Procrastination may be one of the most self-sabotaging and all too common behaviors leading to someone’s failure to achieve their career/work-related goals. All too often people wait until they are actually laid off before they start investigating new options, or they put off preparing for an interview for their dream job until the last minute. You might say, “It’s human nature.” Perhaps. Just Google the number of articles written by psychologists who tell us there is more to it than that. Regardless of the cause, the outcome is the same: your options are typically limited when you wait to take action.
Procrastination is an underlying theme that leads to undesirable outcomes.
Procrastination is an underlying theme that leads to undesirable outcomes. Waiting until the last minute to take action forces your hand and creates circumstances that compel you to choose between undesirable options. Being unhappy and failing to take action only prolongs the problem. Almost daily, I hear how someone is unhappy at work, but they have failed to take action towards investigating new options. Time wears on and they get deeper and deeper into a rut. Their performance suffers, and many times they are actually forced into a corner because their employer isn’t getting what they need, and their employment ends. Beyond work, procrastination typically spreads across a gamut of other issues, leading to a person’s dissatisfaction with their life. They wait to address an illness or fix a leaky pipe or buy new shoes. Any of these issues can take time to fix when they become an emergency. When you are forced to address personal issues at an urgent level, then those situations lead to problems at work: tardiness, absences or mistakes due to distraction. Overall, it seems a bit reckless for anyone to wait to change their behavior or continue to put off dealing with an unpleasant situation.
Excuses and other-blaming when things go wrong won’t fix anything. I’ve heard a number of variations to “my dog ate my homework” or “I was late with this (document, script, report) because something unexpected happened today” more times than I can count, even though the timeline for what was needed was established two to three weeks earlier. The number of requests I get for my “thoughts” or “tips” the night before an important event (e.g., an interview, presentation or performance review) is also pretty high. Waiting until the last minute to ask for help or provide needed information to get help seems to be a form of self-sabotage. So even if this behavior may be stemming from some unresolved issue from childhood, allowing it to continue doesn’t seem to be working for most people. Missing a bus can be a minor thing in some cases or a major thing when it is the one that is taking you to an important interview. Throwing a presentation together at the last minute may have worked sometime in your life, but why are you still doing it when over the last five times it hasn’t worked?
There are many ways the outcomes to events are limiting. Simply put, here’s what can happen when you wait until the last minute to prepare for an interview:
- You feel anxious.
- You appear less confident.
- You provide incomplete, vague or just plain dumb answers!
- Your responses can be misinterpreted as lack of interest.
- Less qualified candidates who have prepared more can move right in ahead of you.
- The opportunity is lost.
And here’s what can happen when you wait until the last minute to prepare for a performance review:
- You may feel nervous, anxious and unnecessarily paranoid.
- You are more likely to be surprised by the outcome.
- You are ill-equipped to provide concrete reasons to contradict a bad review.
- You are unable to justify a bigger raise.
To achieve a better outcome in either of those scenarios, more preparation would make a huge difference. It takes time to become prepared. A more effective approach would be to simply come to terms with what hasn’t been done, own your actions and make a concerted effort to do things differently going forward. This approach allows more time to examine options that could remedy whatever has been left undone or is at risk of turning out badly. Starting now, if you are motivated to make a change, you can head into the new year with a commitment to yourself to make a change. You can:
- Establish goals (personal and professional) and make sure that whatever you are doing is clearly in line with what you want to have happen in your life.
- Pay attention to the things that aren’t working instead of shoving them under the rug.
- Find out about new/other options along the way instead of waiting until you are forced.
- When you are off course, take action to make corrections immediately.
It’s never too late to turn over a new leaf and commit to tackling things sooner rather than later. “Someday” is not a day of the week.