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Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

Posted March 26, 2008 12:44 PM by Consultgene

They weren't buying it. Or at least they would hold off until it was absolutely necessary…doing something constructive about their habit of procrastination. "They" were a group of 32 students, mostly seniors, with a sprinkling of graduate students, at a liberal arts college in a major U.S. city.

At the beginning of this half-day workshop on dealing with procrastination, the diverse group of students –from the Caribbean, South America, Asia, the Middle East – told me that procrastination was a serious problem for them. One woman said she cried every time she approached a deadline. After pulling an all-nighter, she always got her papers done and handed in at the very last minute. Her example was not atypical. Others also struggled and said they would do anything to get rid of their procrastination, which I once heard described as, "sloth in five syllables."

We talked about the reasons we procrastinate– perfectionism, "It has to be perfect or I'm not putting my name on it"; avoiding an unpleasant task (i.e. counseling workers on poor performance); boredom that has us seeking distractions unrelated to our jobs - and identified all the negative consequences. Yet when I challenged the group to work on their "big three" priorities, they were unwilling to utilize a time log tool to schedule time –in two hour increments - during the immediate week ahead. Papers, taxes, and team projects were on many students' plates. They were "too busy," was the consistent, incredible response I received.

As facilitator of the workshop, I didn't take it personally. As I said to the students at the beginning of the workshop, I was their guide who would suggest ways to climb the "mountain." You can take the suggestion or try what you've always done (and probably get the same result). I also advised, "Now is the time. If you don't take a positive step forward now, you probably won't in the future."

What fascinated me was the tight hold procrastination can have on many people. And if this group is representative of the next wave workforce, we are in big trouble because their procrastination, which becomes our problem, just doesn't go away by itself.

How do you handle procrastination? What are some positive rewards you've realized by overcoming the "P" word? And what have been the most painful experiences you've had as a result of this "bad habit?" Your thoughts are appreciated!

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#1

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/26/2008 3:45 PM

Great to have you blogging again, Gene! I'll get the ball rolling.

How do you handle procrastination?

Begin with the end in mind. Envision a realistic worst-case scenario that could happen if you wait until the last minute. Tell yourself that you'll work on the project for just a limited time period, and then honor your commitment to yourself. Break a larger project into simpler steps. Reward yourself at the end when you meet your goals.

What are some positive rewards you've realized by overcoming the "P" word?

Accomplishing tasks before they're due is a great stress reducer. Some people thrive on the stress of deadlines, but maintaining those levels of adrenaline over the long haul isn't healthy. And if you always wait until the last minute, you will eventually miss a deadline. "Stuff" happens that gets in the way.

And what have been the most painful experiences you've had as a result of this "bad habit?"

It's painful to finish a project that you know would have been better if you hadn't waited until the last minute. Sometimes, you only get one shot to do it right. Botch a project proposal or lose a potential client and you'll know this feeling.

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#6
In reply to #1

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/27/2008 1:50 PM

Thank you for these great suggestions! Hopefully many will benefit from your wisdom and experience. I still have to fight the P word but I'm getting better at it.

Regards,

Gene

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#2

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/26/2008 11:23 PM

I think procrastination iz in our genez. With sum people it duznt seem to matter how much free time they hav and how eazy the task iz, they will not begin until its already too late! The house will be on fire before they get up off the sofa to turn the stove off.

If you consider our entire civilization to be the product uv our collective characteristics, you can see that we very often fail to do obviously necassary tasks.

I like another word related to procrastination: indolence. It iz defined az 'an aversion to effort.'

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#3

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/27/2008 1:50 AM

How do you handle procrastination?

Right now, I plan WHAT I'm going to do, and then I set about the task of doing those things. I do have a schedule, but I don't think it is tied to an organized assessment process. So I could certainly improve how I handle it.

Thinking about it, I came up with these ideas:

I would use some tools:

1.) Order the IMPORTANCE of assignments / tasks / projects, etc:

Use the "A" "B" "C" method to identify the importance of tasks:

A = Most Important Task

B = Fairly Important Task

C = Mundane Task, seemingly unimportant task, yet if put off, or not done, will evolve into a "Most Important" task, in an emergency situation, at exactly the "wrong" time. Maintaining relationships comes under this category, such as the short visit with each employee, to ask how they are doing, what might they need to do their job, and oh, by the way, thanks for coming into work - you're really valued here.

2.) Determine the time table / constraints of the task; WHEN does it have to be done:

OH NO ! NOT NOW !

