How to Work With Your Procrastination

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

As a Financial Representative (FR) you would likely agree with author Dan Ariely when he writes, “focusing on long-term benefits is not our natural tendency,” in his book Predictably Irrational. This leads us to procrastinate in many areas of our lives. You can use his findings to help yourself and your clients overcome this tendency.

Ariely is a professor and often uses his students in the many studies he carries out in this very readable and informative book. He wanted to better understand procrastination (among dozens of topics he writes about in his book) so he set up a study with three of his classes: the first were asked to set their own deadlines for three papers that needed to be written before the last day of the semester. They would lose points for lateness if they missed any of their own deadlines. The second class had no specific deadlines given, however they had all three papers due at the end of their last class. The third class had three deadlines spaced out throughout the semester dictated to them. Guess which class got the best grades?

Class three with the firm, prescribed deadlines got the best grades. The class with no deadlines at all received the worst grades. The second class that set their own deadlines finished in the middle. The findings suggest that almost everyone has problems with procrastination, "however those who recognize and admit their weakness are in a better position to utilize available tools for recommitment and by doing do, help themselves overcome it,” writes the author. Think of the many tools at Northwestern Mutual designed to help you with procrastination. If you fully admit that you are a procrastinator (try saying it out loud right now!) might you take better advantage of them?

While we like to think of ourselves as rational beings who can face problems like deadlines rationally, Ariely shows the reader again and again in his book that we are not very rational at all. The sooner that you can embrace your irrationality—including your tendency to procrastinate—the sooner you can help yourselves and others.

As far as helping yourself, the author recommends finding ways to set deadlines with built-in accountability to others such as meeting up with a friend to go for a run, using automatic systems to aid us (such as automatic dedication options for saving money) and other “recommitment mechanisms.” In the world of running a practice, this might mean finding a phoning buddy, setting up an informal contest or challenges with your colleagues, setting short, daily deadlines and telling others your intentions. It might mean writing an agenda for a client meeting that clearly states that prospecting will occur at the end of the meeting. Find creative ways to help yourself precommit, set attainable and reasonable deadlines and fess up when you’re procrastinating instead of making excuses. And, use all of the meetings, mentors and coaches at Northwestern Mutual who are there for this very reason!

For clients, understand that they are unlikely to follow even the best plan in the world that you write for them without these same elements built-in. Automate good habits, check in often and help them (gently) understand that they (and we all) are procrastinators. Their desire to “hold off” is innate. Coach them to get even one aspect of their plan in motion and provide clear deadlines. You can help them overcome the initial procrastination by talking openly about it and making a plan.

Let it start with you. “My name is ______ and I am a procrastinator.” Doesn’t that feel better?