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Sep 4, 2007

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Control and Overcome Procrastination

Control and Overcome Procrastination

Procrastination – putting off till tomorrow things that we should
do today. At some point in our lives, we are either guilty of
procrastination or know of friends or colleagues who are. Is
procrastination a bad thing? Would you call procrastinators lazy?
Are they poor decision makers? Would you marry or stay married
to a procrastinator? As you will read, we do not view
procrastination as an act of laziness. In fact, some of them produce
remarkable results. Having said that, it is a motivational problem
and we will discuss some tips and pointers to overcome or control
the procrastinative behavior.

Story:

The Lark and Her Young Ones

Control and Overcome Procrastination

[Illus by Milo Winter]

A Lark made her nest in a field of young wheat. As the days
passed, the wheat stalks grew tall and the young birds, too, grew
in strength. Then one day, when the ripe golden grain waved in
the breeze, the Farmer and his son came into the field.

"This wheat is now ready for reaping," said the Farmer. "We
must call in our neighbors and friends to help us harvest it."

The young Larks in their nest close by were much frightened,
for they knew they would be in great danger if they did not leave
the nest before the reapers came. When the Mother Lark
returned with food for them, they told her what they had heard.

"Do not be frightened, children," said the Mother Lark. "If the
Farmer said he would call in his neighbors and friends to help
him do his work, this wheat will not be reaped for a while yet."

A few days later, the wheat was so ripe, that when the wind
shook the stalks, a hail of wheat grains came rustling down on
the young Larks' heads.

"If this wheat is not harvested at once," said the Farmer, "we
shall lose half the crop. We cannot wait any longer for help
from our friends. Tomorrow we must set to work, ourselves."

When the young Larks told their mother what they had heard
that day, she said:

"Then we must be off at once. When a man decides to do his
own work and not depend on any one else, then you may be
sure there will be no more delay."

There was much fluttering and trying out of wings that
afternoon, and at sunrise next day, when the Farmer and his
son cut down the grain, they found an empty nest.

Moral:

Self-help is the best help.
Procrastination is the thief of time.

Quotable Quotes:

“One's objective should be to get it right, get it quick,
get it out, and get it over ... your problem won't
improve with age.” ... Warren Buffett

“I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it
for hours. I love to keep it by me: the idea of getting
rid of it nearly breaks my heart.” ... Jerome K. Jerome

“Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over
if you just sit there.” ... Will Rogers

“A wrong decision isn't forever; it can always be
reversed. The losses from a delayed decision are
forever; they can never be retrieved.”
... John Kenneth Galbraith

“Make me a beautiful word for doing things
tomorrow; for that surely is a great and blessed
invention.” ... George Bernard Shaw

“My rule is always to do the business of the day

in the day.” ... Arthur Wellesley Wellington

[browse collection of quotes and quotations]

Lessons in life:

In our earlier fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper, we saw
how the grasshopper put off stocking up food for winter and
suffered much later. Here, the lark highlighted again this
procrastinative behavior that is so common among humans.

Many people claim that they never procrastinate, yet the tell-
tale signs indicate otherwise. They may turn up late for
meetings because they leave their workstations late and blame
the delay on the slow elevators. They pay their bills at the last
minute or only when they receive reminders. They settle their
parking and speeding tickets only when warrants are issued.
They mow the lawn or fix a light bulb because they have had
enough of their wives' nagging. They rush to shop for gifts on
Christmas eve. They start packing their luggage an hour before
leaving for the airport.

Amazingly, procrastinators can yield results just as good as non-
procrastinators. Kids in school can be playing their PSP or Xbox
games up till a month before the major exams. That is when they
start to flip their books and begin their revision. The learning
curve is so steep that within a month, they are at their peak form
and pass their exams with flying colors. At work, we see how
some staff prefer to start their engines running just days before
project deadlines. They burn midnight oil, manage to boost their
adrenaline rush, and are able to deliver outstanding work right
on time.

