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Procrastination – NOT a Problem!

Procrastination – NOT a Problem!

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    “I’m feeling guilty because I procrastinate too much”

    A quick search on Twitter confirmed my hunch.  There are a lot of  people talking about procrastination, and the tweets I surveyed  are filled with feelings of guilt, regret and remorse.

    The word “procrastinate” is a heavy one, and I believe that people are  trying to solve the problem the wrong way, leaving them with baggage that just won’t seem to go away no matter what they do.

    Procrastination: Not a Problem!

    Perhaps procrastination simply isn’t the problem we think it is.

    Webster’s Dictionary defines the word as follows:

    procrastinate: To put off from day to day; to delay; to defer to a future time

    Anyone who is skillful at managing their time will tell you that the  act of “putting off from day to day,” “delaying” and “deferring to  a future time” are required skills in today’s information age.

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    With technology has come an increased number of demands on our time,  and a variety of ways in which we allow ourselves to be  interrupted, reminded or prompted to make new commitments.  The only smart tactic to take is to put things off until later.

    Take the simple example of checking your email Inbox.

    In fifteen minutes it’s possible to scan 100 new items, while making  30 instant decisions to take further action.  It’s impossible to act on  all 30 items immediately.  Instead, it’s a much better idea to focus on a  single item at a time, rather than trying to split one’s attention between multiple tasks.

    In other words, it’s better to “put it off from today,” “delay”  or “defer to a future time” than to try to do multiple actions  at the same time, in the very next moment.

    Why is procrastination deemed to be such a problem if, by its definition, the action is such a benign and even useful one?  I suspect that  when we call a problem by its incorrect name, we prevent ourselves from seeing clear, common-sense solutions.  The word “procrastination” is being used to label the wrong problem.

    The Real Problem

    To understand the real problem, let’s look at some cases in which  actual failures occurred, and why they had nothing to do with  procrastination.

    Failure #1 – A Missed Due Date: Sam’s homework was due on Monday morning, and she waited until  late on Sunday evening to get started.  After she started she found  out that the assignment required  at least 20 hours of work, which she could not complete in time.   The assignment was handed in late, and her tardiness cost her a  full letter grade according to the rules stated in the syllabus.

    Analysis: Most might call Sam a procrastinator, but I only see that she has a weakness in scheduling her time.  The failure started by  not properly estimating the size of the task, and continued when  she didn’t use her calendar to determine the best time to start the assignment.

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    In this case what we call procrastination is actually a problem  with the discipline that time management experts would call “personal scheduling.”

    Failure #2 – Several Delays: Mike has made an internal decision to cut the lawn on Saturday,  an activity that he despises.  On the appointed day, other events intervene, and he decides to cut the lawn on Sunday instead.

    Sunday rolls around and once again he decides to postpone his date  with the lawnmower until Wednesday.

    On Wednesday he decides that next Friday would be better, and  he once again foregoes the much needed chore.

    On Friday he finally cuts the entire lawn in one effort.

    Analysis: Was Mike procrastinating?  Many would say yes, and  they might strongly imply that he was just being lazy.

    If I add in the fact that it rained on Friday, Monday and Tuesday  nights rendering the ground soft and unsafe for a cut, would it be  said that he was still being lazy, and procrastinating?

    If I add in the fact that his neighbour cut his lawn under similar  conditions would you change your mind?  And if I add in the fact  that the neighbour is known to be a drunkard who sometimes does  crazy things help you to change your  mind again?

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    The problem with the way we use procrastination is that it has come to mean much more than the dictionary definition, and now brings with it  an accusing tone filled with blame.

    If we were to use the dictionary definition of the word we’d conclude that he was simply re-scheduling.  The fact is that he deferred  the activity, and according to the dictionary, he was procrastinating.  According to our common-day usage of the word, it all depends on  whether or not he was to blame for the delay.

    The charge of being a “procrastinator” that we lay against  ourselves and others has a become a way to cast blame.

    Solutions

    The negative judgements and feelings related to procrastinating  don’t come from the delays, the  putting off or the postponements.  Instead they come from our  judgemental minds which  have decided that something or someone is to blame.  A close look at the examples above reveal that  it’s actually the negative thoughts that are producing the guilty  feelings and the blame, and NOT the actual rescheduling.

    What can we do about these negative thoughts?  What can we do if we  continue to blame ourselves and others for procrastinating?

    There are a variety of approaches that we can use, but  this is  my personal favorite.  Byron Katie’s methods of dealing with  stressful thoughts is the method that I have used for the past 4 years. (Her entire approach can be found at her website.)

    Her thesis is simple, and is a good match for the problem of blame.

    Stress is never caused by life circumstances, but instead it  originates in the thoughts that we have, and whether or not we  believe them.

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    In the example above, Sam’s assignment was late (a fact,) but her thought that “I’m a procrastinator” would only cause stress if she believed it.

    On Katie’s site, there is a powerful and simple process. It involves dealing with stressful thoughts by  first writing them down and then  applying 4 questions and what  she calls a turnaround statement (an opposing thought.)

    The result of using her process on stressful, judgmental thoughts about procrastination is a sense of relief in which statements  like “I should stop procrastinating” might still recur, but  without the stress that usually comes.

    While this kind of habit might not seem to be related to time  management, there are so many who struggle with thoughts of  procrastination that if they could get past their own thinking, it  would help bring peace of mind — which is the goal of every time management system.

    So, if you think you have an issue with procrastination, start by  separating your actions from your thoughts. Deal with your skill at scheduling if you need to. According to the dictionary, you are  probably doing the right thing by procrastinating.

    If you find that you have blaming thoughts that keep returning, and that  they are causing stress, use Katie’s method to free yourself to be as productive as you can be without this  harmful habit.

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    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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