2012 has finally arrived and many of us have set our New Year’s resolutions. We all know the story; the majority of people quickly abandon these resolutions and live their lives the same as they always have. Why does this happen? Our hearts are in the right place but maybe our minds haven’t wrapped themselves around what it truly takes to make them stick.
As a manager, my guess is many of you have established your 2012 operating and financial plans and have outlined how you are going to achieve these plans. The day starts and you are putting out fires and dealing with the mundane day-to-day. You rationalize that this stuff has to get done even though it may not necessarily be that important. The bigger issue, and one we can control, is the dreaded word “procrastination” and its costs.
How many of you knowingly procrastinate doing something that is critical to your plan? How often have you rationalized pushing it off once again? This week is just too busy…I’ll block out time next week to get it done. My guess is that almost all of us have done this at one time or another. So how do you solve procrastination? Dan Ariely, in his book Predictably Irrational Revised and Expanded Edition, did an enlightening experiment.
Ariely, who is a professor at M.I.T., set up a study with three of his classes:
- Class 1: Was told they had to turn in three papers and did not give a deadline when any of these papers were due, except they were due at the end of the semester.
- Class 2: Each individual in the group was to tell him when each of the papers would be turned in. Each student was then penalized 1- point for each day the paper was late from their self-imposed deadline.
- Class 3: The last group was given specific dates that the papers were due; the dictatorial method which we all claim to dislike so much.
Guess which group scored the highest average grades? Surprisingly, or maybe not, the dictatorial approach achieved the best results and the group given complete freedom had the worst results. The conclusion is that we need to be given clear deadlines from a higher authority, otherwise we tend to procrastinate. As a side note, the good news is that the people in the second group who used the tools Ariely gave them to determine their deadline dates performed as well as the dictatorial group. The people in this group who did not follow the outlined process did not fare so well. Once again a defined structure prevailed.
His study showed that procrastination is one of the root causes of poor performance and not achieving your goals. The key to minimize procrastination is to set up a process and use tools that force you to do what you need to do. It is critical to have someone consistently monitor your progress to hold you accountable. If you don’t have this, devise your own structure by communicating your goals publically and asking your peers and employees to hold you accountable. Don’t kid yourself that you can do it on your own. You need a support system.
One last thing you should consider when you get caught up in procrastination rationalization is to think about the possible consequences of your decision.
- 1st Consequence: I am too tired, too busy, have something else to do—all which just delay achieving your goal.
- 2nd Consequence: Overcome these excuses, complete the tasks and achieve your goal. This could then result in a…
- 3rd Consequence: You could be getting the next promotion, making the money you want, attaining the work-life balance you seek, etc.
Put in place a support system NOW, stop procrastinating and watch what happens.
Greg Thiesen, CEO, Red Book Solutions