New insights on procrastination

This guest post was contributed by Alvina Lopez.  She welcomes your comments via 

As internal communicators, the job is composed of hundreds of small tasks that need to be accomplished now, while still keeping an eye on the future in terms of developing better ways to improve the overall system of internal communication. In other words, you are driven both by short-term and long-term goals. In this sort of work environment, procrastination can have a particularly insidious effect.

The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki recently wrote a review on an essay collection called “The Thief of Time”, which delves into research and reflections on procrastination. It’s a fascinating look into why, exactly, we put off tasks we should be doing now, to the detriment of ourselves and those who are depending on us.

For one, social scientist Jon Elstir argues that procrastination results from a type of cognitive fallacy that we fall for again and again the planning fallacy. Whenever we are planning out a certain task, we consistently underestimate the time it takes to accomplish the task, and, what’s more, we don’t take into account the various interruptions that invariably come up. As such, when we distort the time it takes to finish something, we fall short of goal, which leads to a sense of failure and further procrastinating. If you find yourself consistently failing to meet your goals, whether they involve daily tasks or long-term ones, it may help to reconsidering the way in which you plan. Leave room for error and for interruptions. Don’t let ambition get in the way of reasonable goal-setting.

Another source of procrastination, several studies suggest, is framing a necessary task in terms that are too vague. The article states:

“Since open-ended tasks with distant deadlines are much easier to postpone than focused, short-term projects, dividing projects into smaller, more defined sections helps. That’s why David Allen, the author of the best-selling time-management book ‘Getting Things Done,’ lays great emphasis on classification and definition: the vaguer the task, or the more abstract the thinking it requires, the less likely you are to finish it. One German study suggests that just getting people to think about concrete problems (like how to open a bank account) makes them better at finishing their work even when it deals with a completely different subject.”

And if all else fails, procrastination can be curbed by some good, old-fashioned self-restriction. One way to use self-restriction to limit procrastination before it gets out of hand is to eliminate choices. If we have too many choices, Surowiecki notes, we become “afraid of making the wrong choice” and so “end up doing nothing.” As an internal communicator, if you find yourself putting off a certain task like, say, emails that have been sitting in your inbox for weeks prohibit yourself from doing anything else until you finish responding to them.

Procrastination is a basic human impulse, but as an internal communicator, whose tasks are various and constant, you can’t afford to let it get the better of you.

This guest post was contributed by Alvina Lopez.  She welcomes your comments via email:  Thanks Alvina.

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