Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Save New Year's Resolutions from Myths and Procrastination

I've known so few people who have had success keeping new year's resolutions, I wonder why anyone even bothers to try.

People seem to be at their creative best when it comes to composing resolutions - and at their worst when it comes to keeping them.

There's all kinds of theories why people don't keep resolutions.

Procrastination, laziness, and lack of will power usually find their place in the top five reasons why people don't keep their resolutions.

Frankly, none of those reasons impressed me much because a) I don't choose to procrastinate, (b) I don't like to think of myself as lazy, and (c) I have lots of will power, or so I think. 

Just after the new year I found a site which offered reasons for resolutions being broken - reasons which seemed to make more sense than the usual ones.

The site, called Gigacom, had a neat article entitled 3 Goal-setting Tips That Don't Work (And 3 That Do).

The three tips that don't work, and which Gigacom refers to as Myths 1, 2 and 3, I recognized right away. They haven't been working for me since I was kid. They are:
  1. "Tell everyone your goals so you're publicly accountable."
  2. "Reward yourself for your progress."
  3. "Focus on yearly goals."
The site provides research based reasons why these three approaches don't work, and suggests three that do.

Anyone starting to feel the least little bit anxious about their faltering new year's resolutions ought to head over to Gigacom's site now to learn what works.

I started off by talking about the three reasons often given for failed resolutions: procrastination, laziness, and lack of will power. Procrastination for me has always seemed like the main culprit when it comes to failed resolutions.

The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, is a new book by University of Calgary business professor Piers Steel, who has spent much of his career researching procrastination, and how we can overcome it.

Steel writes that "Scores of studies based on many thousands of people have established that impulsiveness and the related personality traits of low conscientiousness, low self-control, and high distractibility are at the core of procrastination.” 

During a recent CBC radio interview Steel refuted the age old notion that procrastination is often the result of perfectionists putting off their work out of a fear it will be less than perfect. He said the research showed it was more likely perfectionists would be the ones to seek clinical help for procrastination. As a result of this self-selection bias perfectionists were over represented in clinical groups, and a mistaken assumption was made that perfectionism could lead to procrastination.

The Procrastination Equation appeals to me because it appears to be more based on empirical data as to how the mind works than previous books on the subject. As well, Steel presents his material in an entertaining manner, and one which leads to great acceptance and understanding of why some of us are procrastinators.

For many people the problem is not so much procrastination as it is how to organize their work so that it is completed in a timely manner. David Allen's Getting Things Done leads the field when it comes to books on personal organization. His system relies largely on contexts, or places, where work is done, and on having a clear sense of what the next actions or steps are for a specific project in any given context. A context can be one's office, home, client's office, etc. 

  Literally hundreds of thousands of people have used Allen's ideas to advantage. About eight years ago I formed the Yahoo Getting Things Done Group, which with 7,000 plus members is among the largest independent GTD groups on the net. The experiences of our members using and modifying David's ideas have shown their value many times over. And it's not too late to incorporate them into one's resolutions for 2011.

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