Contents ContentsPrev PrevNext Next

Letters to a Young Manager


Perfection and Procrastination, #95
LTYM > Managing People II



Dear Sophie,
***
My brother worked with a client who was always putting things off until the last minute or altogether. He was perpetually behind in his work. He didn't lack the skill or intelligence. He was a procrastinating perfectionist.

Procrastination is an avoidance reaction --not primarily of the work required, but of the level of self-perfection required. Only when the pain of avoiding a task (i.e., it's negative consequences) exceeds the pain doing a task "perfectly," will the probability rise high enough for success. In the following example, the pain of doing the task is very high, while the consequences for not doing it are very low. In this case, procrastination will rule, and the task will never be completed.

Probability of Doing = Pain of Avoidance / Pain of Doing = 5 / 100 = 5%

The "pain of doing" is very high for perfectionists because they see the task as a huge mountain. They have a vision of what the "quality" solution looks like, and it is usually much more than is required. A further problem is that the Pain of Avoidance grows with time, as the due date approaches.

For managers, the solution is to either reduce their expectations, and thereby lower the pain of doing, or to increase the pain of avoidance --the consequences. A positive way of doing this is through tying incentives to the accomplishment of the task.
***
Regards,
Ed
________________________

References...

Takeaways:

Only when the pain of avoiding a task exceeds the pain doing a task "perfectly," will the probability rise high enough for success.

Discussion Questions:

1) What work do you put off? Why?
2) What's missing from the above equation? Do people only act to avoid pain?
3) What role can incentives play in getting things done?

For Further Reading:





© Copyright 2005, 2020, E. G. Happ, All Rights Reserved.