Ruminating on the passing of time, the Roman philosopher Seneca once remarked ‘We all sorely complain of the shortness of time, and yet have much more than we know what to do with’.
For me, no quote gets to the heart of procrastination more succinctly than this. Given 12 weeks to complete a project, a plan or a presentation, how many of us can immediately see ourselves in 3 months’ time, frantically working into the early hours of the morning?
The answer? More than you might imagine.
It’s not just you – you’re in great company
While struggling to finish his magnum opus Moby Dick, writer Herman Melville reportedly asked his wife to chain him to his desk to prevent him from becoming distracted. Former US president Bill Clinton was also a notorious procrastinator; Time once reported on the ‘harrowing last-minute cut-and-paste sessions’ before Clinton approved an important bill or speech. Even Da Vinci, widely regarded as one of history’s greatest minds, was a hopeless procrastinator, only finishing The Last Supper after his patron threatened to cut off his funding.
So while procrastination clearly isn’t a barometer of ultimate failure, there is no doubt that it can present a major stumbling block.
“A 2013 study into the working habits of over 22,000 individuals discovered that high levels of procrastination is associated with lower salaries, shorter durations of employment, and a greater likelihood of being unemployed”
So what can the world’s procrastinators do about it?
A big break though in time management
The good news is that Jason Wessel of Griffith University in Queensland, Australia believes he may have found the answer. Based around the principles of Temporal Motivation Theory, Wessel devised 4 questions that you should ask yourself when you feel procrastination starting to creep in:
- How would someone successful complete the goal?
- How would you feel if you don’t do the required task?
- What is the next immediate step you need to do?
- If you could do one thing to achieve the goal on time, what would it be?
Testing his theory on undergraduates at his own university, Wessel’s study discovered that students who regularly pondered these questions tended to be further ahead in their assignments than those who didn’t.
The questions themselves are designed to reproduce the benefits of a coaching session, but in a fraction of the time. So next time the fog of procrastination begins to descend, whether you’re reflecting alone or coaching a colleague or peer, try asking these four simple questions. You may just find yourself breaking through that barrier.
Because, as the old proverb states, ‘One of these days, is none of these days’.
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