Perfectionism and Procrastination

Dale-Carnegie

 

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear, action breeds confidence and courage, if you want to conquer fear do not sit home and think about it, go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie

There are no end of reasons we can give ourselves for not taking action, for being immobilized and frozen. Profusion of options and possibilities, fear of failure, even fear of success (how will it change me and move me out of my comfort zone or beliefs about my own identity? Am I really worthy of success?)

Personally, in the last two years I have struggled with the fact that I look at my experiences and say – well, nobody will expect anything of me now. All will excuse me if I’m not delivering, not fulfilling my potential or delivering all that i should to the world. Often, I can actually feel it (or imagine strongly that I feel it??) when interacting with others – whether they’re people I’ve known a long time or people who i meet and who come to know of my more recent life experiences – he’s a really nice guy (i hope they’re thinking this!) and he has a great past professional record of achievements.
BUT, business is business and while he seems OK, sorted and normal on the outside, who knows how all this has impacted him. He may just not be the risk I want to take any more. But, of course, we all wish him well.

So, then, it’s no real surprise when lots of talk, lots of discussion of possibilities doesn’t really result in concrete progress and real steps forward. There have been times this has caused me to question whether ‘Professional Mark’ is basically over.

In answer to all of this;

a) I don’t believe my professional contribution to the world is anything like over and that I actually have, if anything, more to give than has been seen to date,
b) Recognising that others’ reticence and caution is perfectly understandable and fully justifiable, I know that I’m ‘still a good bet’, haven’t collapsed in to a flaky, unpredictable mess. However, in order to prove this to the world I have to back me, not wait for anyone else to have the faith in me.
c) Restarting, beginning again is challenging at any age, but they say it’s more so as you get older. That said, i don’t feel particularly old and feel my energy, enthusiasm and drive are as good as many people a good deal younger than me.
d) So, in short – I back me. As a result, in recent weeks I’ve been working on a couple of initiatives and intend to be in a position to reveal these very soon!

WATCH THIS SPACE !!!!!

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”

John A. Shedd

Going to Bed

Girl Wearing Pajamas Watching TV in her Room

I wrote an article recently about why I don’t believe schools should be bending to the demands of those who suggest that Secondary School start times should be made later, to accommodate the tiredness of pupils. One of my main reasons was my belief that any academic gains or benefits would be only temporary, until the students simply adjusted to a new normal, their bed times shifted later and they would now be operating according to an even later sleep cycle (hence back to sleep deprived when getting up to go to school).

So, I was very interested to see the following article that outlines the findings of a paper and research on sleep procrastination – the process of delaying going to bed (and hence going to sleep), however tired one might be or however stressful one’s day might have been.

British Psychological Society Digest – Why Some People Find it Harder to Drag Themselves to Bed at Night
(Click on the link above to read the article in a separate tab or window)

The first finding that was striking was that for the worst of the sleep procrastinators, they could easily be delaying going to bed by a very significant 40 – 50 minutes each night. I have some reservations that, like so much psychological research, the test subjects were college and school-going students, but nevertheless the findings are interesting and point to a need for further research.

The key conclusion of the research was that people’s perceptions of themselves in relation to willpower played a significant part in determining whether or not they had sleep procrastination tendencies. Participants were categorised as either having a limited theory of willpower (believing it’s a finite resource that, once used up is gone until you can sleep or take other action to replenish it) or non-limited ( you can have as much willpower as you like available to you at any time, subject only to your level of self-control to draw on it.)

The conclusion was that the latter group are far less likely to procrastinate sleeping and going to bed than the former group. However, no causal link was established, so they’re still very much at the level of conjecture as to why this happens. More research is clearly needed, because greater understanding of why will offer scope to learn/ teach the skills necessary to address the issue.

At this point, i need to come clean and enter the confessional. I have had, for many years, a tendency to procrastinate sleep and going to bed. The severity of it varies over time, but i’ve never been quite sure what makes it worse. Ironically, it can, at times, seem to become worse when i put  more focus and attention on it, become frustrated or try to engineer strategies to get better. In my case, all too often, it’s about productivity. I can remember times in the past, years ago, when it might be occasions of mindlessly watching TV, continually telling myself that it’s time to switch off and go to bed, but failing to actually do it (and thinking less and less of myself for my failure to act). These day,s I watch very little TV and it’s much more commonly about an urge to get just a few more things done from whatever ‘to do’ list I had set myself for the day/ week etc. This seems to coincide with a rush of newfound energy, even though there is a voice in the back of my head reminding me that I had committed to myself to go to bed earlier (and that whatever task I’m engaged on can perfectly well be picked up on in the morning). Worse, and even more irrationally, I’ve often realised the next day that if I’d held the task over and got my rest, I probably would have done it quicker and to a much better standard.

