We all procrastinate on something at some point, although we might not see ourselves as a true procrastinator. But procrastination is a sneaky thief. It takes many forms, which impact our health and our ability to thrive. It can be one of the tell-tale signs of imposter syndrome among high-achieving leaders as well.
A study on an adult sample showed 74% of respondents went to bed later than they planned at least once a week, with no external reason for doing so. This seemingly small procrastination reduces ability to focus, problem solve and avoid mistakes. It also causes cravings for high-energy and low nutritional value foods. Another study showed approximately half (50.7%) of those surveyed frequently used the internet to procrastinate on important tasks.
Neuroscience shows we actually get a dopamine "hit" when we successfully procrastinate. This natural feel-good neurotransmitter is highly addictive. However, we are not doomed to an endless cycle of self-defeating procrastination if we understand how to make the shift.
Shifting from procrastinator to a proactive leader requires flipping a specific switch. This switch is found in our executive functioning brain, and we can use it to alter our perspective in some very precise and powerful ways. What perspective you shift depends on how you view your procrastination in the first place.
Flip the Switch from Opportunity to Distraction
Procrastination can make an unwelcome appearance when we take on too much, then either fail to meet pre-existing deadlines, or make a heroic, and pressurized push at the last minute.
Individuals who procrastinate like this, tend to see everything as an opportunity. FOMO (fear of missing out) and a natural exuberance about a wide range of activities leads them to feel as though they simply cannot afford to pass up any possibilities.
Yet seizing endless opportunities interferes intensely with completing critical obligations, and muddies all priorities. It’s important to flip the switch and recognize when an opportunity can be a distraction that’s taking your attention and resources away from priorities you know will move you (and your team) forward.
Flip the switch by pausing long enough to assess how adding something new might distract you from what you’ve already committed to. Learn to say no, or postpone an activity or commitment until it better aligns with your schedule and/or top goals.
Flip the Switch from Obligation to Priority
Another was procrastination sneaks up on us is when we say yes to things out of a sense of obligation. Our sense of obligation might arise from a belief we will lose credibility or position at work if we say no. It could be out of a sense of guilt or shame that we might disappoint a family member or a coworker. Or our obligation may spring from what our culture, society or community tells us we “ought” to do in our role. Regardless, behind the sense of obligation is a fear of losing something which is so acute, it outweighs doing what fulfills us as an individual.
Agreeing to things you may not want to do creates cognitive dissonance, and may make you secretly resist the obligation. It’s no wonder you put them off as long as possible. It also can feel like it is interfering with your own priorities—which it is! Flip the switch on obligation-driven procrastination by paying close attention to what your individual priorities actually are. It may be that addressing an external obligation actually can move you towards your own goals, when you consciously consider their relationship. This self-awareness addresses the cognitive dissonance directly. Of course, also defining your priorities (which a surprising number of people do not do regularly) can help set boundaries for which obligatory activities you take on.
Flip the Switch from Discomfort to Mastery
By far the most prevalent source of procrastination, especially among imposter syndrome suffers, is a belief that the task at hand is too difficult and that they will fail or struggle greatly at it. This crops up when we have been rejected—especially sales people and the unemployed. It also grows in the face of a new role or high profile and unfamiliar task.
The lie that gets us procrastinating in these situations is that our personal value is determined by how well we perform the task. This procrastination perspective also is attached to the idea we should already know everything about it and keeps us afraid to ask for help.
Flip the switch on difficulty-based procrastination by recognizing that we are always learning and growing. It is an act of courage to ask for assistance, and we grow our personal value by learning new skills and abilities. When we do dig in and do the difficult thing, as imperfectly as we might, we are moving towards mastery through the experience.
It's All About Shifting Your Mindset
Flipping the procrastination habit to a more proactive lifestyle is all about shifting your mindset. Change how you view things through a new lens. Recognize you are not obligated to say yes to everything, you are allowed to say no without being labeled a bad person or non-cooperative, and doing the hard things grows our value and worth.
Proactive leaders do not fear setting limits or saying no. They recognize that in doing so they are making their lives easier and creating less risk of letting other people down. Proactive leaders are less likely to feel overburdened and overwhelmed because they have an excellent grasp on what is reasonable for people to expect from them. They have a healthy sense of self and avoid feeling guilt or shame because they’ve flipped the switch.
If you'd like some support navigating procrastination for yourself or your team, be sure to apply for your complimentary strategy session and we can start making some progress!