15 May Procrastination
It is the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, which means that I have today and/or tomorrow to write my May newsletter, assuming I want it to arrive in your inbox before the end of the month, which falls on Tuesday. So I thought, “What better topic to write about than procrastination?”
Let me begin by acknowledging that this newsletter is a prime example of “Do what I say, not what I do.” I am well aware of numerous tricks and methods to get things done because I regularly work with clients who also struggle with procrastination. Some are individuals who want to make a change and develop new habits, and others are leaders of organizations who know that it is time to deal with an employee who is causing problems, finally implement the reorganization they have been contemplating for years, begin the strategic planning process that they have also been postponing for years, etc., etc., etc.
Rather than list all the different anti-procrastination tips, this newsletter focuses on two methods that I have found to be most effective — external limits and “the dread list.”
One method that does not seem to be particularly successful is relying on will power. It often works, but it often fails, too. And even when it does work, it requires a lot of energy. Instead, I prefer relying on external limits and assistance, even if self- imposed.
For example, if you want to exercise more, set up a regular exercise date with a friend or sign up and pay in advance for a class so there will be a financial hit if you skip it. If you are the leader of an organization, tell your board and employees that you plan to start the strategic planning process or reorganization by a certain date.
You can, of course, ignore these plans and deadlines since they are voluntary. But doing so will have some pretty significant negative consequences, including the fact that your friend will be irritated and your board and employees will likely lose faith in you. This makes procrastinating a much less appealing option.
The Dread List
Another way to minimize procrastination on individual tasks is to use a “dread list.” When you are having one of those moments where you are at your desk and, instead of doing all the things that you know you should be doing, you are “info snacking” on the internet, or replying to an e-mail that absolutely could wait, or organizing your paper clips by color, then procrastinate in a more useful way. Spend 10 or 15 minutes making a list of all the things that you truly have to do that you don’t want to do. This might include things like filling out your time sheets, calling the plumber to tell him that you’re not paying him until he comes back and fixes your leaking shower for the third time, or calling a client to gently remind her that she has not paid last month’s bill yet. This is your “dread list.”
The trick with the dread list is to do one task on it first thing each morning, or as close to first thing as possible. If you don’t give yourself a chance to think about, and thus dread, a task, it is a lot easier to do it. If doing the task turns out to be as unpleasant as you had feared, at least you’ve knocked something off your list and you’re done with that for the day. And if you can get yourself to do one task a day, then by the end of the week there are five fewer dreaded tasks hanging over your head. In addition, you will often find that it wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be, and sometimes it will go so smoothly that you will even be energized to do more things on your list.
So why did I procrastinate on this newsletter? Probably the usual excuses – I was busy, had other priorities, etc. But the fact is that I am sending this out within the time frame that I set for myself. It has landed in your inbox before June, hasn’t it? Having an external deadline, even an artificial one that I set for myself, works for me. It just isn’t always pretty getting there.
In addition to management consulting, conflict resolution, and executive coaching, I offer tailored programs on a variety of related topics, including how to delegate, communicate more effectively, deal with difficult people, manage conflict in the workplace, manage up, facilitate meetings, manage your career, and network.
Please let me know if there are other topics in which you are interested. If I don’t already have a program on that topic, I am happy to develop one that meets your needs.