this learned habit often suffer career difficulties because of their procrastination. After reviewing come of the causes of this behavior, we will review ways to overcome it in yourself or your employees.

Why People Procrastinate

There are almost as many reasons for procrastination as there are people who procrastinate. Some of the more common reasons are: lack of understanding, fear, boredom, and passive-aggressiveness. Other reasons include laziness, perfectionism, and feelings of inadequacy. Let’s look at these in detail.
  • Laziness
    A lot of related reasons fall into this category. Some people keep putting things off just because they don’t want to work that hard – even if it is something that isn’t a lot of work. You hear comments from them like “I’ll rake the leaves later” or “I’ll alphabetize those files as soon as I have a chance.” It’s a task they know how to do and know they need to do, but they just don’t want to do it. This is often the result of successfully avoiding work in the past with this behavior. They think “if I put this off long enough, maybe they will forget about it or will get tired of asking me to do it and they will do it themselves.”
  • Lack of understanding
    Another large group of reasons fall under the heading of lack of understanding. If a person doesn’t know how to do the job, or doesn’t know how to get started, they will often put off starting it. Sometimes it may be that they don’t understand the urgency of the task, but more often it’s not understanding the work itself.
  • Perfectionism
    People who feel everything has to be perfect often put off doing things for fear that they will do the work less than perfectly. They rationalize that if they don’t start they work they can be faulted for not starting, for procrastinating, or for being late, but those are, in their minds, less troubling complaints than being criticized for doing a less than perfect job.
  • Fear
    Many of the reasons people procrastinate are fear based. Fear of doing a less than perfect job, as we just reviewed above, is one example. Other examples of procrastination causing fear include fear of doing it wrong, fear that people will discover their weakness, and fear of looking foolish.
  • Passive-aggressiveness
    Some people put off doing work as their way of rebelling. Think of a teenager asked to clean their room. “Okay. I’ll do it tomorrow, but I’ve got too much homework tonight.” Similarly, on the job, the employee might say “I’ll write that report tomorrow, but I have to get these files ready right away so accounting can close the books for the month and do payroll.”

What You Can Do About Procrastination

In the individual, overcoming procrastination requires major effort and may require professional help. These behaviors are ingrained in the procrastinator because they have been successful for him or her in the past as ways of avoiding conflict or picking the subject that the conflict will be about. The first step is recognizing that you have the behavior. The second step, doing something about it, is hard – and therefore the procrastinator will put it off (procrastinate).

In the employee, the manager needs to address it openly. Discuss with the employee the negative impact their procrastination is having on their performance and how that will adversely affect their career. “If you can’t get the assigned work done on time, we’ll have to find someone who can” is a good starting point for the discussion.

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