What Are You Waiting For? Procrastination and the Job Search

You’ve probably heard it said that looking for a job IS a job, and a full-time one at that. This might explain why so many people are willing to put off important aspects of the job search; the thought of spending 40 hours a week on the job search is enough to frighten off the most dedicated job seeker. When you spend that amount of time at a paid job there are tangible rewards: getting paid, the satisfaction of doing good work, recognition from your boss, socializing with co-workers, and so on.

The rewards of the job search may seem few and far between by comparison, which leads many people to procrastinate. The internalconversation might go something like this:

Starting tomorrow, I’m really going to focus on my job search!


I’m going to really work on my job search as soon as I get home from driving the kids to school.

Now that I’m home, I’m going to look for a job. I just need to throw this load of laundry in, then I’m going to focus until it’s time to take Mom to her doctor’s appointment.

I’d better check my email first – there could be a message from an employer!

While I’m online, I should check my Facebook.

Oops, look at the time – I don’t really have time to do anything, so I’ll wait until I get home from that doctor’s appointment.

I need to get dinner started. I’ll look for a job after dinner/after the kids go to bed/after this TV show.

I’m too tired to work on the job search. I’ll start fresh tomorrow.

And so on.

There are actually several different kinds of procrastination:

Procrastination is voluntarily delaying an activity, even though you know there will be negative consequences. Strategic delay is putting off a decision or activity because the benefits of doing something else first outweigh the negative consequences of whatever we’re putting off. Self-handicapping is avoiding effort in order to avoid potential failure. And there are situations we put ourselves into that help us procrastinate, like social loafing (groups of people assigned a task do less work than each individual normally would) and waiting until last-minute deadline pressure forces us to work (arousal procrastination). (Source: “Getting Around to Procrastination” by Romeo Vitelli, PhD.)

ProcrastinationWe put off tasks that are unpleasant, difficult, or unrewarding, and occasional procrastination isn’t a problem. When it starts to become a regular habit or have serious consequences, it can be helpful to understand WHAT you’re avoiding and WHY you’re avoiding it.

A favorite activity of procrastinators is busy-work; that is, doing some kind of activity that makes you look and feel busy, even if it’s not moving you closer to your goal. If you feel like you’re spending a lot of time on job search activities but not making any progress, try keeping a log and see how you’re really spending your time. Are you procrastinating more than you thought? Here are a few tips to stay focused:

Have a written plan

Know what you want to accomplish in a given hour, day, or week. Breaking down a seemingly-huge task into smaller pieces can make it feel more achievable and help keep you focused.

Schedule your time

Write down job search time on your calendar and avoid competing commitments. You don’t have to schedule 40 hours a week, but you do need to set aside regular time to work on your job search.

Keep your commitment to yourself

Just as you’d keep an appointment scheduled with your doctor, you need to treat your job search time seriously. Don’t let day-to-day commitments sidetrack you.

Rethink your plan

If you can never, ever find the interest or energy to pursue your job search, it may be worthwhile to examine your goals. Would you feel more motivated if you were looking in a different direction?

Be nice to yourself

You don’t have to dedicate every waking moment of your life to the job search. Once you’ve completed your scheduled tasks for the day, be done. It’s okay to have fun, pursue hobbies, and have a social life – in fact, doing things you enjoy will help keep you energized and better able to focus the next day.


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