Oh, we've probably all done it: Put off doing something that you don't want to do. Some people procrastinate on purpose because they work better under pressure. But unless you're a trauma surgeon or work for a daily newspaper, you're not doing anyone any favors, including yourself.
Procrastinating consistently can hurt your career. In a company, everyone's actions depend on someone else's, so if you're the holdup, big initiatives can get sidelined. And bottlenecks in the human chain are almost always exposed at some point.
It's not easy to jump into a duty that you really don't want to do. But for me, it's better to get it over with than have the idea of it hovering over my head. I can't really enjoy leisure time if I know there's something out there that I should be doing. I think of it like having dinner—I suffer through the brussel sprouts and meat loaf because I know dessert is the reward. To me, a clean to-do slate is my reward.
There could be several reasons people procrastinate. Sometimes, it's actually just good triage and time management. That is, you do the smaller things first because you can get them out of the way faster. But there could also be some negative reasons, such as a fear of failure or a lack of understanding of the project that needs your attention.
You can curb the tendency to procrastinate in a couple of ways. First, ask for specific deadlines on duties. I've been in countless meetings where an action item is mentioned but it's not tied down to a date. The action item then just dies a sad, lonely death. After all, if it's an open-ended project, then where is the impetus to finish it?
If it's a large project you're facing, tackle it small piece by small piece. You'll be surprised at how it lessens the guilt at the end of the day if you've made even a small dent in a project. At least you're making positive progress.
Of course, it could be that you don't feel any guilt at procrastinating. If so, try injecting a little paranoia into your life. Pretend that your coworkers secretly resent you and are planning your downfall as we speak.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.