Bob Loftis on Procrastination

By  Promila Agarwal

Bob Loftis presenting

On Aug 28th I had the pleasure of attending my very first event as co-host for Women in Big Data: an awesome talk by Bob Loftis on Procrastination. The event took place at Intel’s Santa Clara site, and close to 40 participants attended (which was great; we were targeting only 35–40). Many thanks to Radhika Rangarajan. who eased me into taking part.

The biggest part of solving a problem is identifying the problem in the first place. Like many people, I sometimes worry about things on my to-do list—am I, in actuality, procrastinating? Bob’s talk helped me answer that. He walked us through why procrastination happens and gave us some tools to deal with it.

After starting the workshop by making sure we had our laptops closed and cell phones silent, Bob went over the problems procrastination causes. I could certainly relate, reflecting on times I have done something at the last minute, while wishing I had started earlier. This process creates stress, as well as the “I wish I had done that earlier” sentiment.

Next, we went over interesting questions such as “Do you know when you decide to procrastinate?” This led to self-reflections on the procrastination process. Bob shared that it has more to do with emotional self-regulation than the ability to perform a task. He also pointed out procrastination issues we all share, including commonalities on behaviors that lead to procrastination, such as perfectionism (“Is this good enough?“), temporal discounting (“I’ll do this later.“), and irrational avoidance (“Do I really need to do this?“). Procrastination seems to be rooted in messages such as “I have to get it right“, “I want to avoid doing this?“, and of course “I will get to it later!” that we give to ourselves.  This type of thinking may be especially prevalent for those of us working in software, who unavoidably face the need for perfectionism from time to time.

A good turnout

Bob shared that changing the messages we give to ourselves may also change our behaviors that lead to procrastination. Messages that can help in avoiding procrastination include: “This version is good for now“; “I will take care of myself and get what I want“, and “I can make this fun somehow.” Other meaningful messages to the self include: “This matters in the long run“, “Small steps would make it easier“, and “Let me do the middle (or any part) to start somewhere.” Other useful tactics include changing to a different perspective with thoughts such as “Just start somewhere“, “Define what is hard“, or “Find the value in the work I am attempting.

Bob provided activities we could add to our “procrastination toolkit.” One interesting exercise: After forming a circle in our minds, we thought back to a time we were filled with high energy and motivation. As the thought strengthened, we stepped inside the circle for a time, and then stepped back out. Finally, each of us imagined the circle shrinking and becoming a ring which we could put on our fingers so we could carry that high energy into the future. Last but not least, Bob shared this for our toolkit: We practiced writing some SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timed) goals, imaging that our future selves have already achieved them.

I am finding that working on these exercises is worthwhile. “Start somewhere” helps me get going, and defining the value in the work I’m attempting motivates me to move forward. When working to complete the job, saying to myself that “This version is good for now” can be a big deal.

Personally, my goal is to use what we learned from Bob to procrastinate less…to start doing more of what matters…to stop letting things hold me back… and to continue to do what matters most to me!! Thanks, Bob!

To download Bob’s presentation, click here.

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