As we begin, let me give you this reminder from the Word of God. Proverbs 13:4 says: " The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat."
Our quote for today is from Florence Shinn. She said: "Every great work, every big accomplishment, has been brought into manifestation through holding to the vision, and often just before the big achievement, comes apparent failure and discouragement."
Today, we are continuing with Part 2 of our section titled, "Developing a Game Plan to Overcome Procrastination".
The reason for delaying a task may be that the job is overwhelming. For example, suppose you would like to design and build your own house. However, you realize that there will be countless difficulties with financing, zoning, utilities, style, materials, location, contracting, subcontracting, landscaping, etc., and the whole undertaking seems mind-boggling. And since a boggled mind isn't conducive to action, your dream house remains just a dream. How do you cope with this?
One way is what I call the Salami Technique.
Whenever a task seems overwhelming, pause for a moment and do a little thinking on paper. List chronologically every step that must be taken to complete the job. The smaller the steps, the better -- even little mini-tasks that will take only a minute or two should be listed separately.
I call this the Salami Technique because it seems to me that contemplation of an overwhelming task is like looking at a large uncut salami: it's a huge, crusty, greasy, unappetizing chunk; you don't feel you can get your teeth into it. But when you cut it into thin slices you transform it into something quite different. Those thin slices are inviting; they make your mouth water, and after you've sampled one slice you tend to reach for another. Cutting up your overwhelming task into tiny segments can have the same effect. Now, instead of looking at a gargantuan project, you're looking at a series of tiny tasks, each of which, considered separately, is manageable. And you begin to realize that they will indeed be considered separately.
The maxim of Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu that a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step doesn't really help us much until we know precisely in which direction we want to travel. With our list in front of us, we have a concrete idea of what that first step will be, and also the second, and the third. We have a road map that will guide us to our destination. Since each step completed leads logically to the next, we quickly establish momentum, and the job is under way.
It all sounds so simple. And, if you'll forgive a candid observation, it seems rather elementary. Don't most people do something like this? Does anyone ever build a house, for example, without making lists?
Of course not. But too often our dreams wind up in limbo without the list even being made. Or a list is made, but it isn't the kind we're talking about. A meticulously prepared step-by-step list of small tasks that need to be done -- not just a random jotting down of a bunch of major things to do -- seals the commitment, provides a blueprint for action, and triggers that action. But to be effective it must be chronological and it must be detailed. It must be a compilation of "instant tasks," so that you are dealing with salami slices, not a salami.
Remember that while this approach is especially helpful in getting started on overwhelming tasks, it also works with smaller ones that don't really seem to call for a sequential outline of actions.
For example, suppose you want to make a certain suggestion to your boss, but find yourself putting it off because you are afraid it will be rejected. It may seem that what is indicated is a simple one-step action -- just go in and make your suggestion, and see what happens. And if you can make yourself do so, of course, that's the way to go. But if you find yourself procrastinating, try breaking that one-step action down on paper into tiny increments. Your "salami slices" might look like this:
1. Check file to refresh memory of pertinent facts.
2. Outline presentation.
3. Mentally rehearse presentation.
4. Identify possible objections.
5. Determine response to each objection.
6. Arrange time for presentation.
7. Make presentation.
But those are the steps one would naturally take anyway, aren't they?
Of course. You're not doing anything you wouldn't do anyway, except for one thing: the actual writing of the list. Making a sequential list is an easy thing to do. And once it exists it acts as sort of a detonator, launching you into the task you were putting off.
It also serves another purpose. If you are interrupted during the performance of the task, you will know precisely where to pick up when you return. Without a written list, you often experience a mental block about resuming the activity. You've forgotten just where you were and what was to come next.
Properly used, a pencil can be one of the most effective weapons in the battle against procrastination.
Proverbs 6:6-8 says: "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest."
Our quote for today is from Thomas Edison. He said: "Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing."
Today, we are beginning a new section titled, "Developing a Game Plan to Overcome Procrastination" Part 1.
A positive attitude about overcoming procrastination is fine, but it doesn't solve the problem. Let's get down to the nuts and bolts. Exactly how does a person translate that positive attitude into reality?
First, you must stop thinking in generalities, and focus your attention on one specific task. Then the problem is not "How do I stop procrastinating?" but "How do I make myself start painting the house?" You can't get a handle on a generality; a specific problem you can deal with.
Having selected the behavior you want to correct, the next step is to analyze the problem and decide what's causing the delay. Such varied causes as fatigue, lack of information, fear of failure, distraction, shyness, conflicting priorities, and so on, obviously will all require different approaches. In most cases, willpower alone won't do the job!
People have a tendency, however, not to look for the "why," or not to look deeply enough. In other words, they procrastinate on analyzing the reasons for their procrastination! Unconsciously, they recognize that focusing attention on the cause of a problem is the first step toward solving it, and they quail at the thought that they might be about to take that fateful first step.
Why do you say that? If a person sincerely wants to solve a problem, and knows what should be done to solve it, it would be illogical not to take the necessary steps.
True, but who said people behave logically? Most don't, which is the reason for books like this one. Somehow we must counteract that streak of masochism that causes us to close our eyes to the real reasons for our procrastination.
So try to categorize your problem, and clarify what it is that has been causing you to procrastinate. And remember, no generalities, no lame excuses such as, "I just have a habit of putting things off." Ask such questions as, "Honestly, what's my problem? Indecision? Shyness? Boredom? Inability to tolerate unpleasantness? Lack of needed tools? Ignorance? Disorganization? Fear? Fatigue? Is there any one word or phrase that sums up why I haven't been able to get this particular task under way?"
