Proverbs 22:29 says: "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men."
Our quote for today is from Scott Belsky. He said: "It's not about ideas. It's about making ideas happen."
Today, we are continuing with Part 4 of our section titled, "Developing a Game Plan to Overcome Procrastination".
In order to get momentum, is it always a good idea to "ease in" to a task, doing the simplest and most pleasant part first?
Usually it is, but sometimes the exact opposite works. Sometimes it pays to identify the most difficult part and take care of it first. I call this the Worst First approach.
That doesn't make sense. You can't have it both ways. If one way works, the other one shouldn't.
Actually, there are three ways of reacting when you are confronted with a complex task. One way is to get your foot in the door by doing the easiest part first and building some momentum. The second is to tackle the hardest part first and get the smug feeling that comes from getting something unpleasant out of the way as soon as possible (the old idea of eating your spinach first and your strawberry shortcake second). The third way -- the way of the procrastinator -- is to do neither, just leaving the task in limbo because it is unpleasant and because instead of choosing either of those plans of action you've chosen a plan of avoidance.
Suppose you have a group of volunteers, each of whom is supposed to call a list of people for donations to a political campaign. This is the kind of task most people find distasteful.
Some in the group will find it easiest to begin by contacting the most likely contributors -- the good friends of the candidate -- first. Then, warmed by the positive reception they are likely to get, they will feel less reluctant about calling those prospects on the list who are more likely to be grumpy, tightfisted, and obnoxious.
Others in the group (and many experienced salespeople will choose this approach) will find it preferable to select the grumpiest person on the list and make that call first. When it is completed they can say, "I've got that out of the way; from here on it will be a breeze!"
Either system will work; it's a matter of individual style and, of course, the nature of the task. In either case, you have made a commitment and you have adopted a definite game plan. What will not work is the third alternative, which is to postpone the chore until tomorrow in the hope that by some inexplicable miracle it will then become easier.
We're building up quite an armory of techniques: so far we have Pigeonholing, the Salami Technique, the Leading Task, and the Five-Minute Plan. Are there others?
Yes, indeed. One is the Balance Sheet Method.
Select some task you've been putting off. Now take a sheet of paper, and on the left side of the page list the reasons you are procrastinating. On the right side of the page list the benefits of getting the job done. Now compare the two lists. Generally, you'll find the reasons for procrastinating so insipid, and the reasons for action so compelling, that you become disgusted with your indolence and swing into action.
But doing it on paper is the secret. Excuses that seem quite adequate when they have not been clearly enunciated are exposed for the frauds they really are when reduced to writing.
Of course, sometimes the reasons for postponement may, on examination, be found to be quite valid, in which case you won't need to feel guilty about procrastination. The Balance Sheet Method, in other words, can be an excellent tool in reaching sound decisions about whether or not to take a certain course of action.
Benjamin Franklin often prepared a Balance Sheet when faced with a difficult decision. He wrote: "...all the reasons pro and con are not present to the mind at the same time; but sometimes one set present themselves and at other times another, the first being out of sight. To get over this, my way is to divide half a sheet of paper by a line into two columns; writing over the one 'Pro' and over the other 'Con.' Then during three or four days' consideration I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives that at different times occur to me for and against the measure. When I have thus got them all together in one view I endeavor to estimate their respective weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal I strike them both out. If I find a reason pro equal to some two reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two reasons con equal to some three reasons pro I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the balance lies... and come to a determination accordingly. And, though the weight of reasons cannot be taken with the precision of algebraic quantities, yet when each is thus considered separately and comparatively and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better and am less liable to make a rash step; and in fact I have found great advantage from this kind of equation in what may be called moral or prudential algebra."
The weighing of alternatives is what we will do every time we approach a decision; the only "new" element is doing it on paper. And if Benjamin Franklin, one of the great achievers of all time, found it worth his time to reduce the pros and cons to writing, perhaps we all could benefit from such a practice.
There is an alternative to the Balance Sheet Method that works even better for many people. Instead of making a pro and con list, you simply sit down and write out your feelings about the thing you are postponing. Talk to yourself on paper. Since you are writing only for yourself, don't worry about syntax and don't pull any punches. How do you really feel about the task? How do you feel about yourself for postponing it? What constructive steps might you take to get the show on the road? What, exactly, do you intend to do? When?
This may be done as an isolated exercise, or it can be one aspect of keeping a journal. Many psychiatrists and psychologists are taking renewed interest in the power of a journal to cause behavior change.