The Power of Procrastination – Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow

It is patently clear that we live and work in a time that applauds and rewards speed of thought and action.  We promote the movers and the shakers whilst the reflectors and the thinkers can often feel left behind. The pressures to think and act quickly seems to be relentless and the very idea that you can take time to think, or chose to do a task deliberately slowly, seems unbelievable. Yet…..

Look at ‘Slow TV’ the increasingly popular genre of television that covers ordinary events in real time. Starting in Norway with Thomas Hellum’s 7 hr 14min TV show of the view from the cab of a train travelling from Bergen to Oslo. Who in their right mind has the time to watch this? Well as it turns out, around a third of the population of Norway did and it has spawned a whole new Slow TV genre currently available via Netflix. Check it out.

The idea of slowing down tunes into something very basic in all of us and that is the pleasure and sense of relief we get when we are ‘off the clock’ and step off the treadmill. Giving ourselves the luxury of time to moderate our thinking and our actions is a choice we need to make if new thinking is to emerge.

In his book ‘Originals – how non-conformists change the world’ Adam Grant champions the power of procrastination. He admits he was a ‘precrastinator’, obsessively worrying about tasks that were on his to-do list, burning needless hours of worry and angst working faster and faster to get things done as soon as possible.

Then he stumbled across ‘The Zeigarnik Effect’.

Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik observed the effect of interruption on memory processing in 1927. Whilst studying at the University of Berlin, her professor, Kurt Lewin, noted how waiters in a cafe seemed to remember incomplete tabs more efficiently than those that had been paid for and were complete. This appeared to suggest that the mere completion of a task can lead to it being forgotten, whilst incomplete tasks, such as serving guests a table who had not yet finished their meal, helped to ensure the waiter remembered their order.

We have all experienced this phenomenon in our lives to some extent I suspect. I know when I start a task and either deliberately leave it, or much more commonly, am forced by the pressure of other things to do, have to leave it, when I return to the task I find I have a much richer view of how to approach the task.

Writing this blog is a perfect example. The trigger event was one of my coachee’s struggling to get time in their schedule for their next coaching session, they were simply too ‘full-on’ at the moment to stop and take a breath. I reflected to them that this is the very time they needed to stop, but as I type I still await their call! That was over a month ago.

The idea popped into my head that my next blog could build on previous blogs around the increasing pace of life and time pressures and maybe could celebrate the art of being deliberately slow.

This thought then lay ‘dormant’ in my conscious mind, however when I revisited it this week I found to my surprise that my subconscious had in fact been beavering away. In addition Serendipity had been working to help too. Whilst walking the dog I came across a podcast on the topic and low and behold I had more ideas and material than I could cope with for the blog! Here are but a few:

Take a look at how Tim Urban in his short and funny Ted Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_urban_inside_the_mind_of_a_master_procrastinator explains really well what goes on in the minds of procrastinators. It’s entertaining and quite revealing!

Also take a walk and listen to the Ted Radio Hour talk on Slowing Down it will be insightful I promise!

As an executive and senior leadership team facilitator I have developed several tactics to help my clients overcome the mild panic that sets in when I ask they take some time to think. I observe that it is really not long before they feel they have to talk as they find the group silence oppressive. Worryingly the first conversation usually starts in less than a minute!

To finish I will share a lesson from my other side-bar business Strictly Starters. This is an adult dance class designed to help couples learn the basics of Ballroom and Latin American dancing and in this we teach the Tango. The Tango looks like a Tango simply because there is a sharp delineation between the slow steps and the quick steps. This produces the staccato action with a dance full of what I call ‘imperceptible pauses’; short interludes where the dancers pause for a brief moment before heading off onto the next step sequence.

Your challenge at work is to approach your long to do list like a Tango dancer. Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow!

Good luck and if you need some help then when you get some ‘you’ time shout!

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