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PUBLISHED ARTICLE: Part 2 The Pitfalls of Procrastination
30-Apr-11 [ by Larry Chao ] 19353 Read and 138 Comment

Do you procrastinate?


In our article last month‚ we talked about the problems of procrastination.  Most of us at one time or another have put off doing something because we were lazy or lacked discipline.


For example‚ have you ever thrown together a presentation on the airplane ride on your way to a meeting?  How about missed deadlines for completing performance appraisals?  Or how many of you have waited until the last minute to fill in your income taxes?


Procrastination is a key reason why we do not live up to our expectations.  It is also one of the reasons why organization change programs fail.


In his bestseller‚ Predictably Irrational‚ Dan Ariely outlines three rules to combat procrastination and achieve long term goals.   First‚ set pre-commitments‚ which give you strict‚ clear deadlines.  Second‚ make it easy to achieve goals and third‚ link goals with positive reinforcement.


We?ve already talked about how pre-commitments provide people discipline to stick to their goals.  In organization change programs‚ these pre-commitments serve as milestones for tracking change and ensuring progress.


The second way to overcome procrastination is to make it easy to achieve goals.

Now I don?t mean take the easy way out.  Hard work is what it is all about.  What I do mean is that we need to make it easy to understand how to complete tasks.


Ariely talks about the need to keep things simple and to break goals down into bite size chunks.  He refers to how Ford Motor used this approach to increase car dealer revenues from after-sales service.


According to Ariely‚ several years ago Ford made a concerted effort to help dealers improve their after-sales service business.  At the time‚ Ford car owners were reluctant to bring their cars in for service because they were confused by the complicated choice of service options.  It seemed every car part had a different maintenance schedule.


Car owners could not decide what service was important and what was not.  As a result‚ they procrastinated.


But then one day someone at Ford noticed that Honda seemed to have solved this problem. 


What Honda did was bundle service into three easy intervals based on mileage.  For example‚ car owners could bring their cars in for service at 5‚000 miles‚ 10‚000 mile and 24‚000 miles.   These intervals were clear and easy to understand.


Although different car parts had individual service schedules‚ by bundling them into practical intervals‚ Honda simplified car service and made it easier for customers to understand.  Procrastination ended and dealer revenues from service improved.


Organization change programs should also be kept simple.  The goal is prioritization and completion‚ not a full blown effort that covers every aspect of organization change. 


For example‚ if you have more than three discrete change programs running at the same time ? say re-hauling your IT system‚ changing your distribution strategy‚ or launching a new brand‚ then you risk complicating change and encouraging procrastination.


The third tool for overcoming procrastination is to link goals with positive reinforcement. 


While there is great satisfaction in achieving goals‚ Ariely believes the problem is delayed gratification.  Not everyone is disciplined enough to fight through adversity to reach their goals.  They?d rather take the easy way out.


Take for example‚ my daughter Victoria.  As a competitive swimmer‚ she has to wake up very early every Friday morning to go to swim practice.  Now if you are like me‚ waking up at 4:45am to go to early morning swim practice is not at the top of my list of things to do.


Yet to be a champion swimmer‚ this is the sacrifice one needs to make.


Unfortunately‚ it is not enough of an incentive to tell her that the reward for hard practice is to win medals.  Sleeping in is a stronger motivator.


So I add more positive reinforcement.  I tell Victoria that she can use her mobile phone all weekend long if she wakes up and goes to practice.  In fact‚ I put the phone on the kitchen table so she can pick it up as she leaves in the morning.


The jury is still out as to whether this will work.  What is sensible to believe‚ however‚ is that for most of us‚ it is natural to avoid doing things that are difficult‚ even if the payoff is big.  So why not supplement long term success with some tangible rewards?


The same is true with most organization change programs.  The benefits are usually positive‚ but they are too far off in the future to be meaningful.  Therefore‚ more visible rewards help provide added incentive to overcome procrastination.


Larry Chao is managing director of Chao Group‚ an organization change consultancy based in New York and Bangkok. Follow his articles every first Monday of the month.

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