To me, it’s further evidence that changing school start times is only likely to deliver short term benefits, that are quickly lost as the students adjust to new norms. We need alternative strategies, backed by scientific understanding about why it’s happening (not just who it’s happening to), that enable us and young people to take control of the situation and do what is in their/ our own long term best interest.

Being An Original

I mentioned a few weeks ago in a blog entry that Adam Grant’s new book ‘Originals’ was high up on my reading list. Well, in the last few days his TED presentation on the topic came out – and it’s increased my enthusiasm for reading the book.

In it he shares some great research based findings on what marks out the most original and creative people. He shares some refreshing and interesting ideas on the value (within reason) of procrastination and the willingness to fail many times in order to get great ideas.

I believe his ideas merit particular attention and study by educators for the implications in terms of how we teach children, how they spend their time in school. Especially, we need to take a cold hard look at the issue of failure, seeing as most children see avoiding failures as one of their most vital and important tasks in school.

Tim Urban – Procrastnation

Tim Urban writes the very popular, entertaining and thought provoking blog – “Wait But Why”

Despite being a prolific writer, Urban is a self confessed procrastinator. So, what better subject for him to talk on when he got the invitation to speak on the big stage of the TED main conference. Incidentally, one of his views is that there’s something of the procrastinator in every one of us, especially for things we ‘ought’ to do, that don’t have deadlines. I have a belief that we wouldn’t necessarily have been this way, but for the tendency throughout our education for all of our time to get controlled, to the point where we lose at least some of our ability to be self-driven.

As an amusing aside, here’s the blog post about how Urban even managed to procrastinate on the TED speech and presentation itself!

Wait But Why – Doing a TED Talk – The Full Story

I Was Going To Write About Procrastination, But ……………………

….. no, I didn’t put it off. Or not too much!

Fast company and others in pursuit of the ever more efficient worker who can get more and more done in less and less time (without seeming to suffer any undue stress) are fond of writing articles with simple tips for overcoming procrastination, like this one;

Fast Company – 9 Realistic Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Stress Less

I think there’s nothing inherently wrong in suggestions such as; breaking a task down in to bits, taking baby steps, setting a deadline and getting competitive with yourself or having an accountability obligation to someone else. However, those ofus who have ever acknowledged our procrastination to ourselves and stopped to ask hard questions know there are two elements that are much less often talked about.

Firstly, in my experience people who procrastinate are rarely people who procrastinate on everything. Therefore, there’s a point at which tough questions need to be explored about the tasks that are being postponed and put off. Sometimes it can be that we need to really dig down and explore what’s happening at the unconscious level – there may be very valid reasons why we feel uncomfortable with a particular task. Issues of values misalignment come to mind. It could even be that there are aspects of the place, time or circumstances that make a person so uncomfortable that a normally dynamic, action-oriented person starts to hold back, withhold effort or procrastinate on taking actions where they feel the stress of doing something that is incongruent with their values. eople normally think of stress as a negative and unfortunate byproduct of procrastination. However, I’d suggest that sometimes the stress comes first and gives rise to the procrastination.

Secondly, what if procrastination is seen sometimes as our intuition’s way of saying, “Not yet.” That the task, if done now might lead to overly hasty actions that would be regretted later. Impulsiveness, action taken without enough research or evidence/ justification can be worse than no action. Sometimes we need to listen to our intuition and what it tells us. In such circumstances there could be very valid reasons to wait a while. Haven’t we all had the occasion when that burning issue that sits on our ‘To Do’ list for some time becomes a job that didn’t really need to be done and can simply be scrapped? As time moves along, yesterday’s burning issue may become today’s inconsequential matter.

So, in short, I’m making excuses for nobody here. However, let’s acknowledge that not all procrastination is bad. The starting point is honesty with ourselves to determine the right response.

Then Along Came Pre-Crastination

In the pursuit of doing more, achieving more and generally being more (in the same amount of time), procrastination has been the big bad enemy of productivity and effectiveness for a long time. So, we all set about trying to slay the demon of procrastination. We equipped ourselves with productivity software and other tools, focused on making daily ‘to Do’ lists and all the other tricks that the ‘experts’ said would save us, make us more productive and increase our success.

But, all along, there was another peril lurking that didn’t even have a name – until along came ‘pre-crastination!

Scientific American – Pre-Crastination: The Opposite of Procrastination

Now, usually, logic says if something is the opposite of something bad – then it must be good. However, not in this case. Here, we’re talking about the kinds of tricks we play on ourselves where we put tasks on the ‘To Do list that are easy, enjoyable, fun and sometimes quick – and then do them first! Then, we may get to the end of the day with half the list completed and tell ourselves what a great job we did. After all, look how much of the list got completed!

As the article says – we’re very tempted to grab the low-hanging fruit.

I guess the answer is continuous rigorous self-analysis and honesty coupled with the Stephen Covey maxim to ‘Put First Things First’.

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