Procrastination has haunted us all from time to time. For some, it’s a minor nuisance – for others a terrifying pattern. Let’s examine the subject with a mind to rid ourselves of it for good.
Procrastination is defined as “the avoidance of a task that needs to be accomplished.” There are as many recommendations about how to overcome it as there are definitions. Don Marquis’s definition above seems particularly helpful. In a world where many of us are “over-subscribed” that is, we can’t say no until we are crushed by the volume, we jump from task to task in a kind of theme park-like triage of the most pressing to be accomplished. This can lead to things falling through the cracks and most importantly, some of our most precious relationships. Those we care most about often get delegated to the “things to do later” list. For working parents, tightly knit teams and family businesses this is dangerous territory.
To shine a light on the challenge, let’s take a look at the planning/selection perspective. When we choose what to do, in what order and level of attention, we often set a trap for ourselves. Given the urgency, we feel we may take on the easy stuff first. A good strategy for creating momentum and a sense of accomplishment. Not so good from a prioritization or energy perspective. If your time and energy go to the easy, not as important stuff, you not only save the worst for last, you also cement yourself in the stuff you are “known for” (thus the quote.) We call this “loss avoidance.” If you do the stuff you are good at, you protect your competence and feel more in control. Not taking on the harder stuff saves you from losses in either category but might deplete your energy to do the harder, possibly more important stuff.
Here’s an experiment to try:
- Make a daily or weekly list of the ten-twelve things you need to do.
- Star the ones that are ongoing (they don’t end/they need to be done over and over – e.g. pay the bills, do the laundry, review accounts payable or receivable etc.)
- Examine what remains. Are they tasks or projects? Fun and exciting? Unpleasant but necessary? (terminate someone or something, get a colonoscopy etc.) How does the list make you feel?
- If it feels more overwhelming, pick 2-3 “homerun items,” that is, tasks that will really make you feel good to complete. Make a deal with yourself not only when you’ll do them, but how you will reward yourself when you do (buy something, indulge in something – whatever excites you.)
- Follow this process for two weeks. It is important that you stick to the two week time frame (and not quit on day two if you fall off the wagon.) What you are doing is rewiring your brain. You have followed your current path long enough. By conducting the experiment you are acknowledging a desire for change. This experiment will alter your behavior. Two weeks is enough time for your belief system to catch up – thus the brain rewire.
Try it. We are anxious to hear how it goes.Imagine a world where you put your best and consistent effort on the most important tasks in front of you right now! Good luck.