Procrastination is a word we use to describe when people struggle to get tasks done and delays. But the description is the tip of the procrastination iceberg. Procrastination is a complex phenomenon. It’s important to recognize some of the underlying factors that could be contributing to procrastination.

Research proves there are different reasons people procrastinate. In academic settings, studies (such as this study and this study) have shown that some reasons for procrastination include:

  • Fear of failure: The fear of making mistakes or not succeeding
  • Task aversion: Avoiding tasks because we do not enjoy doing them / do not value them etc
  • To create stress to optimize performance: Using delay as a tool to “light a fire” to then produce

In each example, further exploration would be needed to ensure that tasks are completed. For example, for:

Fear of failure: What’s causing the fear? Is it because instructions were not clear? Because it is the first time taking on a new task? Because of the lawyer perfectionism trait? If we can reflect on what may be causing the fear, we can then address it. (In these instances, we can seek further clarification about instructions, seek a mentor or colleague to help walk us through how to succeed with a new task, and accept the ‘good enough’ to get started.)

Task aversion: A first step is to consider whether task aversion is in play, and in what way. Sometimes we don’t like a task because it is dull. Sometimes we don’t like a task because it will be difficult, like breaking bad news to a client. Sometimes task aversion may be masking fear of failure. (We tell ourselves we don’t like Task A because it’s easier to say we don’t like doing something than admitting that deep down we’re afraid of doing Task A wrong.) Here again, more work may be necessary to tackle ‘procrastination’.

Creating stress for success: Any sports movie can show us we all sometimes need to feel ‘pumped up’ to get out there an excel. Lawyers and staff who wait until the last minute to get a task done may get great results. But there are risks in using procrastination as a tool, including waiting too long before starting a task, or finding that the added stress creates too much stress to optimally complete a task, or complete it at all. If completing tasks closer to deadlines helps you succeed, it’s prudent to build in some cushion time just in case. Or you may find there are other ways to create some energy to get you thriving and on task.

For procrastinators where these issues are hindering personal and/or professional success, help is available. Cognitive behavioral therapy – or CBT – is one form of aid that can help legal professionals unpack what happens when they try to tackle a task but end of ‘procrastinating’. The Law Society Member Assistance Program has many resources to help.

Embrace “First is the worst!”

One way to work through the to-do list is to think about that kindergarten chant “First is the worst! Second is the best!” Make your first task of the day an “ugh” task, something that you’ve been avoiding or don’t want to do but need to do. That’s your cue. Do it. Your reward is that you’ve now cleared away that to-do item, you no longer have any anxiety about it. And you can then further reward yourself by turning to work you love doing – proving that everything you needed to know you learned in kindergarten – “Second is the best!”

Schedule It In

Another tip to wrangle work at the bottom of the “to-do” list is to schedule it in. Block it into your calendar. This helps force yourself to just do it. Set up enough time. Set up a series of times if it helps. Use your calendar to set yourself up for tackling tasks.

Tackle Big Projects One Piece at a Time, With a Project Calendar

Sometimes work is overwhelming. A particular project may seem too daunting, too complicated or simply too big to tackle. One approach is to break a complex issue into its constituent parts. Any legal matter can be broken down into smaller and smaller components.

When you break out your legal matter into its components, develop a project plan. You can work back a schedule based on deadlines and the related deliverables. If others need to be involved at key stages, you can include this information, or any other details that will keep you on track.

Then tackle it one step at a time. As each step is completed, you get to check it off your project plan and celebrate. You’re on your way to completing the larger task.

Next week we’ll share some tips on getting the most productivity out of the time you have dedicated to a task. Subscribe to the avoidaclaim.com blog to have the post emailed right to you. Got a question? Reach out to [email protected].

Categories: Limitations Claims