The Procrastinator’s Best Lie: “I work better under pressure”

By Ann Elliott

Pot that is about to boil over

Procrastination is a common challenge faced by entrepreneurs, business leaders, and busy people. It is a costly habit to avoid difficult, important tasks and hard conversations. 

Can you understand the pattern of positive to the extreme to avoid unpleasant tasks or difficult conversations? It is important to remember that avoidance is a common human behavior. It is not necessarily a sign of weakness. However, understanding the reasons behind our avoidance and the cost to us can help us overcome it. Learn how to be more confident and focused. 

The consummate avoider who procrastinates wants to keep their sense of peace. Why rock the boat? They downplay the importance of genuine issues. Another tactic is to deflect problems in order not to deal with them.  

They tell themselves procrastinating is not a problem. The hallmark of the avoider, who is an expert procrastinator, is the lie, “I work better under pressure.” 

The Inconvenience of Procrastination  

This calls to mind the busy entrepreneur or professional who postpones pulling together the financial information for their accounting professional to file a timely, accurate tax return. They disregard the reminders weeks in advance of the required information. The situation is even more dire for someone who does their own income tax filing. For months they have been tossing important papers in a “to be filed” box. Or the information languishes in the inbox of their emails along with hundreds (if not thousands) of other emails. Under the pressure of assembling accurate data, you are more likely to miss something or miscalculate something. At the worst, this can trigger an audit or can keep you from claiming a legitimate deduction and therefore, increasing your taxable amount. 

In the days before electronic filing, the only option was to file a return postmarked by midnight on the filing date (usually April 15). A beloved academic toiled over his tax return just in time to get it in the mail by the deadline. The only trouble was the post office in the small town where they lived closed well before midnight. At 11 pm he found himself driving thirty miles to drop his tax return in the mailbox in a larger city to make the midnight deadline.  

The Hidden Cost of Procrastination 

  1. Denying legitimate conflicts and negativities eliminates the possibility of working through them to find satisfying resolutions.  
  1. Ignoring uncomfortable situations does not diminish them. They fester and grow larger making it even more challenging to address them. 
  1. Avoiding conflict keeps relationships at a superficial level. People cannot count on you to be truthful about a situation or your feelings.  
  1. Withholding negative information reduces the trust level others have for you. They are waiting for the other shoe to drop. 
  1. Saying “no” is difficult for the avoider. Always saying yes to the needs of others, they neglect their own. It is easy to understand why this causes them to be resentful.  
  1. Limiting productivity and profitability. The distraction of tasks that produce a low return keep you from addressing important tasks as noted in “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber 35 years ago. He describes it as “working in your business not on your business.”  

The Underlying Root of the Problem 

There is no one size fits all for the reasons we procrastinate to avoid something. The underlying root of the problem includes but is not limited to the following: 

  1. Lack of clarity. You do not know how to start because you do not know where to start. So, you do not start. You put it off until later. 
  1. Fear of failure. You have an underlying fear that you do not know enough about the situation. You are concerned you have little experience of dealing with circumstances. You are afraid of how your colleagues will perceive you if the project fails? 
  1. Overwhelmed. You have competing demands on your time and attention. Everything looks important. 
  1. Fear of success. It can be frightening to consider how to manage the project for which you are competing. What if the client says, “Yes.”
  1. Listening to the inner voice about how awful the situation is. Rarely is the situation so challenging that you cannot move forward to rectify it.  
  2. Perfectionism. The unrealistically grand expectations we have of ourselves lead to delay in acting. Perfectionists go to great lengths to defend themselves from the criticism of others. 

What Is the Solution to Deal with Procrastination? 

The first action is to treat yourself with a little compassion.

Instead of berating yourself for putting off important tasks or looming deadlines, acknowledge the situation with “blameless discernment.” What is true without judgment? Example: “I have a pile of empty boxes from Amazon shipments in a pile six feet high in my garage.” “My financial information for my accounting professional is in various places and I do not know how to find it quickly.” Only the facts here. 

Consider which mental patterns typically trigger your avoidance. 

If you are not sure what mental saboteurs you have, take the free assessment here. Be prepared to intercept them with focused action that addresses your important tasks. 

Clearly identify your most important tasks. 

These will be things, for instance, which build your company and attract the right client. Some examples include regular posts on social media, revamp/build a website, give speeches to your idea client, and publish a newsletter regularly. 

Plan your schedule for the week BEFORE the week starts. 

When you are in the whirl of activity, it is difficult if not impossible to identify the most important action to take. What screams the loudest is not necessarily the most important. Be willing to say “no” as appropriate to the demands of others (see #5 in the Hidden Costs of Procrastination). 

Schedule and block time for the important tasks. 

This is “working on your business.” For instance, two hours on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday devoted to research and identifying potential speaking engagements and reaching out to them. 

For long term, big projects, break them down into smaller manageable tasks. 

Assign deadlines that are reasonable. As you see progress, your confidence builds and your energy level rises. Remember to give your team acknowledgment for the small steps, too.  

Some Final Thoughts  

Once you see the hidden costs of procrastination, it becomes easier to develop the willingness to address it. When you know what to look for you see more. 

How much time and frustration could you save by updating your financial information weekly? How much money could you save by not overpaying your income taxes?  

If details are not your strong suit, how much anxiety and stress could you eliminate by hiring an assistant? The task that you avoid like the plague could be the task someone else loves to do. 

Procrastination is not the end of the world. It is not in your best interest either. What is the first action you are willing to take to reduce your habit of procrastination?

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Ann Elliott

Ann Elliott, founder of The Berkana Company, excels at leadership strategy

An expert at helping business leaders enjoy more profits and improved productivity with less stress, she blends fun and excitement with executive coaching and training to yield results for her clients.

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