Find Your Dream Job, Episode 322:
How to Beat Procrastination in Your Job Search, with Ursina Teuscher
Airdate: November 17, 2021
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You know you need a new job. But you don’t do anything about it. Does this sound like you?
Ursina Teuscher, Ph.D., is here to talk about how to beat procrastination in your job search.
Dr. Tuescher is a licensed career counselor with a doctorate in applied psychology. She helps her clients make big decisions, find clarity about values, and achieve goals.
She joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Well, Ursina, let’s start with a really basic question. Why do people procrastinate during a job search?
Yeah, there are, in fact, so many reasons why we do procrastinate, and I think job search is one of those tasks that could offer a multitude of reasons to procrastinate, actually, because it’s for one, it’s usually a big kind of project. If you can even call it that. It’s a huge task. It’s sometimes a very ill-defined task, and it’s also psychologically fraught. You know, it’s, for most people, it’s filled with maybe self-doubt, or at the very least, you’re gonna feel like you’re gonna be judged, and it’s not pleasant for most people.
So I think, in that task, there can be so many reasons, and I think that holds in general for procrastination is that there can be a lot of reasons to procrastinate, and it helps to figure out what in particular it is that’s making it hard to then be able to tackle that.
Is there something about job search, in particular, that makes people more likely to procrastinate when it comes time to look for a new job or leave a company?
Yeah, definitely. I think it oftentimes, it feels like a scary task. But I do think that in reality, what’s more difficult is that it’s oftentimes not clear what you need to do. There could be so many things that you could be doing, and that itself, the not being clear about what you need to do, and also not being clear about how much you need to do, is, I think, what makes it particularly difficult to procrastinate with that task even though it’s, for most people, a very important task, too.
What about people, Ursina, who might be mid-career or even further along in their career, and they’ve changed jobs before, so they have an understanding of what’s involved in sending out applications, preparing for interviews, talking to employers? Why does someone who has that kind of experience procrastinate?
In that case, too, maybe a lack of feeling motivated to do it and feeling that you should get inspired to look for a new job before you start looking for it. So I think there could still be different reasons there. But I also, somebody who knows exactly what they have to do might actually procrastinate less, is my guess. But definitely, there are, it’s still also the kind of task where you don’t have a deadline, usually, and so that, too, makes it harder to get started.
In your coaching practice, you work with so many job seekers, Ursina. Is procrastination something that just pops up occasionally among your clients, or is it a widespread problem, not only among your clients but with job seekers in general?
I think it is really a widespread problem, and one that maybe people are not even quite aware of, either that they’re having it because I think also the worst procrastination happens when we’re not aware that we’re doing it. But also, it’s maybe not something that people think they could get help with. It’s not something that they usually, most people who get in touch with me are not looking for procrastination coaching. They’re looking for career coaching. So they’re not usually aware that that’s something that could be fixed or that they could work on. But when we do bring it up or when it comes up as a problem, because they’re saying that they’re not maybe getting around to doing the things that they wanted to do, it usually turns out that it is a big problem for almost everybody I talk to.
I’m intrigued by that point you made a moment ago that people might be procrastinating but not even aware of it. What are examples or signs of procrastination that a job seeker might not be aware of that they’re engaging in?
Yeah, there might be things that are actually things that we are doing that are disguised as productivity, too, that we might be doing all the other tasks except that one we really should be doing. Right? Or we might just not do anything and get kind of paralyzed about that, and if you’re not aware that you’re doing it, you might also not realize how much time you’re spending with not doing that task that you actually want to do, and just getting a better awareness of that. Of when it happens and what happens instead, it can help us figure out how to fix that too.
I want to talk about how to beat procrastination. But just one more question about this, an example of people procrastinating but not being aware of it. What are examples, specifically, of activities that people might be engaging in that might appear to be productive but ultimately are a way of avoiding looking for work?
Yea, there could be, for example, I would say often tasks that have that don’t have those characteristics that I just talked about. When we talk about job search as a big project, things that have a deadline or that have, that are right in your face.
For example, answering emails. Those are things that you feel like you have to do because it’s someone basically asking for your help or your answer, and it’s right in your face, and you do it. You could do it all day long. Right? Or you could be on FaceBook all day long because there’s always something happening, and you might not realize how much you’re doing it and how much time you’re spending with that because it feels like you’re being busy. Maybe FaceBook doesn’t feel like you’re being busy. But if you’re browsing on the other things that are relevant for your work in some way or being on LinkedIn, researching things. Those can feel like you’re being productive, and sometimes they are what you actually need to be doing. But sometimes, they are a way of avoiding what you know you actually need to be doing next.
