Five Steps to Beat Job Search Procrastination

Five Steps to Beat Job Search Procrastination
By Bill Knaus, EdD, author of End Procrastination Now 

Procrastination dooms most job seekers to a sluggish search. Overcoming this complex human problem takes more than a "just do it" slogan to fix. You can start now to give yourself a winning edge by using time you'd ordinarily spend procrastinating to productively pursue job opportunities. You'll gain more ground in your search while others procrastinate. 

Here are five quick tips to cut through procrastination barriers, find a great job and get hired.

1. Recognize the Problem

Unless you know when and how you procrastinate, you are likely to stay in a job search rut. So what is procrastination? It's an automatic problem habit where you postpone a timely and relevant activity until another day or time. When you procrastinate you always sidetrack yourself with a diversion, such as playing computer games, daydreaming, wringing your hands about whether your resume is good enough or complaining about a dead job market. You will almost always justify the delay, such as by telling yourself that you need to think more about your career. Once you realize what you do when you procrastinate, you can see the vulnerabilities in this process. (Learn more about why you procrastinate and what you can do about it.)

2. Commit to a Productive Direction

A commitment is a pledge that you'll follow through responsibly. However, promissory note procrastination can waylay that pledge. This is where you make a commitment and then automatically find ways to delay. Promissory note procrastination normally follows the double-agenda dilemma: wanting to meet the commitment (the stated agenda) but succumbing to a hidden agenda, which is to wait until you have an easy time of it. You can cancel promissory note procrastination by following three steps:
  • Making a plan.
  • Setting a time to begin work on your plan as soon as possible.
  • Committing to work on your plan for five minutes, after which you decide whether to continue for another five minutes. The five-minute technique helps you get past inertia that can unravel your best intentions.
3. Refuse to Accept False Excuses for Delays

False optimism feeds procrastination. You routinely con yourself into thinking that later is a better time to start. This thinking takes many forms. Later, or mañana, procrastination thinking, is that tomorrow will be a better time to do what you put off today. It rarely happens that way. Contingency procrastination thinking moves you to a complex new level: You tell yourself you'll go on your job search after, say, you've read the relevant books on how to create a great resume. Then you either put off buying the books or put off reading them once you buy them. You worsen your situation with Catch-22 procrastination thinking. You tell yourself that the job market is too tight, so why try? This type of self-handicapping virtually guarantees a self-fulfilling prophecy. How do you stop this automatic negative thinking? Start with awareness. If you recognize procrastination thinking, you have a fighting chance to shift to do-it-now thinking: doing reasonable things in a reasonable way within a reasonable time to profit and flourish.

4. Build Foresight

Procrastination is partially due to a normal human tendency to go for what is easy and avoid complexities and uncertainties. This survival tendency worked well when we roamed in small tribes 1 million years ago. You had a better chance to survive by grabbing a handful of nuts and berries than planting a wheat field and waiting to harvest it. The process of planning for the future was a radical shift in human evolution that came much later. Today we have both capacities: to go for what is easiest, as well as to plan and act to get a bigger long-term reward. Procrastination comes into play when primitive urges interfere with working toward that bigger long-term gain. To get past this natural short-term gain trap, see beyond the moment. Accept the fact -- even if you don't like it -- that to do better, you need to take a longer-term view and take the essential steps to get a great job. Act on that belief and you have fewer false rewards from complaining or playing a video game. (Here's more about prioritizing strategies for achieving long-term gains.)

5. Put Yourself on a Fearless Job Hunting Path

The path of a fearless job hunter is the path of a realistic optimist. Commitment, hard work and practicality pave the path. Procrastination is a sinkhole on the way. When procrastination interferes with your job search, disappointments can turn to discouragements that translate into future delays. As a fearless job hunter, you keep your eye on your priorities and manage your expectations by expectancy thinking. With expectancy thinking, you concentrate on what is likely to yield the best results in furthering your job search. For example, if networking has the highest yield, and you spend most of your time on the low-yield activity of reading want ads, then making a radical shift to networking sidesteps the procrastination sinkhole. (Here's more about fearless job hunting.)

[Bill Knaus, EdD, is the author of more than 20 books. His most recent are End Procrastination Now (McGraw-Hill 2010) and Fearless Job Hunting (New Harbinger, 2010). He is internationally known for his work in the cognitive revolution in psychotherapy and as one of the original directors of postdoctoral training in rational emotive behavioral therapy. He is the foremost authority on strategies for overcoming procrastination. He writes about procrastination and job searches in his blog series at Psychology Today titled Science and Sensibility, which provides a wealth of information on job search tactics and for ending procrastination that can interfere with a quality search.]