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The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Monday, February 18, 2008

For Procrastinators

I tend to approach a lot of my problems in life a similar way as my post below on "Food Infrastructure." I step back, look globally and come up with good strategies from that perspective. I try to create an environment in which it is easier for my goal to be reached.

It doesn't matter what I'm trying to do: Exercise, get all my homework done, make friends, eat right, you name it. I think back to when I have been successful in those regards. I then try to re-create that same kind of environment again. I try to put the infrastructure in place that will support my goal and even make things possible that otherwise would not happen.

Let's say I want to make more friends. I am terrible in bars. I can go to a bar every night for a year, and I'd be lucky to strike up a meaningful conversation or two. However, I can do some volunteer work and find lifelong friends within a matter of days. There is no sense going to a bar day after day if its just not conducive to my personality style. Its not a question of just trying harder--its more of a question of changing the scenery.

College was a great place to meet people, but what specifically about it? Living in community, being involved in activities, going to classes, etc. While most people are not going to live in dorms once they leave college, they can do the kinds of things that will have a similar result.

I also do well in deadline-driven environments, but the deadlines have to be short. I don't do well if I have 2 weeks to finish something. Knowing I have to do something today makes a big difference. In my job, much of my work has immediate deadlines, and that helps to keep my momentum up and my energy moving. It prevents me from getting bogged down and in a rut.

I'm terrible when it comes to homework. I procrastinate like crazy. I have found that having a daily schedule really helps. When I look at hundreds of pages to read and papers to write for each class 2 weeks from now, it can be easy to try to put that off or to come up with unrealistic ideas about what I can do on the weekend before class. I divide up my assignments into daily regimens. 2 weeks worth of assignments can be daunting, but if I go home from work today and know I have to read these certain 20 pages, that really helps me. I know I need a certain number of days off to avoid burnout, and a day or two of backup in case something comes up. It cuts down on stress. I don't have to weight the entirely of my homework every minute of every day. If I follow my schedule, which is well made and based on realistic goals, I will do fine.

Let's say you have trouble writing a paper in a noisy environment. At your house, there are noisy people and kids running around. You can simply try to muscle through and do your homework anyway. You plug your ears, pound the table, put music on, yell at people, but it doesn't work. It would be senseless to keep struggling in this environment. Instead, find a private room. Go to a library. Pages will start flying off better than ever. What are you trying to prove by trying to work through an obstacle like that? Save your energy for the obstacles that are absolutely necessary to overcome, because there will be plenty of those. Step aside from the ones that take energy but really prove little.

We all have weaknesses. Knowing your weaknesses is a major step in reaching your goals, because once you know them you can do something about them. If you know there are certain environments in which you don't do well, don't worry about changing yourself. Just change the scenery.

If you are trying to reach a goal but find yourself spinning your wheels and beating your head against the wall, spending more energy and agonizing in frustration just trying to get started, it would probably do you well to step back and change your environment. You can keep trying to muscle through, but you might be up against a lot. Your results will be minimal for all the work you do spinning your wheels.

Rather, put yourself into the kinds of situations that are conducive to your personality and work styles. Think about the places, circumstances, structures and atmosphere in which you thrive, and either create it or find it. I'm not against facing a challenge or working through difficulties, but there comes a time when its an exercise in idiocy to keep doing the same things and expect a different result. It could even be some trick you play on yourself to actually avoid your goal by squandering your time on senseless and unnecessary hurdles. Spend your energy on your goal, not on getting started. There will be plenty of obstacles to overcome in reaching any goal, don't waste your energy on things that can be avoided. Put the kinds of support structures in place that will do just that--support you. No person is an island, and we are heavily influenced by our environment.

4 comments:

  1. "If you are trying to reach a goal but find yourself spinning your wheels and beating your head against the wall, spending more energy and agonizing in frustration just trying to get started, it would probably do you well to step back and change your environment. You can keep trying to muscle through, but you might be up against a lot. Your results will be minimal for all the work you do spinning your wheels."

