We tend to think of procrastination as the cause of many bad things. You don’t get your work done on time, you miss deadlines, you let your great ideas languish too long, and you get people exasperated waiting for you.
But procrastination is not just a cause. It is also an effect. What is causing the self-imposed delay in execution? There are seven factors: perceived importance, existing options, past experience, required skills, available resources, expected outcomes and mood state. Each of these factors can hold you back from getting things done.
If you would like to keep a good workflow, honor your commitments, and deliver by your deadlines, ask yourself these seven questions to figure out what’s causing the procrastination and get back on track.
1. Is this what I should be doing right now?
When the work you are doing isn’t lining up with your goals, you are by definition procrastinating. When you find yourself busy working on a task that is not connected to your goals, drop it. Much of what you do daily may be unimportant, redundant or unrelated to your goals. But you may have no choice. In that case, think of creative ways to make the task relevant to your larger goal.
2. What should I do next?
Having options is critical for productivity but choosing what to do next becomes more challenging when:
a) You see no options. If you don’t know what to do, you will do nothing. Go back to the drawing board and start brainstorming. Invite others to help you identify better options.
b)You have too many options. Having too many choices makes it difficult to pick one and stick with it. Narrow down your options, choose one and go with it. Making the decision is more paralyzing than dealing with the aftermath.
c)The options are vague. You know what to do, but you don’t know how to do it. “Find a mentor” sounds like good advice, but you may have no idea where to find one or what to ask for. Make your options bite-size: clear, specific, and actionable.
d)The options are competing. Should you work on your taxes or spend your free hour with your loved ones? Should you spend your bonus to repair the roof or to take a money management course? When the options are competing, pick and prioritize or, even better, figure out how to have your cake and eat it too.
3. Have I done it before?
Your experience determines your expedience. Being experienced means you know what to do. You know the steps involved, the strategies to rely on and the challenges to anticipate. Being inexperienced means it is easier to feel lost, confused and overwhelmed. But remember, to build experience all you need is to put in the time and practice a lot.
Related: 11 Ways to Beat Procrastination
4. Do I have the skills I need?
Not having the skills you need to finish a job can seriously slow you down. The sooner you figure out your skill deficit, the quicker you can get back to action. Decide whether it is more sensible to learn the skill or to delegate the task to someone else. The skill deficit doesn’t have to be real. You may simply think you don’t have what it takes, but it will still hold you back.
5. Do I have the resources I need?
To complete a project you need five major resources: time, information, money/materials, energy and support. But unlike experience and skills, which you build once and for all, the amount of resources fluctuates. Assess the resources you need accurately and in advance. Ask yourself, "how long do I need and how much time do I have? How much more do I need to learn? How much does it cost and can I afford it? How much physical, mental and emotional energy is required? How much support do I need and where do I get it?"
Overestimating the resources you need could prevent you from launching into action. Underestimating them could prevent you from delivering on your promises.
6. Do I know what results to expect?
Actions and delays have outcomes and consequences. You are more likely to put effort into something when you know how and when it will pay off and what you have to lose or gain. The more tangible the positive outcomes or the negative consequences you expect, the more focused, motivated and productive you will be. In contrast, when you are fuzzy about the praise or the punishment you will get, you may suspend action and procrastinate indefinitely. The clearer and more assured you are about what results to expect, the sooner you will get things done.
7. Am I in the right mood?
Your mood can affect the way you work. Being in a foul mood could undermine your focus, motivation, and productivity. Feeling anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed reduces your cognitive efficiency. Paradoxically, so does being in a great mood. Too much excitement makes it challenging to stay focused, think calmly and work deliberately. The ideal conditions to be productive are being in a slightly positive mood.