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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Procrastinating 101: Getting Ourselves in Line

Diana DeLonzor's seventh chapter in Never Be Late Again:  7 Cures for the Punctually Challenged--"Cure Four:  Develop Your Discipline Muscle"--is our Procrastinating 101 focus for this week.  I can't say I'm all that thrilled at the prospect of yet another admonishment on self-discipline, especially two days before Thanksgiving.  But I'm committed to slogging through, and learning what I can.

Is the notion of lagging self-discipline more palatable because the chapter begins with a quote about a nun with this trait?  Are we in good company if it can be said of Maria, in The Sound of Music, that "She's always late for everything, except for every meal"? 

In her introductory paragraphs, DeLonzor reminds us of studies indicating that we late-niks as a group have more issues with self-control than do those who generally arrive, and complete things, on time.  Dr. Piers Steel has written most comprehensively about impulsivity as a contributor to procrastination in The Procrastination Equation.  

DeLonzor also points out that self-discipline is not necessarily an across-the-board issue.  We might do quite well at quitting smoking, or exercising, or cleaning the kitchen nightly, but play waayyyy too much solitaire on the computer, or play chicken with the snooze button, or read just one more chapter when we know we don't have time. . . .  (Hmm.  Sounds familiar. . .)  Reading this made me think of something I learned from reading Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, and blogged about earlier this yearself-control is exhaustible.  That is to say, those of us who are fighting our natures or battling stress on many fronts may simply run out of the capacity to behave optimally. 

What is this capacity whose supply can be outstripped by the demands of our everyday lives?  In DeLonzor's nutshell, self-discipline is 
all about. . . the ability to make sacrifices and accept limitations.  It's the strength to choose what's best in the long run instead of what feels good right now, even if it means having to give something up.
And for each of us, our difficulty (or facility) with self-discipline is largely determined by
  • Our experience with effort and discomfort
  • Genetics
  • Family influences
    So, are you one of those challenged by impulsiveness?  Three or more yeses in response to the following questions qualify you as an "Indulger," plagued by a "weak discipline muscle."
    • Do I have several bad habits that I've tried repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, to conquer?
    • Do I tend to play things by ear, rather than sticking to a schedule?
    • Do I frequently say or do things I regret?
    • Do I have difficulty starting projects?
    • Am I usually impatient when I have to wait?
    • Do I lack long-range goals and daily plans?

    My answersWell, maybe a fewYupNot reallyNope; finishing projects is my bugaboo.  Depends on what I'm waiting for--dentist appointment and flight boarding?  yes; Christmas and check-out lines (unless I'm late for something), not so much.  And yes

    I guess that makes me sort of a borderline Indulger.  Yeeks!  I'm already an official Rationalizer, a Producer and a Deadliner.  Is is possible that I commit all 7 deadly sins of lateness?  Or are these quizzes like a lot of zodiac signs and fortune cookies, general enough to apply universally given a liberal enough reading?  But I digress--another character flaw.  Back to self-discipline, and the cure.

    Interestingly, DeLonzor relies on different research findings than those invoked by the Heath brothers to maintain that habits of self-discipline carry over from one realm to another--that we can build brain structure that assists us in resisting impulses in new situations. 

    For the Indulgers, and yes, the borderline Indulgers among us, DeLonzor recommends this three-pronged approach to developing our self-discipline "muscles:"  
    • Learn to increase your tolerance for discomfort
    • Practice making transitions
    • Become a planner and goal setter
    For each strategy, she again provides a group of exercises--ten pages in all--designed to boost self-control.  Clearly, I don't have the requisite self-control, or the time, to engage in all of them.  I definitely plan to skip the first, which basically involves self-deprivation--and thus flies in the face of the self-care I've been advised to grow in my life.  I'm actually already pretty good at sacrifice and discomfort, having been a mother for 34 years now, and a Catholic for some 20 years before that.

    I would probably benefit, however, from these two:
    Practice stopping midstream.  Whether you're in the middle of an engrossing novel or watching a good TV program, practice stopping before you're ready, if even for five minutes.  Doing so will give you practice in making transitions so that when it really matters, you'll be up to the task;
    Practice making and adhering to a set schedule that includes time-estimates and priorities.
    And the key with this last exercise is to base the list of tasks and priorities on long- and short-term goals, instead of randomly adding items to a to-do list, with an unmoored goal of getting "as much done as possible."
    It seems, after all this time, and all the procrastination gurus I've consulted, it so often comes down to this.  Maybe there's a reason my post on Neil Fiore's "unschedule" is by far my most popular.  So far, I have not had/developed the necessary self-discipline to use it myself!  Perhaps it's time. . .

      1 comment:

      1. Well, my ears always perk up when hearing my name. Sometimes I think that the best cure for procrastination is doing less, that often what we have is people running into the inherent boundaries of who they are and what they have. They have actually had great success with a work restriction program in Germany, where they get people to do less. They are only allowed, at that start, to work an hour a day. The catch is they have to work that hour solid and only then does the time increase 20 minutes a time.

        It builds stamina but also lets you learn from experience exactly how much hard work is in you a day. Hmm, I should write a post about it.