Now

Next Week

Next Month

Next Year

Next Decade

Next Generation

100 years from now

I know that you think I might be kidding, but I'm not. If you do not think into the future, you are hardly thinking at all.

OH NO! NOT NOW! = The statement you make, or hear, which informs you that you didn't plan to complete a task in a designated time period. Therefore, you planned to fail to complete it in a designated time period. And now, the actual designated time period ordered by / expected by the agency / client / employee / employer has arrived. This is often followed by recriminations about the unfairness of life, and how your fourth grade classmates made fun of you for bringing in your science project one day early. (And you have never gotten over it!)

[ If you follow the plan, this should not happen (exceptions for human failure notwithstanding.)]

NOW = Tasks which must be done every minute, or every day, such as maintaining relationships. These must always be done. Never disregard a contact with an employee, supplier or client. Nothing bad evey came out of too much communication, as long as you stay on the subject and only drift briefly into the personal / "how 'bout them Cubs?" to keep the talk friendly.

Bext Week = EVERYTHING that keeps your company alive. Every project must have some task in it which is going to be due in exactly one week. Keep your eye on this list and keep it real and you will see incredible results.

Next Month = EVERYTHING that you need to be keeping your eye on, which WILL be needed in a week, about three weeks from now.

Next Year = Tools, Parts, Upgrades, People, Ideas, Clients, Suppliers, which you will NEED next year. Start planning now, so that you can start ordering their acquisition in the next few weeks / months, in order to have them in a year.

Next Decade = IDEAS about WHAT might be needed in your industry / trade / processing. These IDEAS about WHAT might be needed result in applying oneself to the task of assessing the usefulness / probability of effectiveness / cost to produce meaningful solutions for etc. When you do this, you assure yourself of being needed, and having a market etc.

Next Generation = Time alloted for thinking about what will occur in twenty, thirty or forty years, IF X,Y,Z and G,H,D continue; then thinking about what benefits will arise from this evolution and what harm may result from it. For beneficial results predicted, enhance product / process / relationship building to be in a position to be able to continuously deliver an increasingly less costly (for the consumer) product / process / relationship etc. , otherwise you will be out of business, when someone else does this. (At a lower cost.)

100 Years From Now: This is truly "futuristic" thinking. Here, you are basically remembering what is really important in life: Is it profits? Numbers of employees? Numbers of Clients? "Hero" status? Time spent in enjoyment of family and friends? Curling you toes into cool grass? In other words, which combination of activities bring joy to life?

Thinking about this helps you to remember that "This Too Shall Pass." By doing that, you remember to be respectful of yourself, of you co-workers, your suppliers, your clients.

3.) Make a schedule:

Take out the calender.

Specify exactly what project you will start at what time, and how much time you will devote to it.

4.) Follow the schedule!

What are some positive rewards you've realized by overcoming the "P" word?

As you might guess, I'm a firm believer that building relationships is VERY important. Therefore, I consciously plan, and do have contact with every employee a minimum of once a day. In each short meeting, I am able to very gradually build a reasonably trustworthy relationship, and by doing so, I am able to talk (gently) with a person if his or her performance is off, and they (usually) respond positively.

By NOT procrastinating about seeing each employee every day, I do not have anxiety about talking to them frankly, if something significant needs to be said.

Production increases, and quality of work improves - constantly - because each person feels that his/her contribution if vital to everyone's success.

And what have been the most painful experiences you've had as a result of this "bad habit?"

OUCH! Getting fired from a position that took years of preparation and hard work to get to, because I procrastinated about ASKING FOR HELP whenever I was clearly over my head! After that big let-down, I had to re-examine my self, to see WHY that was so difficult. I learned that I BELEIVED my reputation would suffer if I revealed that I didn't know something which I assumed a person in my postion SHOULD know.

I learned that few people actually know "THAT MUCH." The knowledge in collective. It is held in myriad bits and pieces in the minds of the many people who are present. And everyone feels included, when asked!

Your thoughts are appreciated!

Thanks for stimulating essay and questions!

Tom

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#7
In reply to #3

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/27/2008 1:54 PM

Tom,

This is WOW stuff and yes, I get that you're dead serious. You're a thinker, a planner and someone who should be a coach (if you're not already). Sage advice. I appreciate your taking the time and helping all of us!

Sincerely,

gene

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#11
In reply to #7

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/28/2008 1:50 AM

Thanks!

I run a call center with about 20 employees. There is a continuous need for coaching. I actually do a little coaching each day. But mostly, I ask those with the best coaching styles, to teach the new hires. We try to match personalities if we can. This method also encourages them to ask each other questions, instead of always coming to me for the answer.

