It’s Wednesday evening. You had planned to prepare your job application this afternoon, but you got caught up in other stuff and now it’s late… too late. Are you (again) going to pull it off at the last minute? Or is it better to postpone it all until tomorrow? Or maybe you missed the deadline? If this sounds all too familiar, we’ve got good news: at least, you’re not alone — neither in procrastination, nor in your job search.
In today’s blog, Zhanna shares her experience with job search- related procrastination, and 4 tips to learn to live with it!
As I’m writing these lines, there are over 68 million results on Google for procrastination-related topics. The Amazon Kindle offers more than 5000 books: from the self-help guides on how to beat, avoid or overcome it, through essays on the power of habit and discipline, to pieces claiming you can take advantage of this behaviour. Psychologists, therapists, biologists, coaches, mentors, everyone seems to focus on the phenomenon of procrastination these days, and that’s for a good reason: we all encounter it from time to time.
The term procrastination comes from Latin procrastinare which combines pro(forward) with -crastinus, (till next day) from cras, (tomorrow).
But why do we procrastinate?
Procrastinating can be rooted in many fears: self-doubt, boredom, fear of failure, a feeling of being unready or unprepared… these are a few of the reasons stated by the psychiatrist, executive coach and consultant for major corporate organisations Mark Goulston. In his book ‘Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behaviour’, he explains that those feelings don’t necessarily cause procrastination, as much as loneliness does.
And that’s exactly how I feel when I’m looking for a job: screening job offers, editing my CV, compiling a new cover letter… it makes me the loneliest person in the world. Subconsciously, I try to delay this process as much as I can, waiting until the application deadline to take action. And of course, consequently postponing my submission worsens the quality of my application, not to mention the additional stress it causes! Add to all that the feeling of isolation caused by being a newcomer foreigner in Flanders. If it sounds like a big ball of anxiety, that’s because it is.
Thankfully, throughout the last year and many of those procrastination outbursts, I came up with some ideas on how to abandon the Republic of Loneliness, by opening up for local cultural events and equipping myself with self- and sociocultural awareness.
- Find yourself a job-search buddy
People have jogging buddies, study groups and collaborators in order to excel with their goals. For example, some writers have writing companions: they set their daily word goals and write together in cafés, libraries or during zoom marathons. Book clubs are another instance of efficiency driven by team spirit: because of the unwritten obligation to your friends, being part of a book club makes people read faster, with deeper reflection and attention to details. According to Goulston, the key to overcoming loneliness-based procrastination is to enlist the support of other people. The secret here is not only the team spirit but also the gratification that you will hear on the accounts of your efforts.
During my job search, I united my endeavours with other unemployed friends. When we shared with each other the bitter and the sweet moments of a recruitment process, we felt connected and embraced in confidence. In the absence of another unemployed friend, try to find someone who you trust, and who inspires you while bringing the necessary gratification to your efforts.
Another way to replace your procrastination with a proactive approach is to join the Co-Searching workshops. During these meetings in small groups with other job seekers of all horizons, you have a chance to share your story, get support and practical advice. The workshops and conversation groups take place in Ghent, Mechelen, and sometimes online. Check out the calendar and see which upcoming events you’d like to be a part of, they’re all free.
2. Morning saves the day
It’s past lunch time. Since I woke up, I ran several home chores, scrolled endlessly through Facebook and Instagram, read all the headlines. All along, in the back of my head, I carried the usual bundle of thoughts: ‘look who’s wasting her time again’, ‘I really need to get a job’ or ‘ugh, not another cover letter’. To no one’s surprise, that day, I did not apply to any job offer. On a day like that, my attention is so distracted that I cannot focus on a job application.
But I found a solution: having a morning routine sets the mood for the day. For me, that means a good breakfast, followed by a walk in the neighbourhood, listening to chirping birds and watching the city wake up: this routine brings my awareness to my day. It not only sets my focus sharp, but it also boosts my creativity. When I get home, I start preparing my CV and cover letter with a focused mind and ‘fresh eyes’.
In fact, it doesn’t really matter what your routine is: the most important thing is that you stay curious and find what works for you.
3. Look at yourself through the eyes of new friends
My first half a year in Belgium, I felt isolated from society: it was partially due to the lack of Dutch language skills and of course, the covid-19 lockdown, but to a major degree, my isolation was caused by my fears of the new socio- cultural landscape. This I understood only after participating in the course ‘Reading together with non-native speakers’ (NL: SamenLezen voor anderstaligen), organised by the Avansa Regio Gent. With the guidance of project leader Andre Vermaerk, I discovered the healing power of reading local and world famous pieces. And most importantly, I managed to replace my fears with courage and self-knowledge. Being a part of a group of like-minded people was a therapeutic way to push my own boundaries, as I could not relate to topics we were discussing during the sessions without referring to my past. Therefore, this activity helped me to look at myself through the eyes of others. I gained a new perspective on my competences and working experience.
Another place to find something for yourself is a local library. In de Krook Krant ( Ghent’s public library newspaper), you will find a programme of activities up to three months in advance. They also offer different learning opportunities, lectures and thought-provoking discussions.
4. Stop criticising yourself: set a weekly goal for new applications.
The feeling of guilt, followed by self-criticism, are my greatest enemies. They usually appear together with a series of thoughts like ‘I just missed the deadline’, ‘I did not have enough energy to provide the necessary documents’, ‘another job offer just slipped out of my hands’. These negative thoughts were making me feel even lonelier, and keeping my motivation and self-esteem at an all-time low. As a result, I wasted more time putting myself down for procrastinating than focusing on improving my career chances!
But what could I do to stop feeling that frustration of not applying for each and every interesting job offer? Instead of focusing on what I didn’t do, I started setting a minimum weekly limit for job applications. As a result, I had a measurable goal and a feeling of achievement after completing it.
I delayed writing this blog until the last moment on purpose: I wanted to have a closer look at the mechanism of procrastination. Nothing bad happened, in fact, I met the deadline. The text was edited and published. But postponing it made me always dwell around this task on the to-do list, and enhance a dash of guilt for not keeping my commitment. Not doing this one thing kept me blocked in my mind; the same happens when I delay preparing a job application. In other words, by procrastinating, I stayed in one place all the time, without moving forward.
inspired by ‘Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior’ by Mark Goulston, Philip Goldberg.