    I think this is true for relationships too- whether lovers, friends, or even family members.

    In my work with people in poverty, we explore this area in detail. It is my belief that this is one of the major factors that keep people in poverty- they keep trying to work things out with people and end up spinning their wheels.

    Visiting my sister reminded me how precious life is and I am beginning to realize how futile it is to knowingly spin wheels when the hope of reaching a goal is truly limited. Life is just too short.

    Sometimes, it is just worth being there and not focus on a goal but most of the time, that is just a way to put off dreams.

    The folks I work with, put off their dreams to somehow feel ok now. They end up raising kids in poverty, losing focus on the future and ultimately allow negative relationships (with parents, boyfriends and friends)dictate their lives. It is only when they step outside of these negative circumstances (change thier environment) that they can move ahead.

    I think you provide sound advice in this article- and you sound like a guy who knows what he is talking about :-) .

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  2. Procrastination is a form of poverty, you could say.

    Having a plan is one thing, but being able to actually implement it is another. The people in poverty you are talking about probably have a number of circumstances around them that make implementing a plan difficult. The same is true with people who procrastinate: They have plans and goals but find it easy to get distracted and difficult to apply themselves to the task. Just sitting there trying to force it is only going to work occassionally.

    Its an exercise in futility to keep hammering away when its not coming. A change of energy is needed, a change of scenery.

    I think people just have trouble admitting there is a problem. But there is freedom in that admission, the freedom to break the cycle which you deny yourself when you deny the problem.

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  3. I agree. I have used this concept of infrastructure in my work today- thanks for the thoughts.

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  4. Its about designing your life so that you can spend more time swimming with the currents rather than against. You can go so much farther that way. You still have to make the effort to swim, but why wouldn't you want to cover more ground?

    Its a good skill to learn how to muscle through some reverse currents coming at you (or simply learn to sit them out), but the main goal here should be finding and working with the currents.

    Its so hard to force myself to exercise every day. However, I know that if I joined a soccer team or biking group, the only effort I would have to make would be to show up. Once I am present, the energy of the group would propel me to exercise. That's just good use of infrastructure--finding the best roads and support structure for myself. I can spend my energy working out rather than wearing myself out just obsessing over whether or not I should do my exercises or not, going to bed discouraged.

    You can muck your way through a swamp, or you can climb out of the swamp and take a bridge. Either way, your goal is the same place. If you just want a challenge for the sake of a challenge, then maybe you will want to take the swamp. However, you are forgetting how much of a challenge may be present in your ultimate goal. If your goal is truly important to you, why not take the bridge?

    I think some of us are suspicious of taking an "easy way out". We are used to work and struggle, and it doesn't seem fair to somehow step out of that. I'm not advocating an easy way, though. I'm just advocating for people to target their goal and achieve it, and put all the energy they would spend densely struggling in a swamp into their actual goal. And then when you're done move on to another goal.

    I'm not talking about people watering down their ideals or conforming with society because its "easier that way." I'm talking about sticking to your ideal and goals and simply finding the best possible environment and infrastructure that will support you.

    Some people find it hard to save money. Every paycheck, they hardly ever put anything in the bank and instead find ways to fritter it away. They have the option of just being hard on themselves and judge themselves harshly for their shortcomings. Or they can recognize their weakness and put structures in place that will help them build better habits. Maybe they need automatic payroll deductions. Maybe they need to get the help of someone else to plan their expenses. Maybe they need to cut expenses or share the rent with someone or get a different job, all of which would change their disposable income and make savings easier. The might have a hard time saving because they are leaving at the limit of their means, with toxic individuals around demanding favors.

    They could just mope around and be miserable for how they aren't able to save money. Or they could be mature and realize that for whatever reason its something they struggle with, and look to find the proper support they need to make it happen. The person who admits their weakness, in this case, is the stronger person and the one who has the most hope of transcending their circumstances.

    It’s why the 1st step in any 12-step program is admitting you have a problem. Once you do that, you have a full palette to work with that is otherwise limited.

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