Stumbling Blocks to Success: Procrastination

Sometimes the inspiration for a blog entry comes from the strangest place: Today’s entry was inspired by an article in The CostCo Connection—a free magazine sent to CostCo members. The article, Procrastination vs. Productivity by Ranka Burzan, was not directed to job seekers, but it can easily be adapted to help you make your job search more successful.

In the article, Burzan describes two different types of procrastination, what she calls “deliberate” and “productive” procrastination, and I’ll confess right now that there have been times when I’ve been guilty of both. And both of them can interfere with your ability to make progress in your job search.

Deliberate procrastination is “putting off until tomorrow what you can do today.” Most of us are familiar with this type of procrastination. If the paper isn’t due until next Tuesday, you won’t start it until Monday night; if you have a job interview on Friday, you’ll do research on the company Thursday. But when you postpone tasks until the last minute, you create the possibility that you will run out of time, do an inadequate job, and demonstrate that you’re not reliable or effective. By the way, deliberate procrastination is a favorite among those who say they work best under pressure. If that’s you, learn to create your own sense of pressure by giving yourself false deadlines until you’ve learned to work well regardless of the amount of “pressure.”

Productive procrastination is when you find lots of valid, valuable, even necessary things to do that allow you to avoid the big project that looms in front of you. This is my personal downfall—right now I’m writing this blog entry three days ahead of time so that I can avoid revising an article for an academic journal. I’m the queen of the five-minute task: give me 20 small tasks, and I’ll finish them in a rapid succession. Ask me to do a more prolonged task (like revise the aforementioned article or draft a survey or figure out how to self publish a book, all of which are tasks on my to do list), and I’m inclined to keep finding five-minute tasks to take up my day. The danger of productive procrastination is that at the end of the day you feel a sense of accomplishment: You have produced something; you have crossed something off the list, but you’ve avoided the big thing you needed to do.

Over the years I’ve heard lots of reasons why college seniors or recent graduates haven’t started seriously looking for a job:
• I need (I’m entitled to) a break.
• I’m not sure what I want to do.
• I may go to graduate school.
• There’s nothing open that interests me.
• I can’t find anything that pays what I’m worth.
• I have to wait until my boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife finds a job and then look in the same city.

And then there are the reasons that haven’t been articulated, but that are lying under the surface:
• I’m afraid no one will hire me.
• I’m afraid my major is worthless.
• I’m afraid this job (that I have a shot at getting) will disappoint my parents.
• I’m afraid I’ll be a failure.

So what can you do about all this? Make a plan! As I explain in Tip 49 Treat your job search like a job, think about all the steps that you need to take, make a logical plan for how to accomplish each step, and work at it all day, every day, until you succeed. Ranka Burzan suggests the same approach. She says, “Whatever project you decide to do, big or small, break it down into manageable, small steps and work at it every day… .” And by the way, my book is subtitled 5 Steps to Finding the Right Job after College, so I’ve already provided you with a plan…you just need to follow it!