I was going to write about dealing with procrastination—either your own or the procrastination of your mainframe teammates—and I probably will one day. For the moment, I just need to see what all the people that I’m friends with on Facebook, but never actually see, have been doing recently. And then I’d better check what the latest news is, in case anything good has happened in the world. And by then, they’ll be loads of new Facebook posts to look at. And then I haven’t checked what the people at work have put on Yammer…
Procrastination is the thief of time. It’s where we put off doing something that we should be doing in favor of doing something else that’s more enjoyable or that you feel more comfortable doing. Sometimes, deadlines help focus the mind. But, as Douglas Adams, author of the “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” said: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
Basically, your brain is divided into two parts. There’s the intellectual brain—cerebral cortex—which makes logical decisions and can be a little bit slower than the second part, the primitive brain—basically, the limbic system—which is more emotional and prone to act like a child (or even a monkey) and only wants to do, at any one time, what it wants to do. Your intellectual brain can overrule your primitive brain, but it takes effort. And, sometimes, only an impending deadline makes it worth making the effort.
So how do you know you’re procrastinating? The answer is that you probably do some or all of the following:
- Fill your day with low-priority tasks
- Read emails several times without starting work on them or deciding what you’re going to do with them
- Sit down to start a high-priority task, and almost immediately do something else
- Leave an item on your to-do list for a long time, even though you know it’s important
- Regularly agree to do unimportant tasks and do those rather than getting on with the important tasks
- Wait for the ‘right mood’ or the ‘right time’ to tackle important tasks
So, what can you do to overcome your tendency to procrastinate? A recent Dutch study, “Measuring procrastination at work and its associated workplace aspects”
found that people were more likely to procrastinate when they were bored. And that fits nicely with the Lucille Ball quote: “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”
Another study, “At Last, My Research Article on Procrastination,”
wondered whether people procrastinated because a task was unpleasant, they were too disorganized to work out how much time the task required or because they felt overwhelmed by the task and doubted their own skills to complete it.
So what techniques did the Dutch study come up with to help procrastinators? Based on their, Procrastination At Work Scale, the study came up with 12 practical steps to implement change:
1. If you delay making decisions, give yourself timescales. Ease yourself into these so that you don’t set unrealistic targets but manage to set achievable ones that gradually help you perform more efficiently.
2. The delays you may make before starting tasks can have value if they ease you into the proper mindset. However, as with number one, set limits on how long you give yourself to prepare before launching into the task.
3. Craving a diversion may reflect the fact that you’re bored. Even with something mundane as raking leaves in the autumn, you can find ways to make it more of a challenge (e.g., how neatly can you pile those leaves?).
4. Daydreaming can be useful to an extent, but it can take you out of the mindset you need to complete the task. Dig deeply into the task itself to find something of mental value, as in number three. Alternatively, daydream while you complete the task, if it’s one that’s mindless enough.
5. Prioritizing is one of the best ways to avoid procrastination, but if you’ve got your priorities reversed, reward yourself for completing important (but difficult) tasks when you get them done on time.
6. Don’t let the thought of a task that’s too insurmountable keep you from starting it at all. Along with number five, when you have a lot of work to do, break it down into manageable chunks.
7. Cutting down on breaks is easy if you have something to look forward to doing afterward. That break can be your reward instead of the distraction that prevents you from getting started.
8. Mundane tasks can’t be avoided entirely, but the more quickly you complete them, the more quickly you can get to do what you truly like.
9. Texting people when you’ve got something to do is an activity that you’ll need to set limits on. Save your texting time for after you’ve finished what you need to do, or after you’ve finished a part of it.
10. If you’ve got the time, spend as much time as you want on Facebook, once the task is complete. Alternatively, use small periods of time on Facebook (or whatever) as a reward for completing part of the task.
11. It’s easy to find yourself reading the news online, and losing track of how late it’s getting. Reserve a certain part of your day for keeping up with the news, and stick to that schedule. You can also read the news online while you’re having a coffee break.
12. Online shopping is potentially one of the most time-consuming ways of procrastinating. It generally takes longer than you expect. But if you’re worried that the bargain you’re after will disappear unless buy it immediately, get it done and then go back to your important task. Online shopping can be used as reward for completing your task.
Other suggestions include:
Recognize the Signs
- Do the worst task first thing, every day—the rest of the day can only get better
- Then do some quick small tasks. You’ll feel like you’re achieving things
- Keep a to-do list so that you don’t forget about big tasks
- Identify the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task
- Focus on one task at a time
Knowing these techniques, it should be possible to overcome our own tendency to procrastinate and help members of our mainframe staff get on with their important tasks. The first task is, always, to recognize that you (or they) are procrastinating.
Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd, an IT consultancy. A popular speaker and blogger, he currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups. He’s editorial director for the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, and has been an IBM Champion every year since 2009.
References to be Productive