Some things just beg to be put off. Like that half a rain forest’s worth of filing that’s been on your desk for weeks. Or the “chat” you should have scheduled weeks ago with your slacking, pissy-attitude junior. Hmmm, that pen drawer is looking pretty filthy again…
The boring, the scary, and the uncomfortable all turn even natural born doers into put-it-off professionals. “The urge to procrastinate is tied to our self-worth—at work particularly,” explains Neil Fiore, Ph.D., author of The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination. “We avoid difficult jobs where our ability could be judged and dodge the tiresome ones simply because humans are far more motivated by the promise of instant reward.” Hence the Pavlovian ping of “new e-mail.”
Here, four scenarios that you shouldn’t put off until tomorrow.
1. Fessing up to a massive boo-boo. “You’re avoiding potential criticism,” explains Fiore. “The solution lies in reframing your perspective of the outcome.” Example: Rather than thinking, “I’ve totally messed up—I’m dead,” try, “I choose to take this ass-tearing with dignity and use it to improve performance.” “Using ‘I choose’ rather than ‘I must’ or ‘I should have’ is a powerful subliminal act, one that shifts us from fear into our higher brain,” says Fiore. “The part that says, ‘I’m not a victim—I’m actively participating in this for my own benefit.’”
2. Lengthy, brain-rotting jobs. “Brains can’t cope with the idea of three hours of mindless activity, but they can certainly handle 30 minutes,” says Fiore. “Treat your brain like an employee. Give it a specific start time, a manageable amount of working time, and a payoff—a 10-minute break doing something fun before the next 30 minutes,” he says.
3. Starting the “This will make or break my career”-type projects. “The trick is overcoming the overwhelm caused by a deadline,” explains Fiore. “Back-time from your deadline and see the task spread over the distance, back to right now when you can start. Now break the time into small chunks, allotting tasks to each one until you have a very doable list of shorter jobs,” he says.
4. Doling out unwelcome news. “Instead of anticipating negativity from your audience, establish the positives of the bad news, i.e., you’re furthering their career by discussing their mistake,” says Fiore. Frame your statement with your feelings of discomfort: “This is difficult for me because I value our relationship…” Then move on to the next task you’ve been putting off.