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 Booker T. Washington. He said: "You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you have to overcome to reach your goals."
Today, we are continuing with Part 5 of our section titled, "Developing a Game Plan to Overcome Procrastination".
"Another thing that helps break the procrastination habit is keeping a journal. I’m not talking about making a daily record of your experiences. Most of us have little need to know what we did on Tuesday, April 7th. The kind of journal I'm speaking of is primarily a record of thoughts and feelings, rather than just activities. It's a great way of getting your act together -- clarifying goals, analyzing motives, planning corrective action, reinforcing desired behavior, getting to know and like yourself better, and thereby changing your attitudes."
Proverbs 22:29 says: "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men."
Our quote for today is from Scott Belsky. He said: "It's not about ideas. It's about making ideas happen."
Today, we are continuing with Part 4 of our section titled, "Developing a Game Plan to Overcome Procrastination".
In order to get momentum, is it always a good idea to "ease in" to a task, doing the simplest and most pleasant part first?
Usually it is, but sometimes the exact opposite works. Sometimes it pays to identify the most difficult part and take care of it first. I call this the Worst First approach.
That doesn't make sense. You can't have it both ways. If one way works, the other one shouldn't.
Actually, there are three ways of reacting when you are confronted with a complex task. One way is to get your foot in the door by doing the easiest part first and building some momentum. The second is to tackle the hardest part first and get the smug feeling that comes from getting something unpleasant out of the way as soon as possible (the old idea of eating your spinach first and your strawberry shortcake second). The third way -- the way of the procrastinator -- is to do neither, just leaving the task in limbo because it is unpleasant and because instead of choosing either of those plans of action you've chosen a plan of avoidance.
Suppose you have a group of volunteers, each of whom is supposed to call a list of people for donations to a political campaign. This is the kind of task most people find distasteful.
Some in the group will find it easiest to begin by contacting the most likely contributors -- the good friends of the candidate -- first. Then, warmed by the positive reception they are likely to get, they will feel less reluctant about calling those prospects on the list who are more likely to be grumpy, tightfisted, and obnoxious.
Others in the group (and many experienced salespeople will choose this approach) will find it preferable to select the grumpiest person on the list and make that call first. When it is completed they can say, "I've got that out of the way; from here on it will be a breeze!"
Either system will work; it's a matter of individual style and, of course, the nature of the task. In either case, you have made a commitment and you have adopted a definite game plan. What will not work is the third alternative, which is to postpone the chore until tomorrow in the hope that by some inexplicable miracle it will then become easier.
We're building up quite an armory of techniques: so far we have Pigeonholing, the Salami Technique, the Leading Task, and the Five-Minute Plan. Are there others?
Yes, indeed. One is the Balance Sheet Method.
Select some task you've been putting off. Now take a sheet of paper, and on the left side of the page list the reasons you are procrastinating. On the right side of the page list the benefits of getting the job done. Now compare the two lists. Generally, you'll find the reasons for procrastinating so insipid, and the reasons for action so compelling, that you become disgusted with your indolence and swing into action.
But doing it on paper is the secret. Excuses that seem quite adequate when they have not been clearly enunciated are exposed for the frauds they really are when reduced to writing.
Of course, sometimes the reasons for postponement may, on examination, be found to be quite valid, in which case you won't need to feel guilty about procrastination. The Balance Sheet Method, in other words, can be an excellent tool in reaching sound decisions about whether or not to take a certain course of action.
Benjamin Franklin often prepared a Balance Sheet when faced with a difficult decision. He wrote: "...all the reasons pro and con are not present to the mind at the same time; but sometimes one set present themselves and at other times another, the first being out of sight. To get over this, my way is to divide half a sheet of paper by a line into two columns; writing over the one 'Pro' and over the other 'Con.' Then during three or four days' consideration I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives that at different times occur to me for and against the measure. When I have thus got them all together in one view I endeavor to estimate their respective weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal I strike them both out. If I find a reason pro equal to some two reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two reasons con equal to some three reasons pro I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the balance lies... and come to a determination accordingly. And, though the weight of reasons cannot be taken with the precision of algebraic quantities, yet when each is thus considered separately and comparatively and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better and am less liable to make a rash step; and in fact I have found great advantage from this kind of equation in what may be called moral or prudential algebra."
The weighing of alternatives is what we will do every time we approach a decision; the only "new" element is doing it on paper. And if Benjamin Franklin, one of the great achievers of all time, found it worth his time to reduce the pros and cons to writing, perhaps we all could benefit from such a practice.
There is an alternative to the Balance Sheet Method that works even better for many people. Instead of making a pro and con list, you simply sit down and write out your feelings about the thing you are postponing. Talk to yourself on paper. Since you are writing only for yourself, don't worry about syntax and don't pull any punches. How do you really feel about the task? How do you feel about yourself for postponing it? What constructive steps might you take to get the show on the road? What, exactly, do you intend to do? When?