I call this process Pigeonholing, because it is an effort to put your problem into a very specific category, zeroing in on the cause rather than the excuse. When you attach an accurate label to a problem, the solution frequently becomes self-evident.
For example, if you establish that indecision is the cause of your problem, you have put your finger on the solution and you are likely to sit down and make some decisions. If you put your problem in the mental pigeonhole marked "Inadequate Information," you'll start looking for the additional data you need. If you recognize that your procrastination is caused by fatigue, fear, poor self-image, environmental problems, poor time management, etc., you may begin addressing those factors individually.
The first step is to find the right pigeonhole. Put the real reason for your delay into words. The precise statement of any problem is the most important step in its solution.
In the search for causes, however, be careful not to mistake excuses for reasons.
Don't let yourself get away with such cop-outs as, "I just haven't been able to find the time," or "There aren't enough hours in the day," or "Things keep coming up." Dig a little deeper. Face up to the real "why," not the rationalization. Be honest with yourself.
As we begin, let me give you this reminder from the Word of God. Proverbs 6:10-11 says: "Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man."
Our quote for today is from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said: "Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it."
Today, we are continuing with part 7 of the section titled, "Attitude Adjustment".
Edwin Bliss writes: Suppose you feel depressed, so you frown and act grumpy. Suddenly you are put in a situation requiring you to smile and be pleasant. You find your depression diminishes, and soon you are smiling not because you are forcing yourself to but because you feel more cheerful. The change in behavior has caused a change in attitude.
How does this apply to procrastination?
Suppose, for example, you are tempted to put off the writing of a difficult letter of apology . If you can somehow force yourself to write it anyway—and before you are compelled to—your attitude changes. It still may be an unpleasant task, but you get a sense of self-satisfaction from having tackled a tough chore promptly. Your self-esteem goes up a notch. The next time you are tempted to procrastinate on an unpleasant but necessary task you are a little less likely to succumb to the temptation.
So we are going to consider not only how we can change our attitudes toward procrastination, but how we can change our attitudes despite our attitudes. If we attack the problem from both ends, we increase our chance of success.
The first step is to change the way we think about procrastination itself. We must recognize it for the evil it is. We must think of it not as a trifling weakness to be brushed off with a joke but as a malignant tumor on our psyche, which must be excised if we are ever to become the person we would like to be.
It would be no exaggeration to say that for millions of people the tendency to procrastinate is the primary reason for their failure to achieve a rich, fulfilling life. So instead of saying to ourselves, "This is a weakness I happen to have, and I guess I am stuck with it," we must say, "This is the culprit responsible for putting a ceiling on my achievement. It is a deeply ingrained habit—but it is only a habit, and habits can be changed. I can lick this thing, and so help me God, I will."
When you begin talking to yourself like that you are on the threshold of a new era in your life. Until you make that commitment, you are destined to continue sputtering along at a fraction of your potential.
The choice is yours. Which will it be?
As we begin, let me give you this reminder from the Word of God. Genesis 2:3 says: "And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made."
Our quote for today is from Margaret Thatcher. She said: "Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It's not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it's a day you've had everything to do and you've done it."
Today, we are continuing with part 6 of the section titled, "Attitude Adjustment".
"Doing It Now" is written in a conversation format, and today’s conversation starter is: Let's grant that faith in yourself is a big plus; the fact still remains that sometimes your faith may not be justified. People can't do things beyond their powers, and they know it. In such a situation how can they engage in "possibility thinking"? You are asking people to close their eyes to reality.
Not at all. You see, there is little danger of people setting goals for themselves that are truly beyond their reach. It does happen, but very rarely. For example, I might fantasize about myself as a great movie star, or as world heavyweight boxing champion, or as the world's greatest detective, but I would never set those things as goals. Knowing that I don't have the required attributes, and knowing that my interests lie in other directions, I would never commit myself to them.
No, the problem isn't in setting goals that are too high; the problem is setting goals that are too low. And most of us do. Consequently, we achieve only a portion of what we could.
It's anybody's guess. But the greatest psychologist-philosopher, William James, estimated that most people use only about one-tenth of their potential powers. He said, "Everyone knows that on any given day there are energies slumbering in him which the incitements of that day do not call forth. Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are dampened, our drafts are checked. We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources."
A modern-day philosopher, Linus (alias: Charles M. Schulz), puts it more succinctly: 'Life is like a ten-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears that we never use."
But how does all this relate to procrastination?
When "our fires are dampened," and we use only part of our potential, procrastination is nearly always a factor. Shyness, laziness, indecision, indifference, fear, negative thinking, dissipation, fuzzy goals, poor self-image—these and many other things can put a ceiling on our level of achievement. But the mechanism through which these inhibitors manifest themselves is usually procrastination. Our shyness, laziness, indecision, fear, or whatever causes us to postpone doing the things we know we should do, and the result is failure, total or partial. As someone has said, "People don't fail because they intend to fail. They fail because they fail to do what they intend to do."
So you're saying, then, that procrastination is not so much a disease as a symptom.
In that case, shouldn't we be concerning ourselves with the causes rather than with the effect? Shouldn't we be figuring out what to do about shyness, laziness, indecision, fear, etc., rather than dealing with the procrastination that results from these problems?
We are going to do both. Obviously, if we can identify and eliminate the causes that is the way to go. But behavioral scientists have shown that the reverse procedure also works—even better, in many cases. Changing an undesired behavior can alter the attitudes that caused the behavior in the first place.