Last week, I opened the question of re-building one's sense of personal integrity through a simple exercise of tracking and keeping commitments for the coming week. The article produced a range of comments, with the general theme being one of appreciating the guidance about giving and keeping your word.
In case you missed the article, here's a reprise of the experiment suggested:
Here's an experiment you can try for a week. Just one week. If you like the results, you can go for a second week. And so on. For the balance of this week, try this one and notice what your experience has been as you get to the end of the week:
1 If you give your word to someone, keep it at all costs, other than life and limb.
(If I tell you that I will call you at 9:00 a.m., I will call you at 9:00 a.m. However, if the office catches fire at 8:50 a.m., I'm not going to stick around just so I can keep the commitment. Common sense does have a role here -- however, for this week, only real emergencies are allowed to break the commitment. Otherwise, keep it no matter what -- even if you get a "better offer.")
2 If someone asks for a commitment, and you don't really want to commit or aren't sure, don't commit.
(You can always say something like: "I'm working on my ability to make and keep commitments. Right now, I'm not really sure that I can keep this one -- if you can work with 'maybe,' that's the best I can give right now.")
As simplistic as these two suggestions might seem, just give them a go for one week. You may be surprised at the lessons that show up. You are likely to start building back some of that lost respect and confidence simply by doing what you said you would do. You may also be surprised to learn how many times you find yourself agreeing to something simply because you wanted to appease someone else or to gain their approval. Keep these commitments anyway! You will not only build your sense of self but also start to fine tune which agreements you really do want to make in the first place.
Several of you commented that you would be giving the experiment a go, and I would love to hear what you discovered if you followed through. In fact, even if you did not follow through, I would love to hear from you about what came up or what got in the way.
I can imagine that a couple of folks made the mental commitment to engage in the experiment, and then may have procrastinated on the idea. Procrastination is something that one reader mentioned as a personal bugaboo and asked if I would write something on the subject. Here goes!
How Procrastination Can Become a Key to Personal Productivity
Procrastination, real procrastination, may well be one of the more power productivity tools of all time. What we call procrastination, however, surely sucks up that same productivity potential.
In order to make any sense out of this apparent contradiction, let's look at what Merriam-Webster tells us about the word. As a transitive verb, it means "to put off intentionally and habitually;" as an intransitive verb, it means "to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done."
With these definitions in the back of your mind, it's hard to imagine how procrastination could be good for you, much less a key to accelerated performance or productivity. However, if you look just a bit deeper, it may become apparent that modern usage implying something akin to lazy or "good-for-nothing" behavior has drifted considerably from what the real source of the word might have intended.
So, play with me a little here: the word procrastination actually begins with something quite positive. The prefix, "pro," which means "in favor of," or "for."
Merriam-Webster tells us that the origin of the word indeed suggests something far more positive than avoidance:
Origin of PROCRASTINATE: Latin procrastinatus, past participle of procrastinare, from pro- forward plus crastinus of tomorrow, from cras tomorrow; First Known Use: 1588.
That leaves us with the suffix "ation." Does "ation" look like a common word slightly misspelled? Stick a "c" in there and you might find the word "action." The suffix "ion" or "ation" comes from Latin and means "requires action."
If you put all these parts together what do you get? A word that means, literally, for tomorrow's action. Does that sound lazy or unproductive to you? Not if you are truly procrastinating. Someone who is truly procrastinating, looks over the available choices for work and assigns some tasks to a future date, while others belong here and now.
Rather than being lazy or unproductive, a true procrastinator is someone who is thoughtful about his or her work, someone who is thinking proactively about what matters and when. Perhaps the real art here is to accurately assess the choices in front of us, map those to what we value or what is important in our work, and then make the conscious commitment to move forward, or the conscious commitment to assign the task we are considering to another point in time.
Much like the advice from last week, look closely at the commitments and tasks in front of you, determine where they fit in the mix of values and goals in front of you, and then move on them accordingly -- or consciously choose to move on them at another time.
What you don't want to do is to tell yourself that something matters, and then keep putting it off because you either are not clear on what it takes to get it done, or because there is something about the task that you find discomforting. Doing so not only undermines your ability to be productive, but it also undermines your own sense of self and personal integrity.
To be sure, there are many more underlying causes to what we call procrastination, most of which require keen self awareness and the willingness to learn and grow. For now, if you have not already, give the two step experiment noted above a go and see what you can discover about yourself.
Remember, if you really don't want to commit to something then own it right then there, and do not make the commitment.
As always, please do let me know how this strikes you as well as what you may have discovered by participating in the experiment.
Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email and let me know your experience.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant, based in Santa Barbara California. Watch for my new book coming out in January, 2011 Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Gets in Your Way at Work. You can find out more about Russell at http://www.lessonsinthekeyoflife.com. Contact Russell by email at: Russell (at) lessonsinthekeyoflife.com
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