Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Procrastinating 101: The Care and Feeding of Procrastinators

The past couple of days, this seemingly befuddled, and somewhat self-destructive creature has been trying to penetrate my study via its corner window.  I learned, by consulting my husband's copy of National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region, that he is an Indigo Bunting.  I have always thought the name charming, and imagined its carrier to be rare and beautiful.  Beautiful, yes, as it turns out, and not so rare as I thought.  This particular specimen appears determined to make my acquaintance, though the Birders' Magazine site tells me it is more likely that he is enamored of his own reflection.  Apparently, my windows, last given a cursory swipe a couple of years ago, are too clean!

But why are we talking about birds here?  Well, if Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project videos have their own little bluebird of happiness, then this counterproductive little blue guy may just be the mascot for me.  He is lovely, he is energetic, he is persistent, he sings beautifully--but I identify with his frustrated state. 

I am going to do what I can to educate myself about how to lure him away from what looks like a painful campaign, and in the direction of  a more rewarding feeding station.  In the meantime, this sweet vulnerable being is also teaching me about the need for gentleness in dealing with ourselves and others when we are working against ourselves.  As with procrastination.

And that brings me to Dr. Neil Fiore's final chapter in The Now Habit:  A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play--"The Procrastinator in Your Life."  Since most of us in this particular conversation are the procrastinator in someone's life--be that someone boss or partner--we are in need of the special treatment Dr. Fiore advises.  I am summarizing here his suggestions, so that we might use them in dealing with ourselves--since we are perhaps our most important "bosses"--and to use in helping those others in whose lives we are to deal with us. 

Like our little blue friend, we procrastinators need gentle dissuasion from our dysfunctional ways.  Because we are already telling ourselves 
I have to finish something important and do it perfectly while enduring long periods of isolation from the people and things I love. 
Therefore, those (including ourselves) wishing to coax a timely and effective product from us need to refrain from increasing the pressure we are already under, and adding to our fears of failure and success, our resentment or desire for revenge.  
Successful leaders and managers address these problem areas by communicating in terms that elicit commitment rather than compliance, by focusing on manageable objectives rather than on overwhelming expectations, and by providing praise for steps taken in the right direction rather than just criticizing mistakes.  Their management style creates a pull toward the goal, focuses on starting each step, and provides adequate safety and rewards.   
Think "What can you get to me in rough form by noon?," not ""You'd better be finished by noon."  "When can you start on a very rough draft?" rather than "When will you finish this project?"  And when there is need for improvement, starting with praise, as in
I really liked what you did with the Jones account.  And I think you can achieve even better results--and avoid some tension on your next project--if you follow the usual deadlines for informing the central office.

Additionally, Fiore recommends that those working with procrastinators 

  • State priorities clearly
  • Be decisive
  • Be fair and frequent in giving rewards
  • Give constructive feedback 
And he warns against the use of nagging, which can worsen the procrastinator's anxiety and resistance, thus making the problem more entrenched.  

Gretchen Rubin's bluebird would agree, as she has identified nagging as interfering with happiness.  And my frantic indigo bunting only becomes more agitated when I repeatedly try to chase him away from the beckoning window.  So let's be careful out there!  Apparently, things could be worse!

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