This may be done as an isolated exercise, or it can be one aspect of keeping a journal. Many psychiatrists and psychologists are taking renewed interest in the power of a journal to cause behavior change.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 says: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."
Our quote for today is from Richard Bach. She said: "You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however."
Today, we are continuing with Part 3 of our section titled, "Developing a Game Plan to Overcome Procrastination".
Couldn't the process of making a list turn into a way of avoiding action? If instead of just going ahead and doing the job, one sits down and makes a detailed list of all the steps involved, doesn't that constitute delay? You seem to be encouraging -- of all things -- procrastination!
Not at all. What I am encouraging is an orderly approach. One of the principles of management is that, to be effective, planning must be separated from execution. Failure to do this generally results in poor results in both functions.
A good example of this is in the planning of a day. In the study of time management, we have found that scheduling the day early in the morning is not nearly as effective as doing it the preceding afternoon. In other words, the best time to plan Tuesday's activities is not the first thing Tuesday morning, but the last thing Monday, before leaving work. If you do your planning on Tuesday morning, you are "planning under pressure" the day is under way, the phone is ringing, there are insistent matters clamoring to be taken care of. Your inclination is to roll up your sleeves and start doing things, instead of calmly and objectively analyzing which things you should be doing. And the things you are most inclined to begin doing often are not the top priority ones. You begin spinning your wheels. The important fact that can be postponed tends to be postponed because of our compulsion to skip the planning and get the day started by doing something -- "getting busy" -- instead of acting out of long-term considerations.
If you plan Tuesday's work on Monday afternoon, however, you are in quite a different mood. Knowing that whatever you plan doesn't have to be done now, you are more objective. You assign yourself the tough tasks, knowing that a good night's sleep stands between you and the execution of your chore. You feel almost as if you were planning for someone else, and the tendency to postpone tasks until some vague future time is diminished
This principle applies not just in planning a day, but in any kind of planning. Treat planning and doing as separate and distinct aspects of the job. One way to accomplish this is to plan, on paper, what you intend to do before even getting started -- providing the task is a complex one, or one you are tempted to put off.
But suppose for some reason -- laziness, time, pressure, or simply because it doesn't seem worth the bother -- a person doesn't want to take the trouble to write out a sequential list but is still bothered by the specter of procrastination. Any alternative suggestions?
Yes. Instead of the systematic assault on the task we've been talking about, another approach is just to make yourself to do something -- anything -- in connection with it. I call this the Leading Task. It has also been referred to as the "Swiss Cheese Method," the idea being that you poke holes in the task until it resembles a Swiss cheese. Another writer calls it the "nibbling" approach. Others call it the "bits and pieces approach, the "start-up task," or the "baby step method."
Suppose you are putting off writing a letter. Instead of trying to force yourself to write it (you've already tried that and it didn't work), just make yourself take one small step, with the understanding that after having done so you will decide then whether or not to proceed. That one step might be looking up the address, or rolling a piece of paper into the typewriter, or getting out the file, or writing down the three points you want to mention -- anything, just so it's an overt action, something physical. It's a way of breaking the psychological logjam, and it's based, of course, on the fact that things at rest tend to remain at rest, while things in motion tend to remain in motion. Newton's laws apply in human behavior as well as in physics.
But some undertakings don't lend themselves to being broken down into smaller tasks. For example, suppose you should tackle a big backlog of filing that has accumulated, and it will take about an hour. There isn't any convenient way to break that kind of job down into "instant tasks."
In that case you may want to try the Five-Minute Plan. Make a deal with yourself, as in the preceding example, only this time instead of promising to do one segment, promise yourself that you will work on the task for five minutes. At the end of that time, you are free to turn to something else, if desired, or you may decide to spend another five minutes. No matter how distasteful the task, you can usually talk yourself into committing a mere five minutes to it.
Some people find this method works best with a timer. Set your timer for five minutes and resolve to see how much you can accomplish before it sounds.
At the end of the five minutes, if you don't feel like continuing, don't. A deal is a deal. But before setting the task aside, jot down a time when you will invest another five minutes.
This procedure is similar to the one followed by Alcoholics Anonymous. They have found that most alcoholics are discouraged when they think of promising never to take another drink; they can't commit themselves to such a seemingly unattainable goal. So they are encouraged instead to make a commitment to stay on the wagon for just a short period. Anybody can resist temptation for just five minutes. When they've done so, they try for another five, and this time it's a little easier, because they've demonstrated to themselves that they can set a modest goal and successfully meet it. Gradually they begin thinking in increments of a day or a week, and then they're well on their way to sobriety.
It works. Try it right now. Select one of the tasks you've been putting off, and at the end of this episode, set the timer for five minutes, and commit yourself to work on that task intensively to see what you can do in that time. Try racing against the clock by going all out during that period, the way a sprinter does in a race.
You will find that it won’t be so hard. And you will feel good about yourself. On top of that, you will feel an urge to continue while you have some momentum.
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.