This week, I had amazing coaching conversations with my clients about their professional careers.
A recurrent theme came up: The “evermore education” career trap — using courses, certifications, and programs as barriers to their own career progression.
This is part of what I call productive procrastination.
“the act of delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring”
We associate procrastination with either doing what we call “nothing” — resting — or embarking on pleasurable tasks — watching TV, gaming, gardening— instead of doing the work we have decided we should be doing.
However, for my clients, a recurrent blocker in their career progress has not been bingeing on Netflix instead of searching for a job. It’s been doing something that on the surface appears to be aligned with their professional goal but that it’s procrastination in disguise.
“Not All Speed Is Movement”Toni Cade Bambara
I’m talking about the neverending cycle of “taking another course”, “reading another book”, and“mastering another tool” before applying for a new job, asking for a promotion, or launching a business.
In summary, you convince yourself that before any meaningful step towards progressing in your career, you must learn something that it’s going to take you a considerable amount of time AND that until you complete that step you cannot pursue your career goals.
Why you love productive procrastination
The reason productive procrastination is so efficient is that — unlike bingeing on Netflix — it makes us feel good. How?
- It gives us permission not to risk rejection; that is, not to engage with the person that actually can help us in our career progression: manager, recruiter, or sponsor.
- It allows us to delay our career progression “rationally” — instead of exploring the reasons why we’re resistant to have conversations about our career with key stakeholders, that 3-month course or 6-month program gives us the perfect alibi to “delay” those uncomfortable discussions for another 3 or 6 months.
- It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy — as we learn more, we discover other areas/topics/skills in which we’re not an expert. That enables our brain to come up with yet another“learning milestone” that we “absolutely need to master” before going back to our job search.
- We’re sure to please most of our friends, mentors, and loved ones. When we share with our network of supporters thoughts like “I learned today that it’s good I do course X before I launch my business” or “I’m going to pursue program Y towards my career change”, we — consciously or unconsciously — already know they are going to tell us things like “Great idea”, “I’m pleased you’re taking action”, “Sounds like the right next step”. You feel good, they feel good, and nothing changes.
Why do I say that productive procrastination is a patriarchal strategy?
Because whilst you are “happily busy” learning and perfecting, those with more privilege than you are
- Sending half-cooked CVs to recruiters.
- Asking for warm introductions to hiring managers.
- Launching a website with some typos.
- Negotiating a pay rise.
- Discussing their promotion with their managers.
- Running a survey among their targeted customer group to get feedback on a business idea.
Moreover, productive procrastination reinforces the feeling of “not enoughness” that patriarchal structures feed to women and people from underrepresented groups since we’re born.
How else do you explain that in spite that there are more women than men with university degrees in Oceania, the Americas, and Europe, most leadership positions in those regions are in the hands of men?
How do you detect you’re a victim of productive procrastination?
Some clues that you’ve become a productive procrastinator
- Overcomplicating — You keep adding courses/workshops/certificates to your to-do list of things you have decided you absolutely need to finish before starting to take action.
- Endless polishing — When you look at your CV, website, or business idea, you tell yourself that you’ll need a ton of work to create/develop/improve them and you keep refining the draft versions for weeks, months, or years.
- Neverending sense of “not being enough” — Do you note a pattern of embarking on back-to-back certifications, even if you continue to promise yourself that this will be the last one?
How you get unstuck from productive procrastination
And here are some strategies to unhook you from productive procrastination:
- Overcomplicating — what’s the minimum education or piece of work you need to start interacting with stakeholders in your career?
- Endless polishing — When you look at your CV, what overwhelming evidence do you have that more polishing is needed before you send it?
- Neverending sense of “not being enough” — Decide in advance what’s the minimum you need to “learn” and what’s the deadline. And then stick to it.
BACK TO YOU: What’s one way you’ll stop productively procrastinating to block your career progression this week?
PS. I can help you to unblock your career
Book a strategy session with me to explore how coaching can help you to become your own version of success.