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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 31, 2010

Procrastinators need to wise up to their own inefficiencies

By Anita Bruzzese

You begin your day full of good intentions: You're going to get that report done, tackle all your e-mails and return phone calls.

But when the end of the day rolls around, you've done none of those things. Yet you feel like you've been busy all day.

What happened?

Psychologist Timothy Pychyl says that as much as you may hate to admit it —even to yourself — you may have put off doing those tasks deliberately. You procrastinated.

"Despite the fact that it will cause you stress, you voluntarily delay doing something you don't feel like doing," said Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, where he specializes in the study of procrastination.

Most people don't like to admit they put off tasks they need to get done. After all, no boss is going to be overjoyed to hear such news, and neither will co-workers whose own productivity can be affected when you don't pull your weight at work.

And yet, it's sometimes easier than ever to procrastinate, especially when you have so many more enjoyable things at your fingertips — such as the Internet.

"Technology is creating a lot more time-wasting in the workplace," Pychyl said. "You Google something you're thinking about or decide you'll only take a minute to check out Facebook. The problem for people who are easily distracted or who procrastinate is that it's like someone with a gambling problem moving to Las Vegas. It's a hard temptation to resist."

Some studies have estimated that employees' social media use can cost employers billions of dollars in lost productivity, but critics argue that such engagements — whether online or around the water cooler — are necessary to relieve stress and boost employee morale.

While Pychyl thinks that we all need a break from work every once in a while to recharge our batteries, he said surfing online at work "is a huge slippery slope" for those who have a problem staying on task or avoiding work they dislike.

He suggests one of the best ways to cure yourself of such career-damaging habits is using an "implementation intention." That means make a statement to yourself about what you will do when you find yourself getting off track. And make it as specific as possible.

For example, you could say, "When I find myself on Facebook, I will stop and return to my work," telling yourself you will check the site at another time.

Another strategy, he said, is to use willpower.

"Sometimes when you're tired, you'll just want to give in and do something that makes you feel good. But if you use self-affirmation to remind yourself of your values and why you're doing something, then it can help," he said.

For example, if you find yourself checking out Twitter when you're supposed to be completing a boring report, tell yourself, "I know this report isn't fun. But by getting it done, I'll make my boss happy and that means I'll keep my job — and my paycheck will help me take care of my family."

If you still find yourself struggling to stay on task, you can enlist the very thing that's tripping you up — technology.

David Chao, a national sales manager for Cisco/WebEx, said he uses tools such as RescueTime.com to help him keep track of his Internet use and where he's spending his time.

"I've been using it for about a year and a half, and I've discovered that while I consider myself a highly productive person, even I was not aware that when I thought I was taking just a minute to check Facebook or MySpace, much more time than I thought had passed," he said.

RescueTime claims to recover nearly four hours of productivity a week per person. By installing the application, it will monitor which websites are being actively used and provide users a report.

Chao said that all companies are under more pressure than ever to be competitive to survive, and that they expect all employees to be as productive as possible. For many workers, that may mean owning up to their own inefficiencies.

"Even I found out that I could squeeze a bit more out of my day once I realized where I was wasting some time," he said.

Write to Anita Bruzzese c/o: Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22107. For a reply, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.