Monday, June 15, 2009

Procrastination Thriving in Stressful Workplace

I'm always impressed when I watch a movie like "Apollo 13" where people under enormous stress perform really well. That doesn't usually happen for me.

There have been a lot of frantic, stressful days in my life, and sometimes by the end of the day I realize I didn't get enough done and feel really frustrated, or angry or depressed. Sometimes I feel all three.

Dr. Neil Fiore says I'm not alone. A psychologist and productivity guru, he says that the increasing stress of our daily lives, combined with anxiety about the state of the economy, has contributed to our loss of motivation.

The author of "The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play," Fiore says people have gotten into the bad habit of saying "I have to get the project done" instead of "I'm going to get the project done."

“By saying, ‘I have to’ instead of ‘I choose to’ or ‘I’m going to,’ you really increase your stress levels,” he says. "Replace "I have to get this overwhelming project done" with 'I am choosing to START on one part for 15 minutes with plenty of guilt-free play on my schedule.' You then avoid both stress and anxiety. Anxiety is stuck energy trying to get into the imaginery 'future','done' or 'finished' place."

Fiore says that while we’ve all heard of the “flight or fight” response to stress, a third component is “freeze.” That means that people who are confronted with a possible layoff, or have already lost their jobs, may find that they’re shifting into a “wait and see” mode, procrastinating on doing anything about their careers.

“It’s part of our survival mechanism. When you have a broken leg, your body will tell you to lie still. That’s what is happening to a lot of people right now. They’re just staying still, trying to figure out what is going on,” he says.

Fiore offered some tips to those of us struggling with these issues:
  • Notice your immediate, "default" reactions -- your most frequent thoughts, feelings, and impulsive reactions -- to stress and pressure. Take a few days to identify which reactive habits you need to update to fit with your current vision, abilities, values and challenges.
  • Remember how you felt when you helped a friend cope with a stressful or heart-breaking event. You observed their problem from a distance and shifted to the role of a compassionate, wise counselor. Do this for yourself and experience the freedom of observing old habits and thoughts without having to identify with them.
  • Play and work consistently at your personal best by connecting to the rest of your brain and body -- when you feel like a Tiger Woods, a Danica Patrick or an Oprah Winfrey. Begin performing at levels far beyond what the ego knows how to do. Integrate all parts of you into the grander whole that is your strongest self.
  • Notice how self-criticism and telling yourself "you have to" lead to stress and anxiety. Get ride of self-threats.Tell yourself: "Regardless of what happens, I will not make myself feel bad. I will not let any event or person determine my worth."
  • Communicate to your mind and body a clear image of when, where, and on what to work, and you'll significantly improve your productivity. "Pour the foundation at 9 a.m. Wednesday at 322 Garfield Ave." is clearer than "You have to finish construction on this house by next month."
  • Change "I don't know" to "I wonder what will come to me." Watch for the surprise as the creative side of your brain starts working to bring you from "not knowing" to "knowing."

What are some ways you avoid procrastination or keep yourself motivated?


Anonymous said...

Wow! I'm so glad I cam across the post as I've been really having trouble focusing on work lately. Thinking I'm ADD or something!! I really do want to get a handle on it before I lose my job. thanks for the tips.

David Benjamin said...

I am a believer that some people actually create stress so they have an excuse when things don't get done or to receive praise when they accomplish a task.

I point to a recent story hanging out with my friend and his wife. My friend's wife vented for a good 5 minutes about how hectic her schedule was...getting their daughter to swim practice by 8:30a followed by more running around.

If we step back from this scenario, is this really stressful or just daily activities?

Yes, we are all asked to do more during these challanging times but having the right mindset from the get-go is a good start. If we use the word stress, it becomes a self fufilling prophecy that now we must feel the stress we talk about.

Just my two cents!

Love your posts!

Anita said...

I think what you're saying is really in line with what Dr. Fiore says: That by "choosing" to do something, it helps eliminate the stress. By viewing her life as a series of dreaded tasks, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thanks for sharing that story.

Martin Okoed said...

Anita, from the article I seem to get the point that there are three basic demotivators: lack of lack of focus, lack of confidence & lack of direction.

Now back to your question of what motivates me. First, knowing where where I'm going. Two, confidence and then three, being focused. But of course, this calls for a lot of self-discipline (a lot of self-disciple). That's my thinking.

Although this should have come first, I feel I still can say it. Better late than never. Thanks for the article that adds to the body of knowledge.

Return you the smile.

Anita said...

For me, I find that I really get frustrated and unproductive when I try to multi-task too much (the bane of every working mother!) Now, I say to myself, "What is the best use of my time RIGHT NOW." If I'm stressed, the best use of my time may be taking a break for a walk outside. Or, it may be writing with the phone and e-mail turned off for an hour. I think you're right when you say you always have to know WHERE you're going. Without that internal roadmap, you can get lost. Fast. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Aren't most of the "commments" here exoctly what Anita is trying to advise against "against"? Does anybody read what they are going to post before they submit it?


Dan Erwin said...

Talking to yourself has been an effective means of stress reduction, psychologically, for the past 40 years. However, it's important to watch the messages we give ourselves. Sometimes they need to be revised.

This stress reduction process works really well. It's fascinating that mere word and idea changes can make such a difference in us.

Anita said...

I think it's interesting that Fiore talks about how we care and nurture and support other people -- but sometimes don't give ourselves the same consideration. I think that "self-talk," as you point out, needs to be positive and supportive of what we do.