Well, let’s talk about how to stop procrastination. How do you recommend getting started, Ursina?
I would get started by actually figuring out why you are doing it, and I also want to give you an example here because, with job search, it could be – let’s say, you have a task that you know that you want to do. But it’s really hard for you, like, for example, you might really dislike writing to people to connect with them on LinkedIn, and that feels so hard that you’re not doing it. If you realize that that’s the reason you’re not doing it, that you know what you need to do, but it’s too hard, the fix would be different than if you don’t know what you’re doing or what you need to do next.
So if, for example, if you find out that your task is really hard or really kind of painful in some ways, then you might need to find ways to make the task easier or get yourself a better reward afterward.
Those can be tricks to work with that are different from, if you don’t know what you need to do next, then you need to define that task better, and really break it down more, and figure out what you even need to do next.
Do you recommend starting with the most unpleasant task of all? The people who do have a good sense of what they like and don’t like, is it best to start with the thing that you dread the most?
That is a really good question that I sometimes ask the clients themselves because I think they know what – some people need to start with the most difficult; others need to ease into things, and you can either, you can even try both. If one doesn’t work, try the other one. But I think both can be a really good idea, and you may have an intuition in the moment of what feels easier or what feels more likely to be successful.
I can imagine a listener wondering, well, how do I figure that out? Is it just something that you have to do, and what should you – what signs should you look for? Because if the task is unpleasant, it’s gonna be hard to tackle. So how do you decide which camp you fall into, Ursina?
Almost always, with the kind of people I work with, the task is not actually that unpleasant when you think about it. It may be boring, or it may be, at least for most clients I work with, they’re not in physically painful jobs. They dread the tasks for other reasons that are not really directly related to the task, and so, in general, I find it more helpful to really figure out what the task is and get a lot of clarity on that, and break it down into smaller chunks, and treat it as actual work, where it’s okay if it’s a little bit unpleasant; you just do it anyway. Most people are okay with that when it comes to work.
I think it can actually be a trap to try to get, to think that you have to be inspired or excited about a task. That’s not necessary. Right? You can just do it, and most tasks are kind of okay to do once you figure out what you need to do. And so, I think, in general, for almost all cases, it’s not a question of getting the task to be more pleasant.
Well, let’s pause there, Ursina. I want to take a quick break. Stay with us; when we come back. Dr. Ursina Teuscher will continue to share her advice on how to beat procrastination in your job search.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Dr. Ursina Teuscher.
She’s a licensed career counselor with a doctorate in applied psychology. Ursina helps her clients make big decisions, find clarity about values, and achieve goals.
She joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Now, Ursina, before the break, we were talking about how to beat procrastination in your job search, and you were making the point that a great way to get started is to break things down into tasks, simple tasks, and then treat the thing that you perhaps have been dreading as just another chore. Why do you find that works with your clients? What is it about that approach that makes it effective?
I think it makes it very approachable because it kind of takes it down a notch if you will? It makes it less about the bigger picture and the giant task, and it also takes some of the self-doubting out of it because you know you can do the very next step. Even if that very next step is maybe actually finding out what the next step is.
Maybe you need to talk to a friend first and get some ideas of what you could be doing next if you’re not sure what to do about your job search, for example, and that’s okay. That is a next step, and that could be your next task, and yeah, that just seems to it seems to work a lot better than to think about a big goal or a big project which you feel like you will be evaluated afterwards on.
And if it is a big project, and there are multiple steps, and it’s gonna take some time, perhaps over the course of a couple of days, how do you recommend someone manage that? Should they create some big plan with timetables and color-coded schedules or lists, or what do you find works with the clients that you coach?
That could work, and that’s also something that I usually check in with my clients to see what matches their style. So some people actually love to have those kinds of schedules and a plan, and color-coding and post-it notes, and if that works, if that’s a motivating thing, also, having checkboxes and stuff, that’s great.
And for other people, it’s enough to have a kind of bigger, have a good idea of where things are going eventually and then just take it one step at a time. So that is something that, again, people usually know what works best for them if they see that those are options that we could take.
And you mentioned earlier, in the first segment, that sometimes people will procrastinate because they don’t know how to do a task; maybe they haven’t done a job search, for example, in some time, maybe they’re early in their career and sending out applications and preparing for interviews is brand new to them. How important is it, Ursina, to get educated as a way to beat procrastination? Is that a factor that listeners should consider?
I think that is important, and maybe that holds for other tasks, too. You need to know that you are on the right track before getting started, and that can sometimes mean that you realize that there is no one right way to do it, which is probably what I would think about job search is the case, that there are many ways to do it. But you need to have enough confidence by knowing that what you’re doing makes sense. Right? Even if no, maybe one task is guaranteed to pay off, you need to know that what you’re doing could potentially pay off, and it’s the right way to spend your time. I think that is an important part to figure that out.
