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!

How our Breathing Affects our Emotions

Most of us would like to have some control over our instantaneous emotions. However, we observe that it is extremely difficult to control your emotions. One can only channelize the energy of an emotion, but one cannot control the rise of the emotion itself. However, emotions and breathing are directly related and this link has been continuously observed in a lot of research. Therefore, it is seen that one can gain control on emotions by breathing in a specific manner.

Refer the below link for a complete understanding of how breathing affects our emotions.

The Vicious Cycle of Self-esteem and Self-discipline

This is a snippet from an article in Psychology Today.

It may be true that we can do almost anything we set our mind to. But if our mind is our worst enemy, we simply may not be able to believe this otherwise inspiring (and motivating!) maxim. That is, whatever anxieties we may have about failing, as well as our poor sense of self-efficacy, may either keep us from starting a task or prevent us from completing it. And even if we do end up finishing it–because, say, it’s a job requirement and we absolutely must–our pattern of delay will still persist. Unresolved self-doubts (deeply programmed within us) aren’t automatically erased by an expedient action and will reaffirm themselves (through some sort of procrastination) the very next time we’re obliged to do something.

In my experience, people who lack self-discipline also lack fundamental self-esteem. And here the latter deficiency seems to feed directly into the former. That is, significant defects in our self-image undermine our confidence in our abilities, and this lack of self-confidence negatively affects the development of self-discipline–which of course is necessary to accomplish just those things that would enhance our self-esteem. Psychologically speaking, this has got to be one of the most vicious of vicious cycles

Why is the current self wrong about the future self?

We always procrastinate our work telling that we will handle the work in future time. Basically, the current self of yours hands over the work to the future self.

Your current self says I will have this pleasure now (delaying the work) and my future self will take the pain (doing the work). The current self gives the reason that – my future self will take the pain because it will offset the pleasure that I am having now. This is what we always do when we postpone that work and enjoy or delay some work.

Later, your future self when it becomes the current self looks at the past self and thinks “how stupid is my past self to do something like this?”. This is a constant battle between the future self and  the current self.

What is going wrong here?

There is a major assumption that is made in this: that your future self will remember how much it’s past self has enjoyed (had pleasure) and will therefore be ready to take the pain (offsetting the pleasure of the past).

This is not a valid assumption. Why?

  1. Your future self is your imagination. You can imagine anything.
  2. Forgetfulness – you are assuming that you won’t forget the experience of emotions of this pleasure when you are in the future.
  3. You won’t remember for your future everything you experienced in the past. Experiencing self and Remembering self are different.
  4. You cannot remember the exact emotions you felt in your past. Emotions cannot be created on your own, it is a very quick (1/30th sec) response to stimuli. You can only remember the memories of the emotions, you cannot recreate the emotional experience itself. However, if you face a very similar stimuli in your future then those emotions could be triggered.
  5. The current self is making some assumptions about the future self. Also, the current self is actually not even aware of some of the other assumptions that are made inherent in the task itself. Only when you do the task will you actually realize the assumption made. If the current self hands it over to the future self, the assumptions in the task might come as a surprise very late in the day for the future self.


A Note On Assertiveness

The below post is influenced by the ideas of Dr. Jonice Webb, a leading psychologist and parental education trainer.

As an individual, we think we know everything about ourselves. But, it can be said with a good degree of certainty that there is a lot that we don’t know about ourselves than what we think we know. There are many things that we don’t know that we don’t know. Unfortunately, we act naïve to think that we are smart and we know everything about ourselves. We don’t appreciate the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know about ourselves. But, it is important to recognize the root-causes of our behaviour and understand and make desirable changes to our behaviour.

Our childhood actually determines a lot of our underlying core emotions and behaviour. Certain things like fight or flight, fear, assertiveness and other core emotions and behavior are influenced heavily by the internal systems you developed in your childhood.

Let’s take an individual who in his or her childhood has often been ignored. Probably, s/he was brought up in a large family of seven children and hence the parents didn’t provide specific attention. Perhaps, his or her father died and his mother was engulfed in her own grief. Perhaps s/he had an autistic elder brother who takes away most of their parents’ attention. Or perhaps his parents are self-centred and paid attention mostly to only what they think and feel. Whatever the reason is, the impact on the child is the same. The child is getting the message: your thoughts and feelings don’t matter.  There is specifically nobody who fought for his rights or listened to him in his childhood. He was always given something and was expected to live with it.

With such conditioning, the child will grow into an adult whose default setting is to undervalue and under-attend to his or her own feelings, needs and thoughts. S/he will have difficulty in asking for things, expressing feelings and knowing one’s own needs.

In a sense, s/he is growing up receiving the classic, invisible and subtly conveyed message: Don’t value or express your feelings and needs. Why? Because, they won’t be attended and you will end up disappointed yet again. This is the message that completely kills assertiveness in an individual. Growing up, the individual will make a strong internal system that fighting for one’s rights is useless. The individual becomes fine with being the last person in consideration. ‘Oh! I am not so important. It’s okay don’t bother about me.’ ‘It’s okay, I will adjust with this.’

Being Assertive

Being assertive is about getting what you deserve. We all have rights to have what we need. Being assertive is not about changing yourself completely; it is about making a better ‘you’. People think being assertive is about bossing around and telling people what to do, nagging people around, and fighting for things. But, that’s wrong!


Being assertive means standing up for yourself, but not to the disadvantage of other people. If one is assertive, one feels able to tell people that something makes one upset, happy, or confused. If we are passive or fearful, we find it difficult to tell people what we want to happen.

Though these core emotions are influenced by one’s childhood, such behavior, when recognized, can be corrected with conscious effort to change. Being assertive will give you the benefit to express your opinions and feel confident in knowing that they are as good as everyone else’s opinions. As Stephen Covey says “Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us.”