Please Join Us
When: Friday, February 12 (1 p.m. EDT; 6 p.m. GMT; 11:30 p.m. IST)
Topic: How to Do What You Know You Need to Do
About This Week’s Chat
Do you have something you know you need to do – and you know how to do it – but you just can’t bring yourself to do it? Procrastination, dawdling, postponement, Akrasia – they’re all synonyms for the same ailment: not doing today what needs to be done today. And we all have these moments at some point in our lives.
“If you put off everything ’till you’re sure of it, you’ll never get anything done.”
Norman Vincent Peale, U.S. author
So why do these moments happen? For example, I knew I wanted to write this blog post, and I knew I had a deadline to meet. But I just couldn’t bring myself to write it any sooner than the last minute. Why the delay? What causes us to feel so challenged about doing something we know how to do?
Size It Up, Seize the Day
I had a conversation with my 15-year-old son, who is struggling with his English Language school work. He could not, in any way, motivate himself to write his assignments.
I asked him what he felt were the challenges of getting his work done. He responded that some of the essays were just too long, and it intimidated him to think about how much time and effort it would take to complete them.
I asked him if he could write one paragraph on the topic. He said he could. Then I asked if he could write two paragraphs, again he said he could. I carried on asking the same question, and he kept saying he could.
Eventually, we got to the full length of the document (four pages), and he realized that he could do the whole essay. It wasn’t the size of the document that troubled him, it was the thought of the size of the document.
Don’t Let Procrastination Flaw You
Delaying doing something is often referred to as “Procrastination.” This is defined as the force that prevents you from following through on what you set out to do.
Procrastination is a human flaw that has been around for ever. So it’s been discussed many times and many people have suggested solutions.
Not delaying on things you know how to do can provide a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. On the other hand, delaying these issues can often generate poor mental health and a sense of dissatisfaction.
So what does it take to stop delaying those things you know you need to do?
The “Why” of Procrastination
Our value system, as humans, has a lot to do with why we delay doing things. If given a choice between enjoying something small now or something larger, later, we tend to choose the smaller, immediate reward.
An example is goal setting. Now goal setting is a positive activity, if you do it properly. But think of your New Year’s Resolution as an example as an example of goal setting that can go wrong.
You experience the rewards for your New Year’s Resolution in the future, over time. Let’s say you promise to stop eating chocolate. At first, you succeed, and experience an immediate reward thanks to the satisfaction you experience from sticking to your goal.
However, slowly you start to question the benefit of not eating chocolate. You start eating just one at first, in order to feed your need for immediate satisfaction.
Soon, one chocolate becomes many, because you’re more satisfied by the short-term reward of eating chocolate, than by the long term and invisible benefits of not eating chocolate.
The “What” of Procrastination
At some point, we feel enough pressure, guilt, motivation, whatever you choose to name it, and we move the future into the present. For example, my delaying writing this blog was fine when the deadline was far into the future. Now, though, the deadline is looming rapidly.
This means that the future consequences are now present consequences. If I don’t get moving on writing the blog, I’ll miss the deadline and experience all there is that goes along with that outcome.
I have to understand this in the present, because the deadline is upon me. There is a choice to be made – do I ignore the deadline or do I do everything I can to meet it? The decision I make depends on how I feel about the outcome.
Will I still have the opportunity to write a blog in the future? How much do I enjoy writing a blog? Will I feel more satisfied once I’ve written the post than I would if I didn’t? All of these considerations will affect the decision.
The “How” of Procrastination
As well as outcomes that you may not enjoy, delaying the things you should be doing can also become harmful to your physical and mental well-being. For example, if you go to the gym by yourself and decide one morning that you’re not in the mood, that won’t impact your physical health too badly. However, if it becomes a habit, not going to the gym could impact your physical health significantly in the long run.
How do we, then, overcome this delaying process? There are several strategies that have come from a variety of research. One such approach is called Temptation Bundling, developed by Professor Katy Milkman at the University of Pennsylvania.
Milkman suggests doing the thing you’re delaying with another thing that you enjoy. In our gym example, make an arrangement to meet your best friend at the gym every morning. You can then exercise and socialize together, making the experience much more pleasant and easier to commit to.
Another method of heading off procrastination is to reduce the size of the task, by breaking it into smaller pieces. As with my son’s procrastination episode and his reluctance to write a four-page essay. Breaking that task down into paragraphs made it seem more “doable.”
Changing your mindset from procrastinating to doing what you know you need to do will produce better outcomes in your life, and make you feel better about yourself. And moving rewards in your value system, and how you think about them, can help in breaking that “delaying” cycle.
Having an external influence to help remind you of the things that need to be done, and even to offer help, can make you feel better about completing tasks today. Instead of in a future that isn’t real.
How to Do What You Know You Need to Do
During our #MTtalk Twitter chat this week, we will be discussing “How to Do What You Know You Need to Do.”
Our pre-chat poll asked, “So you’ve decided on your goals – how do you make sure you go on to achieve them?” A resounding 62 percent said, “Plan steps along the way.” Sound advice! To see the options and results, click here.
We’d love you to join us on Friday, and the following questions may spark some thoughts in preparation for it:
- How do you feel about what you need to do?
- What is the first step you take to get started?
- What prevents us from doing what we know we need to do?
- How do you get yourself out of a rut and take action?
- Who told you and what is the most useful tip you’ve been told about getting things done?
- What prompts you to start? What keeps you going?
- When you notice a team member hasn’t done the thing they need to, what do you do?
- When you notice a senior leader hasn’t done the thing they need to, what do you do?
To help you prepare for the chat, we’ve compiled a list of resources for you to browse. Some of these resources may only be available in full to members of the Mind Tools Club.
Are You a Procrastinator?
How to Stop Procrastinating?
Personal Goal Setting
10 Common Time Management Mistakes
What Is Time Management?
Improve Your Concentration