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How many times have you said ‘after the holidays,’ ‘tomorrow,’ or ‘soon,’ when what you really meant was “never”? I know from personal experience that when those words cross my lips, I really do believe that I’ll start my goal ‘after the holidays,’ ‘tomorrow,’ or ‘soon.’
But then ‘after the holidays’ actually comes. And now I’m tempted to reschedule my goal again. C’mon, it’s just one day right? Seriously, how bad is it really going to be to postpone for one more day? If one day were truly one day, it probably wouldn’t be the end of the world. But the research shows that one day usually doesn’t mean one day; ‘one day’ really means months or years.
Putting off until tomorrow what you should be doing today keeps a lot of people from achieving their goals. Three-quarters of college students consider themselves procrastinators, and some estimates figure that 20% of the adult population could be classified as “chronic procrastinators.” But as bad as these figures are, they understate the problem when it comes to HARD Goals. For instance, in one of our recent studies, 77% of people admitted to having put off starting a diet. And, compared to non-procrastinators (you know, the people who actually started their diets), the folks who postponed their diets were eight times more likely to be unhappy with their current weight.
Piers Steel at the University of Calgary, one of the great procrastination researchers, in reviewing hundreds of studies, overwhelmingly found that putting things off doesn’t create happiness. In fact, a whopping 94% of people said procrastination hurt their happiness.
More than 5,000 people have taken the online test “Do you set SMART Goals or HARD Goals?” Respondents answer 9 questions about their goal setting processes, rating such factors as their emotional commitment, urgency, anxiety, number of goals and goal difficulty. One such question asks respondents to choose between these 3 statements:
- I feel such an intense sense of urgency to attain my goal that postponing or pausing even one day is not an option.
- My goals will come in time, and if I miss a day working towards them, the world will not end.
- I have plenty of time before I need to start working on my goals.
And as you can see in the chart below, fewer than a third of people feel the kind of driving urgency that we typically associate with breakthrough goal achievement.
Now, those numbers are striking, but here’s the part I find most significant: People who feel urgency to achieve their goals are 17% more likely to love their job!
In an era where companies are seeking even small gains in employee engagement, getting people to be more active and intentional in pursuit of their goals could drive significant improvement.
Employees who procrastinate keep worrying about work long after they’ve left the office and student procrastination is firmly related to lower course grades, lower overall grades, and lower exam scores. Procrastination is also strongly linked to poor health (that’s what happens when you put off necessary medical tests) and powerfully correlated to poorer financial health.
Procrastination can also pose financial risk. Every person in America intellectually knows that getting your taxes done early can help you avoid errors made when rushing. And yet, a 2002 survey by H&R Block found that waiting until the last minute on taxes cost the average person $400 because the process was rushed and mistakes were made. The net effect was $473 million in overpayments across the country.
Amazingly, it’s not just difficult goals that we put off; we also procrastinate on fun and entertaining stuff. Financial researchers, TowerGroup, report that each year Americans spend about $65 billion in gift cards; and they fail to redeem $6.8 billion of them. Not that it’s all bad for the companies that issue them: in 2009, Home Depot Inc. reported $37 million in revenue from unused gift-card credit.
I don’t share all these negative studies and statistics just to bring you down. Rather, the information is intended as a learning tool to help you recognize and overcome your own issues with procrastination.
Look, if you really want to achieve something, if you have a heartfelt connection to losing 20 pounds, starting a business, becoming fluent in Italian, whatever your goal is, you absolutely can do it. You just need to rally your inner strength so you actually start and stick to that goal. And the most efficient way to do that is to infuse your goal with a feeling of urgency. To plow through any sense of panic, doubt, or whatever internal or external triggers threaten to hold you back, and make your goal feel so required that you feel like you’ll die unless you get started on it right this very second.
December 27, 2018 at 09:55AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs