Pancho Mehrotra: the cost of procrastination

Procrastination. We've all had a bout of it at one time or another. But why does it strike and how can you overcome it? Pancho Mehrotra explains the science behind the struggle to get even the most simple task completed and what you can do to turn procrastination into motivation.

Have you ever decided to work on your fitness and then thought, ‘I’ll start next week’, and then next week turns to next month, or even next year?

Or, you know you need to make calls to prospects and delay it with endless cups of coffee, social media, and anything else that comes along to distract you from picking up the phone.

How can procrastination affect all aspects of your sales performance, leading to increased frustration with yourself? 

What are the behavioural signs of procrastination leading to call reluctance, either in yourself or in the team you manage? 

According to authors Steven J. Scher and Nicole M. Osterman, the technical definition of procrastination is: “To voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay”.

Procrastination is a common behavioural issue that salespeople experience. It is also quite commonly found among those with a list of tasks to perform, whether leaders, parents or even students.

Students often avoid writing an essay or studying for an exam until the last minute, and because of time pressure, they finally relent and do what must be done.

You will often see students making multiple visits to the fridge to see what to eat or check their socials, anything but what they need to do to get the job done.

The common result is substandard output or worse, failure.

Having studied hundreds of salespeople and business leaders, procrastination is not so much about avoidance of the task as it is about feeling you will fail to do the task and your peers, parents, partners and others will see you as a failure.

You may even worry you will see yourself as a failure.

The shame attached to this is enough for most people to avoid the task. 

Because you avoid failure, you won’t be seen as a failure.

This impacts your self-worth. Why do a task where your self-worth and self-esteem will be at risk?

Isn’t it strange that we know making calls will lead to opportunities, but we avoid the thing that will lead to success? 

For salespeople and agents, there is a big cost attached to procrastination and avoidance.

A realised cost in opportunities and commissions.

Our data confirms the real cost of procrastination is significant in financial terms, equivalent to nearly two months of the year in lost productivity due to the avoidance of tasks.

But the worst impact is that people who procrastinate also fail to learn new skills.

This keeps salespeople and leaders stuck in a holding pattern for weeks and sometimes years. 

There is a domino effect of procrastination – a long-lasting domino effect, if not addressed.

How do you feel knowing you are avoiding the task you know will make you successful and move you closer to your goals?

This is the cause of many a stressful situation.

The result of all this stress is it affects physical health just as much as mental wellbeing. 

The cost of procrastination is significant – financially and emotionally.

Key factors that cause or stimulate procrastination

There are several contributors to procrastination.

I have listed three key contributors to focus on initially.

  1. Behavioural – habits
  2. Cognitive – thoughts
  3. Environmental – community and cultural.

So, what is the solution?

I often have people asking me for a solution.

It’s important to be aware that no one solution fits all. However, there are solutions for each!

If you struggle with procrastination, ask yourself, ‘how do I ensure that I do the task when it needs to be done?’

In cognitive behavioural therapy, the focus is to understand the trigger event that creates the feeling of anxiety or the fear of failure and to learn how to dispute those thoughts.

The therapist’s role is to extract those thoughts and then assist in diminishing their hold.

Using these same thoughts as motivational triggers is the key to finding a solution.

Catastrophising the outcome is the biggest challenge for most people, and understanding and disputing that thinking is paramount.

Is it simple to overcome? Yes. 

Is it easy? Perhaps not. 

Is it possible to overcome it? Absolutely!

Getting over procrastination does need continual work. It is like any habit, usually ingrained and, for the most part, unconscious. 

It is also imperative to improve your emotional intelligence and develop the self-awareness to overcome procrastination.

Introspection and reflection are practices required to develop strategies that work for you.

For some people, the environment can play a part and for some, talking to a mentor. 

You must examine the modality you relate to and one linked to you actioning a task you enjoy.

This is the process of mapping across certain behaviours that work in one context and can be used to help you in another.

An ideal solution to overcome procrastination is to work on taking one small step at a time.

Let’s get to work!

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Pancho Mehrotra

Pancho Mehrota is the CEO of Frontier Performance and a recognised leading expert in the area of communication, influence and the psychology of selling.