by Florrie Binford Kichler, President, IBPA
How to Subdue the Procrastination Beast
One of my all-time favorite New Yorker cartoons features a businessman standing behind his desk. He’s holding a phone to his ear, and the caption reads, “No, Tuesday’s no good for me. How about never, is never good for you?”
To “shilly-shally, drag one’s heels, postpone doing what one should be doing” are just a few of the definitions of the universal nemesis known as procrastination. New Yorker cartoon businessmen, publishers, authors, trade association presidents—I defy you to find a human on the planet who hasn’t “stalled, or dilly-dallied” when it comes to accomplishing a work-related task. Case in point (they say confession is good for the soul): I wrote only 73 words of this column before I got up to get some coffee and look out the window.
Why do we put off until tomorrow what we should do today—even though the adage specifically instructs us never to do so—and more important, how can we overcome the desire to delay on the job?
Four Procrastination Causes and Cures
Cause: Fear. We’re afraid of doing the wrong thing, so we do nothing. We wait and wait, hoping that either the situation will “take care of itself” (unlikely) or go away entirely, or the correct solution will miraculously appear.
For example, you have an unpleasant customer whose substantial invoice is more than 90 days in arrears. You can’t bring yourself to call and demand payment because you fear a shouting match that will only anger your customer (and delay payment further). You hope every day that (1) the check arrives in the mail or (2) the customer calls with a reasonable explanation and the two of you work it out. So you do nothing, and each day passes with no check, no phone call, and no cash flow.
Cure: Compare consequences. The point here is that inaction can sometimes be infinitely worse than not choosing the best course, even if the best one isn’t a good one. My experience has been that the elephant in the room—or that overdue invoice that nobody talks about—only gets scarier and scarier as silence (plus passivity) grows.
To conquer such fear, I’ve learned to ask myself one crucial question.
“How bad can it be?”
Nobody likes to get yelled at, but I like not getting paid money owing me even less. Think about it—if a few minutes of discomfort results in that check arriving, isn’t it worth it? And if the customer refuses to pay and hangs up on you, then at least you’ve taken a positive step forward that will give you the confidence to take another step toward a solution.
Cause: Ignorance. We don’t know what to do, so we do nothing. Ignorance is a powerful action deterrent, as it often begets fear resulting in paralysis (I don’t know how to solve this problem; I don’t want anyone to know I don’t know and am afraid I’ll never find the answer, so I’ll ignore it).
Cure: Ask. Ask a co-worker; submit a question to IBPA’s Ask the Experts; call or email a colleague. Despite what you may think, people really do like to be asked for advice, and publishers are some of the most generous advisors you’ll ever find.
If a problem has you stumped, chances are good somebody else has already faced and overcome it. Plus, there is an odd phenomenon that often occurs when you ask for someone’s help—even though the ultimate responsibility is still yours, you’re sharing the burden, which makes the load lighten, the ignorance lessen, the fear diminish—and the action begin.
Cause: Workload. We have so much to do that we can’t possibly get it all done. Of course we can’t. We’re publishers running our own companies in an era where constant change is the new normal. Faced with a mountain of tasks, we’re prone to knee-jerk reactions; either we panic and randomly start working on the first project we see regardless of importance (leaving the others for another day, week, or month), or we decide there’s way too much work—and go look out the window.
Cure: Plan and prioritize. It’s tempting to complete an insignificant task and congratulate yourself that you’ve actually accomplished something instead of taking the time to think and focus on the bigger picture.
Not having enough time to finish a task at any given moment is no excuse for not starting it if it’s critical for getting that marketing campaign implemented or those customers contacted.
Cause: The Web. Both friend and enemy of the working person, the Internet consumes our days (and sometimes nights). A treasure trove of infinite resources, it is also a time-suck of infinite proportions.
The Web is a procrastinator’s most accessible tool of choice to avoid real work. It certainly is mine—every day is a battle to refrain from embarking on magical mystery tours from link to link to link. Often the journey is publishing related—but often (sadly) it is not.
Cure: Go cold turkey. Low-cost software, available now, will save you from yourself when it comes to random link clicking.
When I have a critical project—especially one that’s difficult or will require serious thought—I use Freedom (macfreedom.com), an application for both Mac and Windows, that will block you from Internet access for a certain length of time, giving you no more excuses for putting off till tomorrow what you should do today.
As with any new regime, start with baby steps—nobody, least of all me, would expect you to instantly subdue the procrastination beast. Patience and practice are the watchwords, and increased productivity will be your reward.
Just a second . . . be right back for the big finish. I need to grab some more coffee and check my email.
Follow Florrie and IBPA on Twitter at twitter.com/ibpa, and on IBPA’s blog at ibpablog.wordpress.com. Join Independent Book Publishers Association–IBPA group on Linked In (linkedin.com).