How is your resolution list looking? Mine is on my desk where I can see it every day. In fact it is right next to my smart phone and my computer screen. Those two items are wonderful tools that allow procrastination to sneak in and try to screw up my life. Psychologists see procrastination as a kind of avoidance behavior, a coping mechanism gone awry, in which we “give in to feel good” According to Timothy Pschyl often this behavior is due to fear or anxiety about the important task awaiting us. Then procrastination kicks in and we engage in some activity that feels good, then we feel guilty about not getting our real task done and look for another activity to make us feel good.
This negative feedback cycle is enhanced by the incredible technology that we have at our fingertips. In his recent book “Thank You for Being Late” Thomas Friedman outlines the societal changes he has seen around the world since the advent of the smart phone and internet have become ubiquitous. Picture this. You sit down to review your office P&L. While your computer boots up you check on your Facebook account, stream some music and text your wife about dinner plans. Suddenly an hour is gone and your P&L is still waiting. We have allowed the age of instant gratification to subvert our attention from something of lasting importance. Now we leave the office for dinner feeling guilty about what we did not get done.
Procrastination does not make us a “bad” person but it does waste precious time that could be used for more viable long-term goals. We cannot tell ourselves or others to just stop procrastinating as it is so tied into our deeper psychological issues about gratification, fear of failure and our sense of lack of control of our lives. However, we can recognize procrastination for what it is and forgive ourselves when we realize we have been giving in to the behavior. Next we can recognize that we can overcome procrastination by following the NIKE phrase “ Just do it” – whether we feel like it or not. Accept that we may not feel like it but if the task is there get started on it. Once we get engaged in the task we usually find it is not so bad after all and we feel good when we get it done. Follow the old African proverb about how to eat an elephant – one small bite at a time.
When we see ourselves, or others, as having a time management problem, we might want to consider the idea that what we are dealing with is an emotion management problem. This leads us back to Friedman’s book. We now have a generation that has grown up in an instant gratification world. It is imperative that we learn about critical thinking and emotional intelligence and teach these concepts to our children. Everything we do does not bring instant gratification. Sometimes we just have to get on with tasks even if we don’t feel like it. Procrastinators are dreamers. They will tell you about the wonderful dental practice they will build one day. Yet they will not do, or train their team in, the basic steps of a true comprehensive exam. Change is hard, but it is easier when we give ourselves permission to recognize our fears and take small steps to move to a better future. This leads to the issue of accountability. Until we learn to manage procrastination it is very hard to hold ourselves or others accountable. Check out Totally Acciountable.com.
Visualizing our decisions using the Eisenhower Matrix as described in Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People will help us keep moving in a good direction. When we review our daily “To Do “ list and assess where the items fall in the matrix we are less likely to let our emotions prevent us from getting to work on what needs to be done. Equally important we prevent, as much as possible, spending time in quadrants 3 and 4 and work on things in quadrants 1 and 2.
I am absolutely certain that the “procrastination bug” will bite me frequently. However, I have rewritten my New Years’ resolutions onto a sheet with the Eisenhower Matrix – along with a few other “to do’s” . Even on days when I would really rather do something else the matrix is keeping me on task and helping me feel better and more free of guilt when I walk out of the office at the end of the day. Here’s hoping you make time to rewrite your resolutions and end up feeling better at the end of your day.
 Pychyl, T., Procrastination Research Group, Carlton Univ., Ottawa, CN
 Friedman, T., Thank You For Being Late, 11/2016, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux
 Covey , S., Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey.com