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Fear, rebellion lead to procrastination

| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Thomas Jefferson once said you should never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.

Of course, Jefferson didn't have kids to get to soccer practice, a 45-minute commute, hundreds of emails to read and a boss who believes micromanagement is a gift.

It can be difficult to get everything done in our busy lives. But when you add procrastination to the mix, you've got a recipe for career disaster.

Jay Earley, a psychotherapist who has written on procrastination and what to do about it, says procrastinators don't make a conscious choice to put things off.

“They know they need to do certain things, but they avoid it by forgetting about it or getting distracted with other things,” he says. “Or they may plan to do something, but they just sit there and can't get going.”

Psychologically, he says procrastination can come from a fear of what will happen if you do the task.

You may be afraid that if you take on a project at work, you will fail or look bad.

Or you may even fear you'll be successful and be attacked for it.

“You may believe people will take pot shots at you or you'll be ostracized,” he says.

Another psychological reason behind procrastination: unconscious rebellion.

You may not want your boss or your company telling you what to do. You may even be waging an internal rebellion against the part of you telling yourself to do the task and the other part that rejects the idea, Earley says.

The key is getting in touch with the root of your fear or defiance.

“Usually fear comes from childhood, and that's why it may be overblown,” he says.

If you had a father who was heavily judgmental, you may overreact to a boss who gives you feedback. You then may fear the boss's reaction to your work, put off completing assignments and miss deadlines.

“In other words, this boss is probably not as judgmental as you believe him to be. You need to do some introspection and see that what is really going now is really not that difficult,” Earley says. “Or you can tell yourself that you can come up with a plan to handle what's happening in your life today.”

Earley, author of “Taking Action: Working Through Procrastination and Achieving Your Goals,” (Pattern System Books, $9.45), says you can deal with procrastination in several ways:

• Clarify your motivation.Do you want to feel better about yourself or stop disappointing colleagues?

List the pain that your procrastination causes and what you have to gain from making improvements.

• Plan ahead. Ask yourself what tasks in the next two weeks you are likely to procrastinate on and what you need to do to overcome those tendencies.

• Get a buddy. Get someone supportive in your life to listen to your plans and help you stay on track.

You can check in with that person on your progress.

“This will help keep you on track because you know you're going to have to talk to someone about what you got done,” Earley says.

Procrastination also can be a headache for those who don't practice it but must work with someone who does.

In those cases, Earley advises you to avoid triggering fear or rebellion in colleagues by not coming on too strong or being judgmental.

“Once you recognize what's behind their behavior, then you can work to be more supportive and help them overcome their procrastination,” he says.

Twitter: @AnitaBruzzese.

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