Procrastination or Executive Function Fail?

Musings of an Aspie

There’s a spot on my kitchen floor, a little cluster of dried reddish drips. I don’t know what it is. If it’s from 3 days ago, it’s tomato sauce. If it’s been there longer . . .  who knows.

I’ve walked past it dozens of times. I look at it. It annoys me. I wonder how it got there. I wish it would go away. It doesn’t occur to me that I can make that happen.

The greasy smudgey fingerprints on the cabinet that I can only see in exactly the right light? The 8-inch long thread that’s been hanging off the bathroom rug since the last vacuuming? The dryer sheet on the laundry room floor? Same thing.

What is this? Why can I sit here and catalog all of these little annoyances yet I still do nothing about them? It’s not like fixing them would take a huge amount…

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Leaders Don’t Manage Time, They Manage Choices

This is an article I liked and found valuable on Psychology Today. The link to the original article is here.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at the four behaviors that differentiate a functional manager from a true leader.  As you know, I refer to these behaviors as the “Phenomenal Four,” which include:

  • Cultivating Reflective Silence
  • Capturing Meaningful Stories
  • Reinforcing What’s Important
  • Posing Curious Questions

If you haven’t had a chance to read the first two entries in this series, I recommendstarting here, then reading this.

Today, we are going to examine the third behavior: Reinforcing What’s Important.

In its most basic form, reinforcing what’s important is about ensuring you are working on the most important things each day. This behavior may seem ordinary, cliché in fact.  However, I would caution you not to dismiss it as just another tip for time management.

This third behavior, in all of its supposed simplicity, may be the most powerful out of the four in distinguishing a functional manager from a leader.

Let’s dive in.

The Truth About Time Management

In the last year, I (like many people) read Marie Kondo’s charming book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  One thing that struck me was her conviction that before you can begin to organize your possessions you must first cull through them and purge what does not bring you joy.

Ms. Kondo notes that most people skip this purge and go straight to organizing, assuming that they are happy with everything they have.  However, over time organizing becomes harder and harder the more things you accumulate.

To me, this is exactly what is wrong with traditional approaches to time management.

Instead of starting the process from a place of deciding what is important, we assume the worthiness of all our existing commitments, responsibilities, and activities and focus exclusively on how to fit them all together into our waking hours.  Over time, this challenge becomes greater and greater, and pretty soon our efforts to “manage” time become akin to efforts to “manage” clutter: futile.

This is why I say leaders don’t manage time, they manage choices.  They constantly try to stay attune to what is important in their life (what brings them “joy,” as Ms. Kondo says) and make decisions on a daily, sometimes hourly basis based on it.

While managers struggle to fit everything into a day, a leader is willing to purge, delegate, or just say no to anything that isn’t truly important.

The ability to reinforce what is important, and exert energy in accordance with what is important, is what makes this third behavior so powerful.

The Third Behavior: Reinforcing What’s Important

The behavior of reinforcing what’s important is about giving yourself a moment each day to see both the big picture and the little pieces at the same time so you can act accordingly.

This means taking five minutes at the beginning or end of the day to review your list of big picture goals, and then reviewing your daily action plan to ensure you’re working on the most important things related to your larger goals.

I have found this to be an invaluable strategy for helping me to stay above the urgent-not-important things that bombard leaders every day.  It is also a great way to keep those seemingly productive time sucks (i.e. email, social media) in their proper place.

Personally, I review my lists at both the start and end of the work day. It’s always satisfying to strike through an action or two or three or more. Over time, I realized that when I took care of the important items, my work really progressed. I finished that webinar design. I published that blog. I got that meeting scheduled where a decision had to be made.

I also noticed that when I did the items that were the least pleasant, progress was faster. What was it about those items? They were the ones I was avoiding because they had implications, and as a result were important. Avoidance was coming out of my fear that they would not produce the right implications. What was I afraid of? Today, as I look at the list either in the morning when I am determining which are the most important or at the end of the day when I am considering the accomplishments of the day, I’m conscious of what avoidance means. It tells me exactly which are the most important.

This week, challenge yourself to reinforce what is important by keeping a list of long-term goals alongside your daily action list, and check it at least once a day. Tell me about how this behavior is working for you here or on Twitter: @madelynblair!

Next week, we will explore the final Phenomenal Four behavior: Posing Curious Questions!

The Procrastinator’s Instant Gratification

Procrastinators are addicted to instant gratification and hence most of the times they are onto YouTube videos, chats, reading unnecessary articles etc. that give instant gratification second to second. On the other hand, most tasks that we do in our life have a longer gratification cycle. Therefore, a procrastinator’s subconscious mind sees these tasks as a ‘defeat of the purpose of instant gratification’. As the mind sees the task as a defeat, it tries to avoid it whenever possible and hence the procrastinator doesn’t want to start on the task proactively – ‘why get defeated, when you don’t need to be’. It is caused by the fear/anxiety of not being instantly gratified or the fear of possible failure (personally or socially) or the anxiety about starting something new.

Awareness of this behavior can help the procrastinator recognize and come out of this situation. One of the best ways I found is to wake up early morning and do the most difficult or the most important task that you want to be done in the next 2-3 days. It is important to be aware of the most important/difficult task and then think about it early morning while the rest of the world is sleeping. This helps you to structure the problem and then proceed to solve the problem slowly. Once this is done, you gain more confidence and happiness for the rest of your day.

