Procrastination for Job Seekers

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How is your job search going?

Are you spending time running errands and doing things that aren’t related to your job search?

Do you have a sinking feeling about not doing the things you need to do to move you closer to finding a job?

Is your job search not moving along as fast as it should be?

Or, do you know that you’re putting off important tasks that should be done by now?

If so, you may have the procrastination habit.

Procrastination is a nasty habit that tends to show up when you fact difficult tasks to do that you would rather avoid…like looking for a job.

Fortunately, procrastination isn’t genetic or a permanent flaw, procrastination is a habit that, like any other habit, can be broken and replaced with a better and more rewarding habit of taking action.

What is procrastination?

Procrastination is the habit of putting off important things until a later time that should be done right away. For the job seeker, it can be a serious problem because it means that your job search takes longer and longer while your money and resources slowly drain away.

If you’re procrastinating, you’re not doing the things you need to do to find work and you’re actually hurting yourself.

Why do you procrastinate?

Why would you intentionally do things that work against your best interest and waste time on things that aren’t important while not doing the things that are important? Well, there are several reasons why, let’s explore them.

Difficulty – finding a job can be difficult and frustrating and it’s easy to avoid difficult things in order to do those that may seem easy or that give you pleasure and satisfaction right away.

Time – finding a job takes time that you might rather spend doing other things.

Lack of knowledge or skill – you don’t know what to do, where to start, how to begin, and so you put off starting.

Fear – you feel anxiety about interviewing or making calls.

Fear of failure - If you’re feeling discouraged about a lack of progress and you don’t feel motivated (See Motivation link) then you may avoid working on it in order to avoid feeling the fear.

Fear of success – It may seem hard to believe that you might fear success but some procrastinators fear that if they might find work too soon when they prefer having time off.

Fear of losing autonomy – When you’re not working, you have control of your schedule and some people procrastinate and put off their job search as a way of saying, "No one can make me do this. I’m my own person, I’m in control." Procrastinating may help you feel more in control of your situation.

Fear of getting into another bad work situation -The last job experience might not have been a good one and so there is a fear of getting into another bad situation. Or, if you were fired, there may be lingering hard feelings that make you avoid the job search.

Low Self-Esteem – Along with the example above, you might feel down or feel a lack of worth and need to boost your self-esteem. There are many ways to do this and to find some tips on motivation click Here.

If you’re feeling very down for a few weeks or longer or you consider yourself depressed, it might be a good idea to call your doctor.

How do you procrastinate?

What type of things are you likely to do instead of doing the things you need to do to keep moving forward?

Unimportant errands – you find yourself going shopping or doing things around the house that simply aren’t important or could wait for the weekend.

Browse the web – It’s very easy to lose hours or even days browsing the internet or chatting online and this is easy to do because websites provide a kind of visual distraction that is difficult to avoid. It’s fine to spend some time browsing to relax but if you’re not doing other important things, you’re procrastinating.

Eat – it’s surprising by how you get hungry the moment you decide to do something important.

Sports – you’re shooting hoops or working out when you need to be working. Yes, it’s a good idea to keep active to maintain your health and stamina but it must not be done at the cost of other important tasks.

Long breaks – These might be “short” breaks that turn into long ones or a day or an evening where no work is done at all? For example, it’s very easy to settle in to watching TV for ½ hour, then watching it all day or all night.

Anything else! – sometimes you might find yourself doing things that you don’t enjoy simply because it helps you avoid doing the tasks you need to get done.

Do you rationalize?

Rationalizations – the excuses you make for not doing what you know you need to be doing.

"I work better under pressure so I’ll wait until I need to have something ready." Or "If I wait until the last minute I can work more quickly."

"This isn’t a good time to do it.”

"I don't know how to do this so I'll wait until I know more before I start."

"I don't want to do it."

" I'm not in the mood right now." Or “I don’t feel like doing it.”

" I'll miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime social event if I do it now."

"I don’t have time."

"I'll do it tomorrow." Or "I'll do it tomorrow, if ..."

"I need to have some fun first."

"I'll relax first and then get started."

“I don’t have enough information to get moving.”

“ I need to find the “perfect” job before I do anything.”

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What can you do about it?

Understanding how you procrastinate helps you recognize when you’re doing it so you can take quick action and get back to doing what is important.

Let’s explore some ways to overcome procrastination so that you can get more done in less time. Try some of these approaches to see which work for you and if something doesn’t seem to work, try something else.

If you find that you need more help be sure to try some of the links on this webpage from our partners. Remember to be patient with yourself, changing habits takes time and practice, especially when you’ve had them for a long time.

Take an inventory.

What exactly do you do instead of doing what you need to be doing?

How exactly are you procrastinating? Make a list of the things you do INSTEAD of doing what you know you should be doing. Having a this list of avoidance strategies will help you notice quickly when you’re procrastinating so you can avoid wasting more time and get back to what is important.

