I’ve often thought about why we Procrastinate. If one was logical, one would assume if there’s something that needed to be done and was Urgent/Important or rewarding enough, we’d get on to it right away.
Here’s what it would look like on a diagram:
The reality however is people are seldom logical. As humans we’re governed partly by our intelligent mind and partly by our feelings and desires. Maybe we’re avoiding a task because we have a low sense of worth or a self-defeating mentality. Maybe we’re avoiding a task because it’s small, petty and annoying (not worth doing). Maybe we’re avoiding a task because it’s too big and we don’t know where to begin (too hard).
Here’s what this would look like on a diagram:
Whatever the actual reasons are, generally when the Pain associated with doing a particular task increases, so too does the level of Procrastination. That’s just human nature – we run away from things which cause us pain.
Let’s consider a couple of typical examples.
- Doing the school report: I’d have to do some research at the library and online. I’m going to have to read lots and take notes. After all that, I’d have to compile the data and write the actual report.
- Going for a 5km run: I’d have to wake up earlier than I normally would. It’d be freezing cold in the morning. I’d have to go to bed earlier. Then there’s the actual run itself – painful and exhausting.
I’m sure you can think of better things to do than that school report or 5km run. It wouldn’t be hard. Let’s see, how about sitting in front of the TV and watching the latest episode of Heroes or Desperate Housewives? Or, calling Jane, your best friend whom you haven’t spoken to for a month? Maybe, you could be making a nice ham and cheese sandwich instead since you had a small lunch?
The good news is Procrastination is a function of both Pain and Payoff. In reality, the relationship is more like so:
As before, Procrastination increases along with Pain.
However, this tapers off as things become more urgent and important. For instance, looming deadlines can kick start us into action this instant! That report is due tomorrow, so we’d better get cracking now. There’s only two more months to the wedding, we’d better start getting up early for a run.
The Payoff also seems more real and tangible. Doing that report 3 weeks in advance has no perceivable increase in Payoff compared to doing it 2 weeks in advance. However, if the report was due tomorrow, the Payoff of doing versus not-doing the report is now very significant. It could be the difference between a pass or fail. Again, similarly with the run. Wedding photos don’t lie so if we didn’t want to look fat, we better start losing the weight now or there won’t be enough time.
So given this information, what can we do to combat Procrastination?
Stop for a moment and think of a particular task you’ve been avoiding. Why have you been putting it off? Is it because of the amount of effort involved? Is it because you don’t have enough time? Is it because you don’t know how to begin? Whatever the reasons, consider the following tips:
- Experience Quantification: Use the Experience Quantification technique to increase the attractiveness of a task by either downgrading the associated Pain or boosting the associated Payoff.
- Set aside some time: Use time boxes, schedule them in your calendar and when the time comes stick to the plan.
- Develop some positive patterns and habits: Get into the habit of doing things and working around good patterns. You’re more likely to keep at things when they become second nature.
- Look at alternate ways of doing things: Don’t just assume every problem is a nail if you have a hammer. Try to look for alternative approaches which may simplify things.
- Pace yourself: Don’t go our strong only to burn out before you get to the finish line. Pace yourself. Break the problem down into smaller chunks and tackle each in turn. You may also apply other great problem solving nuggets.
- Stay motivated: Big and important tasks often require hard work and dedication. Often it’s not a sprint but more of a marathon. Keep yourself motivated with appropriate rewards at key milestones and work within the 10R Success framework.
- Do it now: Don’t let the Broken Windows Theory eventuate. Take on problems early and often, before they get too big and too hard to overcome.
I believe there is a threshold associated with Procrastination. This action/inaction boundary is determined by both Pain and Payoff. These simple tips are all designed to either reduce the Pain associated with a given task or increase the Payoff.
Good luck in your fight against Procrastination!