Monday, May 12, 2008

Anti-procrastination Strategies

Ever had a no-big-deal phone call you needed to make and you put it off a couple of days and then it became near-impossible?

I do it. I see my husband do it. Are we the only ones?

I've read that procrastination is the art of making a big deal out of a trifle. I'm not sure I know the mechanism, but I know I do see items lodge in my to-do lists: again and again on the daily lists, then sometimes for weeks on the weekly list. (Today's daily list on magenta Post-it, week to the right on orange, both stuck to the desk feature called a writing slide, which can thus be pushed out of sight.)

The sure cure is, of course, to do everything immediately. And I'm pretty good about that most of the time. But let anything slip and it's soon in a free fall. Also, trying to do everything immediately obviously can create an unnecessary and tense sense of urgency about everything.

Once I finally mark one of these stuck items off my list, I feel terrific, all-powerful, silly for having delayed. (Maybe that's why I do it?)

Rewards have often worked for me: as soon as I do x, I get to do y.

Also, doing the hard item first is a no-brainer. It's so liberating that I always ask myself why I don't always do it. (Then I think of Paul of Damascus who had the same issue: wondering about why "the good he would do he (did) not." If Saint Paul had to deal with this, I shouldn't wonder that I do.)

So as anti-procrastination strategies, here are some possibilities:

*do it immediately
*do it now and get a marvelous self-awarded reward
*do the hard item first
*get someone else to do it
*discover an underlying reason for avoidance thus making it possible to act or decide not to
*realize that the task was really a bad idea and good sense is saying no
*pair up with someone else who has a long-delayed stupid little task and do them together, then celebrate
*do it in a half-distracted state so that it's done before you know it
*plunge in boldly, like a surfer going out through the breakers, relishing the experience

Other ideas?

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mamie said...

What a great list, Peggy. I am pretty much a "do it immediately" type of person but my husband is an awful procrastinator. I have finally convinced him that having something show up again and again on his mental to do list takes so much unnecessary energy. Well, I say I have convinced him but I notice he is putting off following through....

Peggy Payne said...

Do you suppose the differences in style are biological?

I find that I tend to keep one dreaded item on my lists. And it's ever-changing. Once I mark off a dreaded item, I find a new one.

Once I start a dreaded item, it's no problem. Seems like I'd learn.

mamie said...

Here are the type of things that will always be on my dread/procrastination list: things that are confrontational (calling the phone company about a bill for instance); personal phone calls that I know will involve a lot of chit-chat; editing things that I find boring; census forms (there are two on my desk right now that have been there since January in spite of the threatening letters that keep coming).

I do, though, always keep one thing that I'm worried about, and when I don't have to worry about that anymore, I find another thing. Sometimes (really!) I'll have to stop and think of what it is I should be worrying about and if I can't think of anything, I'm worried! The only difference between your dreads and my worries is that I don't write mine down!

I'm probably a therapist's dream....

Peggy Payne said...

We share the habit of keeping a dreaded task on the menu at all times.

I find one of my procrastination categories is: things that will have the most consequence. I'm prone to want to put off whatever is most important in a day.

I just tried to google the-everchanging-dreaded-item. Didn't come up with any good solutions but found a hilarious blog on things to worry about. http://thingstoworryabout.blogspot. com/. It offers worries with baroque elaborations that are how some (all?) of us really think.

billie said...

I think I've said this here before, but sometimes with lists like this I simply rebel completely and throw the whole thing away.

The idea being that anything of real importance will flag back up again and I can just do the things as they flag.

It's been awhile since I kept a to-do list at all. At some point I decided to let go and be a slacker!

Peggy Payne said...

Can't be said too often, Billie.

I threw away a whole notebook of ongoing lists a few months ago. Still I have my 2 Post-its beside me.
But having these widgens keeps me from forgetting something. And it makes me feel like I'm traveling through time with my passport safely in my pocket.

You are so immensely productive, Billie. Your system is working for you. Were you born with this approach or did you make efforts to come to it?

Peggy Payne said...

Just had a wee epiphany. Always putting off the most important thing of the day is an example of a habit of mine I saw well described as a chapter title in the book: Unlock Your Creative Genius, by Bernard Golden.

The title said in essence: I'm Not Doing What Anybody Tells Me, Even If I'm the One Who Tells Me.

Peggy Payne said...

Me again. Just did some weeding of the gravel driveway to the office building where I rent space. And not just a few weeds either.

A new low in avoidance tactics.

I've lost track of what I'm avoiding.

mamie said...

Your comment about the weeding reminds me that I really enjoy getting ready to do something as much doing it. For instance, setting up my exercise/meditation/writing/art room, getting all the right "tools" for each activity, adding plants and music and yoga tapes and Japanese paper and punches and stamps and glue and meditation cushions and a zen clock and my journal and pens and paper clips (big and small) and the right chair was as stimulating as the things I now do there. This preparation is really a form of avoiding the activity.

billie said...

I was not born this way, although I think I've always been innately organized. I have lived many years of life totally ruled by my exhaustive to-do lists, which looking back I view as my effort to be "in control" of my life. And not in a healthy way.

I think when we moved to the farm and suddenly had animals and property that needed active managing, I realized that there is always something to do and it will never all get done and no matter what I write down and how I organize it, something will move itself on to the list or to the top of the list. May as well let the squeaky wheels of each day get the grease.

I do find that often now I will talk about what I want to do in a day, rather than having things on a list, or I might blog about something I wake up thinking about doing, as I did about cleaning out the tack room a while back. Two-thirds of that got done the day I blogged about it - the final third is still waiting b/c other more emergent issues came up and took over.

It's also true that my life is such now that there really isn't much that runs on "a clock" or a "schedule" as such.

I do remember that when I worked as a director in public mental health there were lists of odious tasks and my daily practice was to do those the first hour of my work day, every day, so that I could spend the rest doing the part of the job I loved. My drive to work each morning crossed over Falls Lake and I would put great music on the cassette deck in the car and sort of party my way to work so I could tackle that first hour head on.

Very interesting discussion here!

Peggy Payne said...

Mamie, your description of your getting-ready activities creates such an enticingly orderly workbench image in my mind.

I tend to avoid getting ready or cleaning up after, because I'm afraid if I don't get straight into the heart of a project, I'll waffle on it altogether.

Billie, I'm pleased to learn that your looser approach can be learned and doesn't have to be in the chromosomes.

I thought of one more strategy to add to the list: just begin and do the work for a few minutes. What usually happens for me then is that the activity creates its own momentum and I'm involved and keep at it.

Elaine said...

Peggy, this post is especially pertinent for me today. I'm finally doing some of the items that have been on my list for far too long. And I'm doing them too late.

I should have called Southwest Airlines the day I heard they were offering really cheap fares on flights, which was only a few days after I booked our flights to Vegas for a family vacation. At least that's what the not-very-patient-or-pleasant customer service rep I spoke to said. I told her, "Wouldn't it have been nice if Southwest CALLED ME when the price of my flight was reduced after I booked it?" I lost out on $40 per ticket times three tickets.

I also finally called to book hotel rooms for our family reunion (on my mother's side). I needed three rooms, and all they had left were two king SMOKING rooms.

I don't know why I do so many things easily and quickly, but procrastinate on just a few either. But, like Mamie, phone calls to strangers, especially ones likely to involve conflict, are definitely high on my list.

We have a saying in our family: "Shoulda started earlier."

Today I certainly wish I had.

Peggy Payne said...

Elaine, maybe we should all come to terms with the fact that we can't do everything at once. It would be such a relief.

But being lectured by the airline person about calling earlier wouldn't help my disposition at all.