Rethinking task delayFrank Partnoy, in his excellent book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, makes the compelling case that procrastination is not only our middle name, it is also an essential survival tactic in modern business life. We all have so many tasks demanding our attention and only 16 of 24 waking hours (see our February newsletter “Six Secrets of The REM Realm“), so that kicking those cans down the road is inevitable. The problems come when we procrastinate badly. Yes, it comes in two flavors: sweet and sour.

We are left with bitterness and regret when we crash up against deadlines, thereby producing rushed results and poor-quality outcomes. But who hasn’t crammed for an exam into the early hours of the preceding night? Or put off that difficult call by watching multiple editions of “A Closer Look” on YouTube?

So what is sweet procrastination, or good “task delay” as the psychologists call it? When exactly can putting things off till later be beneficial? Well, it’s all in the mind. The key is to talk to yourself kindly and take responsibility for what you do and when you do it. This is also key for the “anti-procrastinator,” the kind of person who dives right in and multi-tasks like crazy, but mostly manages to raise their own blood pressure while being constantly in two minds. The following advice will help…

Handwrite a to-do list⚫  Handwrite a to-do list with the tasks you are putting off at the top. Use a pen and paper because they aid with recall and mental detachment from the issues. Estimate and add the hours you’ll need to complete each bullet point. Then do tasks other than the top ones, because achievement will relieve your anxiety. Plus, with the top tasks on the back burner of your consciousness, you are doing the first part of the creative process. Nothing is created in reality unless it is created in the mind first.

Mindful meditation⚫  What if “plan A” goes awry? Jot down a plan B for your tasks, because good time managers reduce anxiety and give themselves a break with this simple technique. If you can’t get a handle on either plan, try mindful meditation. Controlling your breathing helps you get back into the mental driving seat.

Delay taking action on your top task ⚫  Deliberately delay taking action on your top task until the realistic final moment and review the task parameters, because then you have the maximum available information and are more likely to take the correct first step. Procrastination-psychologists call this “sensible delay,” and it helps in every case.

Physical movement⚫  Those same psychologists advocate physical movement, such as running, swimming, or cycling, to raise your heartrate and oxygenate your blood, all of which boost brain processes and creativity.

Triage your email⚫  Triage your email to keep your inbox on a single page. Allowing it to build and build just inflates your anxiety until it becomes a task to procrastinate over and an excuse for delaying other tasks.

If you are an inveterate task-delayer consider getting some professional help⚫  If you are an inveterate task-delayer who is reading this and just about to archive it for later action sometime, consider getting some professional help. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a modern miracle.

By overcoming your bad procrastination habit, you will greatly improve your personal productivity. The obvious question then becomes, “what should I do with all this extra time?” Our April newsletter will be excellent food for thought because time is not money and believing it is actually makes us unhappy.