These people are not lazy. Their strategy to running a 1500m
race is to enjoy a slow comfortable pace throughout and sprinting
the last 400m stretch upon hearing the bell. A long period of slow
or non-activity followed by a short burst of hyperactivity.

There are of course the procrastinators who do not even deliver
results. They sit on things for a long time, hoping that they will
someday disappear. This is the type of motivational problem that
is most worrying. We often hear the myth that it has to do with
genes, a like-father-like-son syndrome. However, psychologists
think that the causes have to do with:-

1. Not knowing how to do the job and giving himself more time
to figure out how.

2. Not wanting to be blamed for making a lousy decision and if a
last-minute decision turns out bad, he feels exonerated since the
decision had to be made in such a short time.

3. Feeling bored or unexcited about the work.

4. Being forced to do something against the will (e.g. filing income
tax returns).

5. Having too long a time to complete the assignment.

6. Making the task more challenging and feeling a sense of
achievement if it can be done within a shorter time-frame.

7. Fearing failure, and he would rather postpone it than do it
and fail.

8. Wanting to be perfect and paying attention to too many details
before submitting the final piece of work.

9. Being truly busy and not managing the time well.

10. Facing personal problems and distractions that take the mind
away from the work at hand.

If left unchecked, procrastination can be potentially harmful to
our health and self-esteem. It was widely thought that
procrastination was the cause for anxiety, tension, stress,
depression, guilt, insomnia, drinking and smoking problems and
emotional outbursts. We can control or even overcome our
procrastination problem and here are some pointers on how we
can do that:-

Break it down

If you are not doing the task because it is too huge and onerous,
break it into smaller and manageable parts. It is easier to see
immediate success in small tasks and this helps motivate you to
do the next task.

Set priorities

Set your priorities right. Not everything is of a high priority. Do
what is urgent rather than do only what is convenient.

Minimize distractions

Minimize or remove distractions – switch off the TV or cellphone,
close the door, draw the blinds, adjust the lighting, do not read
emails. If you are prone to falling asleep on a comfy chair, switch
to a hard stool. Concentrate on getting the job done.

Clean desk

Start with having a clean environment. Tidy up the mess on your
desktop or in office; put everything in neat order.

Do it for yourself

Sometimes you may dislike the person who handed you the task
and choose to drag your feet. Do not see yourself as doing the
job for your boss or your parents; do it for yourself. You have a
reputation to keep, a personal challenge to meet. Completing
the job is an accomplishment added to your belt; you did it,
not them.

Set goals

Be realistic about your goals. Do not expect too much in
yourself by setting unattainable goals. Too much of a
perfectionist and nothing will be done.

Think of consequences

What if the job is not done? Think of the consequences. Will
you still have to do it? Will you or somebody close to you be
penalized? Often, knowing that you will have to eventually do
the job makes you want to dispose of it sooner than later.

Reward yourself

Treat yourself to some rewards whenever a task, small or big,
is completed. Do something to make you feel good and remind
yourself of the task you have accomplished.

Get started

However contradictory this sounds, try to get started on
something. If you are doing a written assignment, write
whatever that comes into your mind. Once the thoughts are on
paper, it is easier to edit or re-write. There is seldom a right time
or right mood to do things, so take a first step and see where it
leads you.

Related Articles:

Dreams, Goals, and Motivation
Cope with Work Stress
Self Help, Perseverance and Success
Workaholics with No Balanced Life
Effective Delegation of Work

Books worth reading:

Neil Fiore gives a rather detailed account on the causes of
procrastination and provides workable strategies to counter
the behavior. Read his book, The Now Habit: A Strategic
Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying
Guilt-Free Play, and learn how to improve your productivity
and meet deadlines.

Here's a light hearted book, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways
to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
(BK Life) by Brian Tracy, that gives us more insights and
ideas on time management and productivity.

In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,
David Allen shares his wisdom in making productive use of
our time. Tips like “if there's anything you absolutely must
do that you can do right now in two minutes or less, then do it
now, thus freeing up your time and mind tenfold over the long
term” are useful and sound advice that make this book a
worthy read.

© Business Fables and Management Lessons

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