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Monday, November 17, 2014

Procrastination

     My sister gave me a thin, flat wooden disk about four inches in diameter.
     On it was printed a circular inscription: “ROUND TUIT. You said you would do (whatever) when you got around to it. You wanted to get a Round Tuit.  This is A Round Tuit.  Now you have one. So, go do it.”
     Kind of an antic way to address this most pervasive, maybe most self-punishing, of our unloved habits as human beings.
     Procrastination.
     This is “I was too busy.” I put it off. I never got to it. I haven’t gotten to it yet. I’m working on it (No, I’m not). I’ll get back to you. And so on.
     Well, who doesn’t live this way? Do you feel that you’re fully up to speed on all your intentions for today? For this week? This month? Your life?
     No? Me, neither. I'm working on it.

     Procrastination is a syndrome, not a disease. It is a broad description that can cover a thousand undesired symptoms; it is not a source or cause of a problem. It acknowledges that the thing didn’t get done. It says nothing about the cause or the process. Standing alone, “procrastination” is meaningless and useless.

     You know why you procrastinate? Because you don’t want to do it, that’s why. Whatever it is, you could do it, but you’re doing something else instead, and keep doing other things. You’re avoiding the thing.
     It is NOT procrastination when you legitimately could not get to it. Say, it moved out of reach, or circumstances in some way simply made it impossible.
     Experts at avoidance and/or self-delusion find ways to just stop thinking about it. Bring it up and they don’t know what you’re talking about. Then, if you have them nailed, they can – on the spot – manufacture all kinds of “reasons” why they’re not getting that thing done.
     Most of us don’t do that . . . most of the time. We’re more likely to ‘fess up, burn with shame a bit .  . . and still not do it.
     Are we really inadequate, undisciplined, lazy?
     Not necessarily. We may suspect, or sense, that there is something potentially difficult or unpleasant in the situation or the action. Maybe it’s just unfamiliar, and we’re waiting for information or assistance to somehow materialize.
     Since it’s outside our routine/accustomed behavior, we vaguely figure to give it a look “when we have time.” We just never seem to have the time.

     Of course, we do have the time. We’re just investing it in other things. We don’t have a habituated process for ingesting and accounting for possibilities outside the comfortable and the routine.
     And there’s the answer – or at least the behavioral sector in which the answer resides: Habit.
     If we’re not careful, we invest our habits with ultimate power over our behavior. I do this, so I don’t do that. I rarely even think about it. These choices have been made long since, and don’t get re-examined any more.
     I think I’m hearing more these days about personal focus, mindfulness, devoting conscious mental attention to what my mind and body are doing in the moment. Some of this is narcissistic rubbish, but from a businesslike point of view it’s worth taking a look at.
     My current career is devoted to helping people – including myself – adopt sensible and practical ways of shaping their personal behavior in pursuit of the life they may only have wistfully dreamed of. I’m now  into nutsy-boltsy stuff, do-able actions -- relatively easy, useful new habits.
     I’m by no means alone in this.
     Will Edwards, the prominent personal productivity author, provides this summary of quotes from Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People:”

Be Proactive:
     "Taking initiative does not mean being pushy, obnoxious, or aggressive. It does mean recognizing our responsibility to make things happen."

Begin With the End in Mind:
     "(This habit)...is based on imagination -- the ability to envision, to see the potential, to create with our minds what we cannot at present see with our eyes..."

Put First Things First:
     "Create a clear, mutual understanding of what needs to be accomplished, focusing on what, not how; results not methods. Spend time. Be patient. Visualize the desired result."

Think Win-Win:
     "Win-Win is a frame of mind that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win-Win means that agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial and satisfying."

Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood:
     "'Seek First to Understand' involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They're either speaking or preparing to speak. They're filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people's lives."

Synergize:
     "Synergy works; it's a correct principle. It is the crowning achievement of all the previous habits. It is effectiveness in an interdependent reality - it is teamwork, team building, the development of unity and creativity with other human beings."

Sharpen the Saw:
     "This is the habit of renewal...It circles and embodies all the other habits. It is the habit of continuous improvement...that lifts you to new levels of understanding and living each of the habits."

     I read the Covey book many years ago, around the time I got into Project Management, and into learning how to manage and market my solo consulting practice. It had a powerful effect then, and still does.
     If you can manage your time, you can identify and manage your priorities. You can make a routine of continuous personal improvement. Little things, done consistently, have great big results. Very satisfying.
     Covey’s list is a pretty good one to start with. It really isn’t all that difficult. It does, though, take a modest movement of the mind to really convince yourself that you have a say about what becomes of you.
     And then little daily dose of self-discipline to remind yourself that you’re important, worth the effort to set a few meaningful little goals . . . and mean it. Bye-bye, procrastination.

See also: Interruptions & Disruptions











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