Oh, and I've been working at trying to be effective for about 36 years. I should have it down at about the time I retire!

Tom

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#4

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/27/2008 10:35 AM

Can I get back to you on that?

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#5
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Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/27/2008 1:47 PM

Precisely!

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#8

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/27/2008 2:02 PM

I read CR4 forums

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#9

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/27/2008 2:56 PM

I think there is one other factor here that was not mentioned: Fear.

Whether by training or tempermant, I always take any project and break it down into smaller steps. For each of those steps I break down into the things that I know how to do (and am comfortable with), and those things that I need to learn (then go about learning them) and how to approach it in the best way.

I have noticed that my daughter (and others) don't do these steps. They see this hugh mountain in front of them, and they don't know how to break it down, so it is a big scary monster that they are afraid to even start. So they don't.

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#10
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Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/28/2008 1:45 AM

Very Good comment......

I might add, when you find a part of the project that you don't know how to do, the first small step in learning is to ask other people who you think might know. Even if they don't, they will more than likely know someone else who does.

For the youngsters...... Fear is definitely the primary handcuff holding them back. But they are just learning how to face their fears, also. The "facing your fears" project is something they will need to learn how to do, because it will be present all of their life.

Much of the "togetherness" of teens and young adults, has to do with:

1.) Just distancing themselves from the fear of "being on their own."

2.) Distracting themselves from the fear mentioned above + the ordinary fears about completing the project "acceptable to me / my parents / my peers / my teacher;

OR conversely, 3.) Distracting themselves from the fear that the project will not be "perfect" which they translate into "not even close to 'good enough.'

The cure to fear # 1, fear of loneliness, is everything that you've been doing all of your life, to help them have confidence in themselves, etc. and you know what to do there.

The cure to fear # 2, fear of failure requires good old fashioned discussion and easy going instruction. Eventually, we know that we have to let them fail on their own. But that is different with every person. One daughter needed exactly one "encouragement" speech, mid-way through sophomore year of high school. The other one needed about one to two hours of help each day/evening, all of the way through high school, and quite a bit of help during college. But that is fine. Knowing what each needs is the key.

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#12

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/28/2008 5:51 AM

There are several types of procrastination, I shall start with the simplest.

1. Lazy git.
2. Putting off a job because you know the job is ill conceived (I told Mrs Cat that the plumbing job in the downstairs loo would be a nightmare but she wouldn't believe me. A day's work just to replace a Waste pipe in a basin. Ok it looks prettier but doesn't do anything different).

3. Delaying a task because it is dependent on other tasks...
4. Subconsciously delaying a job because you are uneasy about some aspect, e.g you are unsure of the data, tools, materials....I haven't had that circuit board made yet because I have a niggling feeling that I could find a better connector.

5. Deliberate sabotage, or to 'prove a point', or to 'save money'...management mindgames...please save us...

6. I'll write about #6 later in another post....

Del

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#13

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/28/2008 8:24 AM

<.....How do you handle procrastination?......>

The first thing is to decide whether the task is one's own or whether it is someone else's. Cast aside all those that are someone else's.

Next, allocate the task into one of these four categories based upon one's own personal weighting as follows:

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

Next, ignore tasks in categories 3 and 4.

Next, deal with all the tasks in Category 1, and get them out of the way. "These are the tasks that are controlling you.", the pain-in-the-bum ones.

Next, prioritise and ENJOY doing the tasks in category 2. "These are the tasks that you are controlling".

A bit simplistic, perhaps, though experience shows it to be a reasonable model.

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#14
In reply to #13

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/28/2008 8:46 AM

Looks like someone has been to a Franklin Covery "what matters most" seminar.

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#15

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

03/29/2008 6:38 AM

#6. Culture in the workplace which says you mustn't 'have nothing to do' this leads to the reasoning...
'I won't finish this job, else I'll have nothing to do'.. procrastination!

Having 'nothing to do' is seen as a bad thing in some circles, especially if you are not allowed to do stuff on your initiative... it can look like bad managent or over manning.

As a young test guy, two of us were '300%' efficient and always finished our work too soon...we were sent into the stores where we wouldn't be seen there we messed about with motors out of old toys and made little models .

Del

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#16

Re: Procrastination: SLOTH in Five Syllables?

05/18/2008 11:23 AM

Rather than syllables, according to work of Prof. Piers Steel (University of Calgary). there are five variables.

After 10 years of study, which included prevalent procrastination, he developed the Procrastination formula he called the "Temporal Motivational Theory".

Cheers!


Vince

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