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Choices and Consequences

Choices and Consequences

Choices and Consequences

    Consider this: In three weeks time, you have a big presentation to a long-hoped-for new client. Three weeks is plenty of time, though, so each day you sit down at your computer and, instead of working on your presentation, play game after game of Desktop Tower Defense. Three weeks and a day later, you’re clearing out your desk after being let go for failing to get that big wished-for client.

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    Or this: It’s the night before the Big Exam. For weeks you’ve been skipping class or, when you did show up, wiling away your classroom hours by texting back-and-forth with your friends. Now, with imminent failure facing you, you decide to go blow off steam with your friends. Hung-over and unprepared, of course you fail the Big Exam. Which means you fail the class and, since your GPA has slipped to an unacceptable level, you lose your athletic scholarship. You won’t be back in the Fall.

    Or this: The Coach purse in the display window looks so pretty, so alluring, that you just have to have it. It will pull you up a little short on this month’s budget, but you’ve been good lately, right? Surely you can tighten your belt a little in exchange for treating yourself to something nice? Three weeks later, the transmission craps out on your car. With no money in the bank, you’re forced to use public transportation for the first time in your life. Not knowing the schedule very well, you’re late to work every day for a week; on payday, the boss tells you that they won’t be needing your services any more.

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    This is not a post about making bad choices, though you’d be forgiven if that’s the lesson you’ve drawn from it so far. No, it’s not so much about making poor choices as it is about making a certain kind of choice, a choice made in the moment, for the moment, with little or no thought to consequences.

    This kind of choice doesn’t always result in the kind of dire circumstances I’ve described above. Sometimes, everything works out fine. Occasionally, last-minute strokes of luck even pull our bacon out of the fire.

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    That’s not the point. The point is this: You can choose your actions, or you can choose your consequences, but you can’t choose both.

    All the stories above are stories of people choosing their actions. Once you choose your action, the consequences follow from that choice with a will of their own. Choose drinking over studying? The consequence is liable to be failure. Choose hanging with your friends over seeing your child’s Spring recital? The consequence is liable to be the loss of your child’s trust, and possibly the lost respect of your spouse and other family. Choose to drive too fast to show off? There’s a good chance your action will lead to accident, injury, even death for you or someone else.

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    Or you can choose your consequences. If the outcome you want is success in your job, you probably have a pretty good idea of the actions you need to take to get it. Certainly prioritizing work over goofing off is part of it! If academic success is the consequence you’d like to enjoy, your plan of action is also pretty clear cut: a certain amount of study and organization is demanded. Maybe you’d like to build a loving, positive relationship with your children? You’re going to have to make a certain amount of time for that, even at the expense of other things you might like to be able to do.

    You only get to pick one or the other, though. You can’t choose to drink and party and have the consequence be automatic success. You can’t choose to slack off at work and have the consequence be promotion. You don’t get to choose to spend your money frivolously and as a consequence have plenty in reserve when emergency strikes.

    Now, we can’t always act according to clear-cut consequences, and certainly it’s worthwhile to live in the moment now and again. Which brings me to the last and most important part of all this: whatever you do, own your choice. If you choose dumbly, take full responsibility for the consequences of that choice. If you choose to act towards a desired outcome rather than deviate from that path, own that too – don’t kick yourself, or let others kick you, for your commitment.

    It’s not so bad that people act in the moment and make poor choices; what makes it ugly is when they’re shocked, shocked I tell you, to find that they didn’t achieve the outcome they’d desired. Don’t be that person: if you can’t accept the consequences of your actions, don’t do them! No matter what you do, remember: the choice is yours.

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    Last Updated on October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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