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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.

    More by this author

    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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