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

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Procrastinating 101: Still Reading "Still Procrastinating?"

Today being Tuesday, it is time to consider Chapter 11 of Joseph Ferrari's Still Procrastinating?  The No-Regrets Guide to Getting it DoneThis chapter is entitled "Procrastinating at Work," something most employed procrastinators probably know a thing or two about.

To begin with, Dr. Ferrari could have benefitted from a writing instructor's feedback on his first few paragraphs.  And I know.  I used to perform such services for pay.  

He lost me the first time with his apparent assumption that interruptions reported by corporate employees in a 2008 New York Times article, amounting to "28% of the average workday," are evidence of procrastination, despite the employees' complaints that such interruptions are "unnecessary and not urgent."  If in fact these "interruptions" are self-initiated, then it would have helped convince this reader had Dr. Ferrari said so.  If they were a function of the environment or management structure--e.g., porous work areas, and frequent time-wasting meetings--then I am not persuaded that they constitute procrastination, though they may undermine employee focus and thus feed postponement.

My major quibble with the opening section of this chapter is with the befuddling contradiction in Ferrari's treatment of the growth of the American work week over the last several decades.  He says that labor saving devices have 
added  six-plus work weeks . . . to average U.S. workers' lives from 1965 to 2003
and then speculates that we have spent them watching TV!  Is he saying that we are doing this at work?

Then he asks if we are
still not convinced about the U.S. work ethic?
and cites Steven Greenhouse's The Big Squeeze, who
reports that productivity in America increased 60 percent since 1979.  Employees in the United States work 80 hours more per year than Canadians, 120 hours more per year than the British, and an unbelievable 340 hours more than the French.
He follows this by asserting that
Even so, workplace procrastination exists among U.S. employees and workers in other nations.

Ferrari doesn't really address the loss of leisure and of work/home boundaries, or how much of the time and labor we've saved has been sucked up by the expansion of work responsibilities.  Nor does he consider that procrastination, under such circumstances, may be, at least in part, a survival strategy.  If some of us didn't put off the occasional work assignment, we'd have difficulty attending family celebrations and tending to personal hygiene!

In a less tortuous section, Ferrari illustrates the economic costs of procrastinating, to ourselves and to others.  He provides some sobering numbers, for example, of the nest eggs built by "procrastinating" retirement savers versus those who begin their savings earlier in life.  And he suggests that we find ways to more immediately "fine" ourselves for procrastinating, as a way of influencing our own behavior. 

Ferrari goes on to examine the demographics of workplace delay.  He informs us that white collar workers, both men and women, are more likely to procrastinate on the job than their blue collar counterparts.  Corporate white collar workers procrastinate more than noncorporate, and sales workers more than middle level management personnel.  (Ferrari believes that the technology that facilitates such work also provides distracting off-task opportunities.)  Curiously, workplace procrastination by business managers appears to be more common in the Northwest region of the country.

In a section that purports to deal with "Jobs Chosen by Procrastinators:  The Role of Creativity," Dr. Ferrari identifies only one occupation that appears to have more than its share of procrastinators, and that is "news reporters."  He doesn't discuss any of the other seventy-five occupations represented in the forty-three hundred surveys he and Dr. Piers Steel analyzed, so it isn't possible to assess the role of creativity, or the other factors that news reporters may have in common with other procrastinating workers.

Ferrari follows this revelation with a recommendation that we consider four "techniques," which we might use to avoid workplace delay.  They are:
  • Confidence [Is the "technique" having some, or rating  ourselves on how much we have, as he advises?]
  • Focus
  • Brand [Understanding who we are, in order to "shift attention to what you offer others and gravitate toward the things you can control in your life.]
  • Reward [Again, another "huh?"  What Ferrari says about this doesn't communicate anything about reward to me.]

After this (to me) baffling list, Ferrari launches into the discussion of creativity I was looking for in the earlier section, though he doesn't relate it to occupations.  But, as in Chapter 3, he expresses skepticism about the claim that taking more time with a project enhances quality, and ultimate productivity.  He concedes that this can be the case, but holds that it is generally just a dodge, and one that employers should see for what it is. 

In the rest of the chapter, we learn that Tuesdays are our most productive days, according to a study of "150 senior executives from a thousand [sic] of the largest U.S. companies," and then are presented with several lists of improvements we can make to confront out procrastination at work, which include:
  • Purchase software with back-ups, tech support, and easy-to-find files.
  • Print and read an e-mail message once, then file it.
  • Check your e-mail only once per hour. [I'd have to increase mine quite a bit to reach this standard.]
  • Identify very needy clients and give them more time [Really?]
  • Make a decision and keep it, but develop back-up plans.
  • Recognize the differences between tasks you must do and those you want to do.
  • Prioritize tasks.
  • Distinguish between what the team considers essential and what can wait.
  • Recognize trends of the future.
  • Maintain social ties within and outside the company.  [Is he telling us to have a Facebook page?]
  • Minimize interruptions and distractions.
  • Maximize organization.
  • Figure out what is causing you to procrastinate to find a solution; you need to know what is motivating your tendency to delay.
  • Conquer your fears.
  • Make a list of what needs to get done, and then organize a plan to complete each step.
  • Why not do the worst tasks first?
  • Set realistic goals for what you need to accomplish.
  • Keep a to-do list.
  • Allocate time.
  • Set and respect deadlines.
  • Use your time wisely.
  • Stay on task.
  • Collaborate and cooperate.
  • Avoid unnecessary follow-ups.
  • Cancel routine meetings.
  • Pick your projects carefully.
  • Keep busy.
  • Don't put off layoffs.
  • Enforce punctuality.
And there you have it.  Ending work procrastination in 29 easy steps.  What have we been waiting for?

No comments:

Post a Comment