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.