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Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

Leave procrastination behind you in 2011

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As we start the New Year on Saturday leave procrastination behind by trying these no-nonsense, research-tested suggestions by Joseph Ferrari. Joseph R. Ferrari has spent his professional life studying procrastination. In 1985 as a student at Adelphi University in Garden City, NJ he took a class called “Self-defeating Behaviors.” He asked his teacher if procrastination had ever been studied in-depth, and she said she thought so, but wasn’t sure. He investigated and discovered that no one had taken a serious, thorough look at the subject, so he decided to tackle it himself.

Twenty-five years later, a Ph.D. in experimental psychology and dozens of academic studies and articles behind him, Ferrari is a psychology professor at DePaul University in Chicago, and has published a book titled Still Procrastinating? The No-Regrets Guide to Getting It Done.

Ferrari says everybody procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator. “A procrastinator is someone who habitually and consistently delays tasks,” he explains. That’s about 20% of the population. He recommends that hardcore procrastinators read his book and get some help.

But, for the rest of us, who engage in occasional delaying tactics, lateness or putting off until tomorrow what we know we should do today, Ferrari suggests the following: keep a to-do list, and update it often. Set your priorities, and tackle the most urgent matters first. After the most pressing tasks, do the worst jobs next. Putting them off will just make your whole workload seem more impossible. Also, set realistic goals and deadlines.

Ferrari does not buy into the notion that computers and cell phones make it harder for us to get work done. I happen to agree. We just need to manage our technological distractions. Check your e-mail once an hour only. Don’t follow-up or answer an e-mail unless it’s necessary. Don’t open one when you don’t have time to read it. Quickly delete messages to get them out of your inbox.

At work figure out who your most productive colleagues are, and team up with them. “Work in teams,” he advises. “Surround yourself with non-procrastinators.” Try modeling yourself after a colleague who gets a lot done. Ferrari points out that everyone loves flattery. Pull your highest-producing colleague aside and ask if you might shadow her for a time. She’ll probably say yes.

Do stay on task. If you return from a meeting to an inbox full of requests, get done what you already needed to get done before dealing with all those new assignments.

When asked to elaborate on his ‘Get a life, Move it, philosophy he said his Italian grandmother had a saying: ‘Some people, they won’t get off the beach until their behind gets wet.'” He says that line is even better in Italian. But his final word is this: “Let procrastinators bottom out. Let them fail. Then they’ll have the conversion experience.”

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