Too often, you don't even realize that you are procrastinating until a good bit of time, or even an important deadline, has passed. Using this list, create some alternative responses that will get you back on track when you feel the urge to waste time.

Develop alternate responses

After you create your inventory of avoidance actions, develop at least one specific response for each so that you can do something useful instead of doing the avoidance action. This list of responses gives you actions to take that will get you back from the procrastination track.

If you’re not sure of the tasks you need for your job search, click here to see a sample task list on our Time Management page.

For example, if you procrastinate by watching TV, you might respond by not giving yourself any time for TV until you complete the required tasks for the day.
The ideal way to approach this is to consider the hours from 8am to 4pm as “work time” when you don’t watch TV for any reason.

If don’t want to miss a game or favorite programs invest in a DVR to record them for later.

If you procrastinate by running errands, refuse to do any errands until a specific hour late in the afternoon when you expect you will have completed the important tasks for the day.

You could block out a specific time of the day or week when you allow yourself to do errands. Then, if you find yourself about to run out on an errand, you can remember that this is an avoidance strategy and you could ask yourself what you might be avoiding that is more important.

If you find yourself browsing the web, chatting online, spending too much time on Facebook, or checking email for extended amounts of time, commit to not opening your browser or email account until a specific time of the day after you have completed your daily tasks. You might allow yourself an hour or two of “fun time” towards the end of the day as a reward for getting the important things done first.

Challenge your rationalizations

This effective approach to challenging the rationalizations like those listed above, comes from the cognitive method described by Dr. Albert Ellis. (Ellis, Albert, and Knaus, William J. Overcoming Procrastination. New York: Signet Books, 1977.)

Think about your job search, or any other project, that you are currently putting off. On one side of a piece of paper, write down all the reasons (excuses) for your delay. On the other side of the paper, argue against the delay. When you create effective counterarguments to your reason for procrastinating, you will be able to convince yourself to work.

Here are some examples :

“This isn’t a good time” could be countered with “There is never a “perfect” time to do this so I must get started now or it will only take longer to find a job.” Or, “there is never a perfect time and I need to do this now so I don’t feel bad about not getting it done.”

“I don’t know how to do this so I’ll wait until I do.” Counter this excuse with something like:” I don’t know how to do this so I need to do some research NOW to find out how.”

Create a productive environment with structure

Moving your job search forward requires your full focus and attention and this means that it will be helpful to find a place to be where you can work without distractions.

If you have a place where you can work without distractions and have all the materials you need handy like a phone and a computer, then consider that place to be your “job” that you go to every day until you find your next job.

The easiest place to work, of course, is at home but sometimes working at home is difficult because there are many distractions that grab your attention like food, TV, family, pets and others. If this is the case, it might be a good idea to go to a library, coffee shop, Starbucks or other place where you can work uninterrupted.

Don't risk frustrating yourself even more by trying to work in an environment that doesn't meet your needs, find a place that does. Of course, you need to be careful about spending too much time preparing your “ideal” work environment because experienced procrastinators may be tempted to spend large amounts of time creating the “perfect” environment rather than doing the work.

Change your attitude

It’s true that a job search can be difficult and discouraging at times but keeping your mind on your objective. Mentally picturing the feeling of satisfaction you’ll enjoy when you find a new job can help you keep going. Having a clear goal in mind will help and so will having daily tasks that keep you motivated and interested.

Your search is only temporary and you will eventually find a new job. Take a look at our recommendations on Time Management Here.

Ask for help

Find a friend or mentor to work with.

The supportive people in your life can help you overcome procrastination. Tell someone about your goals and plan so that they can hold you accountable and give you support.

Once or twice a week you could meet with or email a friend, relative, or mentor, to give them a status report on your progress, or your lack of it. Let them know what you plan for the coming week, or next few days, and keep them updated on your progress.

This accountability will help you focus because you won’t want your helper seeing that you’re not doing what you promised.

Join a job search group

One of the difficulties job seekers face is a sense of isolation. Having nowhere to go every day and having no contact with friends and colleagues can make you lose motivation so it would help to find a few job search pals or support group to network and meet with.

Many states have Employment Departments or Agencies that host clubs and there are private job search clubs as well. Joining a club like this helps beat the sense of isolation and also offers an opportunity to share job leads you might not hear about otherwise.

Use good time management practices

A planner or calendar system is essential for a job seeker because good time management skills are an effective antidote to procrastination and there really is no way to effectively manage time without the use of a good time management system.

A good planner system like the one sold by Franklin/Covey is excellent but there are many good systems and even a simple calendar and daily task list is better than using no system at all.

One simple but effective tactic is to use your calendar to schedule time with yourself for important tasks. Scheduling time with yourself might seem funny at first but it is one effective way to make sure you have time for the important tasks and they don’t get brushed aside.

Here are some useful books on procrastination. Click on the arrows to turn the carousel. Hold your pointer over a book to see more detail. Click on a book to go to the Amazon site to read more about a title.

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