Handling Procrastination


I am quite confident I have never had an original idea in my entire life. What I have done, however, is create new ways of expressing old ideas. In this respect, I now invite you to approach, with a new perspective, the way you manage your activities.

Need-to, Ought-to, Can-do

Say it a few times to yourself: "Need-to, Ought-to, Can-do." Tongue-twisting aside, it represents three categories, within which falls everything that you are presently capable of. (Any activity that you are not presently capable of would perhaps fall into a forth category of "Can't-do," and yet I would submit that if you are spending much time considering what you cannot do, you are not only mismanaging your time-you're throwing it away!)

Within the Need-to category would be everything that must be done in a given day or week, the absence of which would lead to a significant negative result. Showing up to work, feeding the dog, bathing-these fall clearly within this category. The next category, Ought-to, includes all activities that, if completed, would likely create a positive overall result. Returning phone calls on time, getting adequate sleep, and keeping your car maintained are such examples. Finally, the Can-do category represents everything else (again excluding what is beyond your present capacity). Activities within this category have either been previously judged as not worth doing, or have yet to be judged at all. In other words, you have not, as of yet, determined it reasonable to place such an activity within the Ought-to or Need-to categories.

An example may help illustrate the concept: Suppose I've just discovered that my friend is looking for a place to stay for the week while he's in town. I do live in a home, so this prospective activity is a Can-do, simply because it exists as a possibility. He then tells me that he is bringing several expensive bottles of wine as gifts for whomever he ends up staying with. Assuming I like wine, and all else being equal, this activity is now an Ought-to. At some point before he arrives in town, I confirm with him that I would like him to stay for the week. The event is now a Need-to; as to back out of the arrangement would cause a loss of friendship.

Feel free to use your own examples-you'll find that everything possible does, in fact, meet one of these three criteria. This thereby sets a foundation for the prioritization of your daily and weekly activities. And yet, this article is on the topic of procrastination, prioritization's nasty cousin, so we're not done yet.

Focusing In

The Need-to's must, without question, be completed. These have never really been a problem-there's simply no room to procrastinate. At the other end, the Can-do's are not relevant here because you can only procrastinate what has been judged as worth doing. What we are left with, therefore, are the Ought-to's. And you'll find quite consistently that the Ought-to's are giving you all of your problems when it comes to putting things off. These are the things that you know you should do, and yet, they often do not have a strict deadline, nor would failing to complete them lead to any immediate or significant detriment. What is noteworthy, however, is that over time, their combined significance does indeed lead to great significance. In the end, the direction of that significance (positive or negative) all rests on your ability to handle them timely and effectively.

A Solution

Detailed prioritization is vital--If you are unwilling to accept that, you must not truly want to improve. Step #1 is to schedule your Need-to's-they are almost always time sensitive. Step #2 is to address your Ought-to's, and they will fall within one of three sub-categories:

(a) Do Now!

(b) Do Later, strategically!

(c) Eliminate!

Ought-to's should always be done immediately, unless doing so at a later time would be strategically more valuable and more efficient, or unless the activity has been inaccurately defined as an Ought-to in the first place. Frequently, we categorize activities as Ought-to's for reasons that do not logically support the claim. When you have isolated instances where your rationale was incorrect, don't belabor the issue; just eliminate the task from your consideration! Of those that are rationally based, it is worth repeating that the only reason you choose to complete an activity at a later date is because it makes more sense to do it at that time than to do it now. Perhaps the task has a prerequisite that needs to be addressed first. In any case, if you cannot find reasonable grounds for doing it later, you should do it now or not at all.

Such a policy is uncomfortable at first. It requires judgment, which a procrastinating mind loathes. And while the very nature of procrastinating is to avoid judgment at all cost, if you will apply this model to your daily activities, you will find that judgment is actually quite liberating, and that prioritization of your activities will shift from a challenge to second-nature.

© 2004 Matthew S. Clement, All rights reserved

Matthew S. Clement is a financial planner and investment advisor representative with Financial Network Investment Corporation, member SIPC. He provides holistic wealth management and retirement planning to individuals and businesses. He can be reached in New York at (845) 942-8578, or by email: [email protected].

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