Why you need discipline and why procrastinators are not disciplined?

You don’t know what you don’t know.

When you are planning, you may assume you know everything that is going to happen. No, you don’t. A procrastinator makes this assumption and delays the task. But, he always faces new kinds of delays and problems and hence cannot meet the deadline.

You don’t know what you don’t know. And to tackle what you don’t know you just need to be ready and prepared. That can only happen through discipline.

Why Procrastinators are not disciplined? – Procrastinator’s Instant Gratification

Procrastinators are addicted to instant gratification and hence most of the times they are onto constant distractions such as YouTube videos, online shopping, chats, reading unnecessary articles etc. that give instant gratification second to second or instant gratification can be received by delaying pain. Every minute of delayed pain is pleasure and instant gratification.

Most tasks that we do in our life have a longer gratification cycle. Therefore, a procrastinator’s subconscious mind sees these tasks as a ‘defeat of the purpose of instant gratification’. As the mind sees the task as a defeat, it tries to avoid the task whenever possible and hence the procrastinator doesn’t want to start on the task proactively – ‘why get defeated, when you don’t need to be’. And when the task deadline comes closer, there is more fear and anxiety around the task, causing a certain sense of hatred towards the task and a below par performance on the task. The procrastination is caused by the fear/anxiety of not being instantly gratified or the fear of possible failure (personally or socially) or the anxiety about starting something new. All these three reasons are not good reasons to procrastinate a task, but procrastinating this pain gives instant gratification. Instant

Why is awareness and faith important in breaking procrastination?

Awareness of this behavior can help the procrastinator recognize and come out of this situation. The only way to break away from procrastination is to have some faith in rational decision making and follow it. I understand that a procrastinator’s mind wouldn’t allow proactive and rational decision making, but a procrastinator should take a leap of faith and start working rationally for a few days.

One of the best ways I found is to wake up early morning  and do the most difficult or the most important task that you want to be done in the next 2-3 days. It is important to be aware of the most important/difficult task and then think about it early morning while the rest of the world is sleeping. This helps you to structure the problem and then proceed to solve the problem slowly. Once this is done, you gain more confidence and happiness for the rest of your day. A procrastinator will find it very difficult to do this from a rational standpoint and hence he/she has to take a leap of faith and do it and check the results after a few days. It is impossible to believe that this is going to benefit the procrastinator before adhering to this behavior and hence I use the word ‘faith’ instead of belief. Belief is more about the fact that you believe in it, whereas faith is a belief or practice that you don’t know why you believe in or do it. It is only after you practice the faith for a few days that you can see the changes. Breaking away from procrastination is done similarly.

The Gratification Cycle

My hypothesis is that: With the increased convenience and the fast pace of the world today, we want to be gratified instantly and our ability to wait for gratification is coming down. This is what I call as the gratification cycle and the cycle seems to become shorter and shorter. Our instant access to online movies, online shopping, answers to any question online, etc. has made us feel that we need to gratified instantly and we are not ready to delay gratification.

This is also the reason why our attention spans are coming down as we need more shorter and frequent pain-pleasure cycles. This is very evident for procrastinators as they don’t want to pursue a task that doesn’t have instant gratification. And even when they pursue a task, they tend to stop it frequently to seek gratification from the little work that they did so far. These frequent stops causes more inefficiencies and longer time to complete a work.

Also, refer to my earlier post on delayed gratification.

Leadership – Goal Management – How to approach goals?

GUAGE THE SITUATION RIGHTLY AND HAVE THE RIGHT APPROACH

The ARC Triangle.png

Any business situation can be defined as a goal that needs to be achieved and the assumptions, constraints and resources available under that situation. One needs to use those resources and work with certain constraints and assumptions to make an approach towards achieving a goal in a situation. So, a success or a failure is always about the approach within the RAC and not about the individual. But often, we think successes are about only an approach and we replicate a successful approach in one RAC into another RAC without understanding that the RACs are very different and hence require different approaches.

BUILD THE RIGHT TEAM

Dealing with situations are people and therefore it is important to understand what people bring to table. People bring with them abilities, motives (goals) and emotions.These three attributes define their actions. Emotions are influenced by beliefs; the stronger the belief the stronger the emotion.

actions3.png

 

The assumption is that the actions by people will suit the approach required to the situation defined by resources, assumptions and constraints. But, that is not necessary. An individual’s motives need not match with the goals for a situation.

Therefore, organizations say that we will meet the individual’s motives and in turn expect the individual to provide commitment (discipline), loyalty and innovation. And in return to hone the abilities organizations provide training and to feed your emotions organizations provide best work environments and to feed your goals  organizations provide incentives & paycheck.

Organization's Expectations.png

The problem is when we have to tie all these together and all of them have to work in sync with each other. This lack of seamless sync across changing times is what that causes problems. However, having a big picture like this does help in managing the right teams in the right way to have the right approach.

 

 

The BIG Picture.png

 

But, people bring together egoes, clash of interests, communication, interdependence and many others. A leader’s job is to align them towards the right direction.

Alignment