Another strategy I know you recommend is to set smaller goals, and you talked about this earlier in breaking things down into parts. Can you give us an example of what a smaller goal might look like?
Yeah, absolutely, and there’s actually something more to be said than just to break it down. I think, oftentimes, it’s also important to actually make the goals smaller like, as in – I’m kind of giving an example of a client who was saying that he needed to study more because all of his classmates were studying eight to twelve hours a day. And I would bet a lot of money that actually none of his classmates were studying eight to twelve hours a day, according to my definition of studying at least, and I was telling him that and asking him, “Look, how much are you studying right now? And how little could you do that would still be an improvement over that, and that would feel like a realistic time per day that you could do?”
And he realized that, actually, that may be like two hours a day. That’s what he would be confident that he could do, and if he did that, it would be so much better than what he was doing at the moment.
And the same happened to me with a job search client who realized that if he just did, even three-quarters of an hour each day from Monday to Thursday even only, that would be a lot more than what he was currently doing, and it would get him a lot further. Would get him far enough, basically, eventually, if he kept doing that.
And so that can be a nice – I think that it can be important to take the goals really down from a probably unrealistic idea.
What stops people from setting those more realistic smaller goals? Why do they fall – think that they need to study eight to twelve hours a day or do some other unrealistic goal?
I think part comes really from comparing ourselves to people who don’t even actually exist. Like we see our coworkers maybe and think that they are productive all day long, and the truth is they’re probably not. Everybody is wasting a lot of time, actually, and you can get pretty far in life if you just work not that much per day, but you do it consistently with good habits. You can actually end up surprisingly productive over an extended period of time.
Whereas we can also, we can spend so much time not being productive and thinking we should be and feeling guilty about it, and then at the end of the day, being exhausted from all the work we haven’t even done. And that, I think that happens so much more, and to so many more people that I think we’re not aware that we’re not the only ones who are doing that.
In setting your smaller goals, Ursina, how can you be sure you’re doing enough to move ahead but not doing too much? How do you strike that balance?
Yeah, and that is a tough one because you don’t know exactly. You don’t know if it will be enough. I think where I would like to start is to find out what the best quantity is for you, like as an individual. You may have your own limit. I have my own limit of how productive I can be, and even if I wish I could do more, I need to be realistic with that and realize that, over a long period of time, the best I can do is maybe doing two hours of really focused work, and that is my personal best, and that’s my sustainable, kind of, time that I can do, and it doesn’t matter how much would be enough. Because enough for what? Right? Enough to write a book in a month? No, it’s not enough for that. But is it enough to write a book over three years? Then maybe it’s enough.
So that is something we need to define each by ourselves, and not fall into the trap of thinking that there is a threshold that’s the same for everybody or that we need to fulfill in order to be okay.
In our first segment, you touched a little bit about the sources of procrastination. Talk more about that. Why is it important to understand what’s causing your procrastination? What the source is?
Well, it’s important because you might otherwise try to fix something that’s either not necessary, and you fix it. Like, for example, you might think that you need to make a task more pleasant when you don’t have to, or you might try to fix something that you can’t, or you may also find, if you know what’s tripping you up, you might find a very easy fix for that. For example, you might just have to set an alarm clock and then start working at that time. That could be a very easy fix that might work if you realized that your lunch break is longer than you intended it to be.
Well, it’s been a great conversation. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?
Well, I have, for years. I’ve been helping people make big decisions, both in career and in personal life, that are life-changing and that are important to think through. But as I found as I worked with people making these bigger decisions, I found that they often have trouble aligning their daily choices to reach those big goals, like procrastination is such an example that it trips people up and keeps them from reaching their big goals.
And supporting people with those daily choices is a really exciting challenge for me, and I’d love to do more of that in the future. Because there are so many helpful ideas and findings to draw from neuroscience, and behavioral economics, and things like choice architecture, that really help us create the kind of environment for ourselves that makes things easier that we really want to do, and so I hope to do more of that as time goes on.
Well, terrific. I know listeners can learn more about you and your services and your work by visiting teuscher-coaching.com. I will be sure to include that URL in the show notes as well.
Now, Ursina, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to beat procrastination in your job search?
I would say, after figuring out what’s tripping you up, I would say, creating a friendlier kind of task structure for yourself or a friendly schedule that you find that you can stick to would be my number one advice and one that I think helps for most people. Even if the obstacles are different, I would say for most people, giving yourself smaller tasks and better rewards is the way to go and making your life easier rather than trying to work harder. That would be my number one advice.
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