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

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Procrastinating 101: Catching Up to the Can We Kicked

This week's Procrastinating 101 deals with Chapter 7 of Dr. Timothy Pychyl's book, The Procrastinator's Digest:  A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.  Chapter 7 is entitled "Why Getting Started Isn't the Whole Solution."

At this over-halfway mark, Dr. Pychyl warns that "just getting started," as he advised in the previous chapter, engenders positive feelings.  Wait.  Warns?  Positive feelings?  All good, right?

Wrong.  Because those positive feelings can come back to bite us, setting us up for another round with those "biases in planning and thinking" that we know so well.  You might say (if you want to ring an over-used chime in this seemingly endless political season) we've "kicked the can down the road."

And so, says Pychyl,
we have to recognize other points at which we typically abandon our goal pursuit.  We have to be prepared to address each of these as they arise, otherwise we will fall back into habitual ways of responding. . . . [because] [p]rocrastination is not just a failure to get started.
And specifically
We have to be prepared to deal with changes in our mood related to setbacks and disappointments.  We have to be prepared to deal with distractions.  We have to be prepared to overcome obstacles.

Pychyl puts forth two main strategies to deal with this "delayed onset procrastination."  (As a runner who has suffered DOMS--delayed onset muscle soreness--I contributed this term.)  Here again, predecisions and implementation intentions are key.

The first approach is to "predecide" to eliminate/limit distractions--proactively.  The second is to formulate "if/then" implementation intentions to deal with distractions, obstacles and setbacks.  Ala this chapter's mantra--"I need to be prepared to deal with distractions, obstacles and setbacks."

Pychyl provides the following table to help us identify the distractions, obstacles and setbacks we typically experience with respect to or main procrastinated task(s); and to formulate a strategy to head them off proactively, or to resist the urge to procrastinate when they occur.

Distraction, Obstacle or Setback
Remove Proactively?
Implementation Intention

Example:  Email

Yes, shut it off before I work.

Example:  Friends’ Invitations

IF my friends call to invite me out this weekend, THEN I will immediately say “thanks but no, I’m committed to finishing my work.”

Example:  Stuck on my work and don’t know what to do

IF I get stuck, confused and worried because I don’t know what to do, THEN I will stay put and list what I do know to be sure what it is I don’t know.  Once I know this, I can seek help if needed.  I won’t give up.

Next week, willpower.  In the meantime you're missing some great cartoons, and lots more detail if you don't read the book.

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