A new study tested the adage “the early bird gets the worm” to see if there are real benefits to being a planner versus a procrastinator. Online retailer Zulily worked with third-party researcher ENGINE in a first-of-its-kind study of 2,000 decision makers to understand how planning versus procrastinating affects task completion, stress reduction and overall happiness. The study analyzed differences in language and emotions of planners versus procrastinators as they engaged in a variety of tasks. Planners were those who formed in advance an organized method for action, and Procrastinators were those who intentionally put off tasks.
The Value Of Career Planning
Study results showed that procrastinators and planners are driven by a common motivator: anxiety. Both reported their behaviors are a way of managing stress. Planners showed more control over their emotions, less stress and more positive emotional, health and life outcomes. Other key findings:
52% of Planners reported having time for a social life, and 44% had enough time for themselves, compared with 39% and 31% of Procrastinators, respectively.
79% of Planners said their family relationships are strong, whereas 65% of Procrastinators said the same.
49% of Planners said they are financially secure, whereas just 33% of Procrastinators said the same.
The Purpose of Career Procrastination
Although procrastination is a self-defeating behavior pattern, studies show that it serves a psychological purpose—a form of short-term mood repair. Procrastination is an emotional response to a distressing issue, protecting against fear of failure, judgment by others and self-condemnation. You’re doing something against your better judgment, but you do it anyway because of the relief it provides. It’s not rational or logical because it takes effort and energy to procrastinate, but your efforts are going in the wrong direction.
Procrastination is an unconscious way the mind tries to take away the anxiety of “Can I do it perfectly?” or “Will my boss like the outcome?” or “What will my team think?” Many workers say, “If I don’t try, I can’t fail,” so postponing seems to bring relief in the short term while undermining your career in the long run. If you avoid the looming project, you temporarily avoid the judgment and self-doubt. It’s a paradox because the avoidance of pressure amplifies the pressure. The closer you get to the deadline, the more distressed and paralyzed you feel, and in the long run stalling erodes your productivity and career success and causes chronic stress.
8 Ways Procrastinators Can Re-Train Their Brain
Having a planning mindset can reduce stress and create an overall sense of control over life. Procrastinators can learn strategies to enjoy the same outcomes as planners:
1. Break Things Down. Taking small measurable steps that are easy and doable reduces procrastination and motivates you. In a way, you trick your emotional brain. Studies show that if you take that first small step, you realize the task isn’t as challenging or difficult as your avoidance told you. This change in perception allows you to break through postponement and move to completing your task. Taking the first step to a task can be the hardest yet most rewarding. Once you complete the first part (perhaps just sitting down and opening your computer), it can get you going.
2. Amp Up Self–Compassion. There is a direct link between self-compassion and success. Studies show that coming down hard on yourself when you procrastinate reduces your chance of rebounding. Instead of kicking yourself when you procrastinate, being kinder helps you bounce back into planning. When you talk yourself off the ledge, give yourself a pep talk, an atta-girl or atta-boy or a positive affirmation, you cultivate the confidence and courage to overcome stalling and the ability to face career challenges and obstacles.
3. Curb Your Perfectionism. Unchecked perfection’s iron-fisted grip can cause you to set unrealistic goals, try too hard and avoid the impossible target you set for yourself. When expectations are out of reach, you start to see failure even in your triumphs. You’re less likely to procrastinate if you see your goals as doable and reachable. Giving yourself permission to do a task imperfectly tricks the emotional brain that says the quality won’t be perfect enough. When you agree, it reduces the resistance to completing the task. When you give yourself permission to make a mistake or do poorly, the outcome is often much better than you thought it would be.
4. Chill Your “Musturbation.” If you’re like most people, you have a relentless faultfinder that lives in your brain, ruling your mind and career, bludgeoning you with oppressive words such as must, should, ought and have to: “I must win that contract;” “I have to get that promotion;” “This project should be perfect.” When you are aware of this relentless voice (the psychologist Albert Ellis dubbed it “musturbation”), choose more supportive, comforting words such as “I can;” “I get to;” “I want to;” or “I choose to.”
5. Avoid Labels. When you call yourself a procrastinator, you give tacit approval to the label and accept it as you. This gives you unspoken permission to act as a person worthy of the label, and you repeat the habit of putting off tasks. Think of your procrastinator as a part of you, not as you. Stepping back and observing this part with an impartial eye lessens the self-judgment and keeps you from clobbering yourself. Learning to think of it as an aspect of you—not as you—lets you separate from the booming, eviscerating voice that tells you to avoid the threat. When you refer to your procrastination in the third person and befriend it by talking to it so it doesn’t dominate your decision-making, you notice a heightened ability to scale the procrastination obstacles.
6. Reward Yourself. Your brain is hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. If you’re like most people, your brain loves a reward. After you complete a small portion of the task—not before you complete it—give yourself a payoff. Instead of watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel before completing an aspect of the task, plan to view it after finishing a designated part of the task. This approach raises your motivation to get something done so you can enjoy one of your favorite activities.
7. Set Priorities. Simply choosing one item from your to-do list that you can accomplish quickly then completing it can give you a jumpstart and lift the burden of procrastination. You can face your commitments head-on and early instead of waiting until the last minute. If you have several items on your list, you can distinguish between essentials and non-essentials and work through the tasks that need immediate completion one at a time.
8. Consider The Long–Term Benefits. When you procrastinate, you focus on the immediate relief instead of the gains of completing the future product. Flip your focus around and concentrate more on the gains of the final outcome and less on the short-term relief in the present. When a project seems like an uphill struggle, think of the view from the top, reminding yourself of how good you will feel after you complete the project that you’ve avoided. In the end, considering the long-term benefits moves you closer and quicker to the finish line.