September 2014

As chief elected officer of the Society, ASSE's president promotes the advancement of the Society and the safety profession, and represents ASSE before members, other relevant professional societies and various governmental agencies. Professional Safety shares his latest thoughts on the Society, the profession and its practice.

Read past messages in the President's Message Archive.

President's Message - November 2002

Promise yourself at the outset that nothing is more important than finishing the task at hand. Then simply keep your promise.

2002-2003 ASSE President Mark D. Hansen, PE, CSP, CPE

Are You Procrastinating?

Perhaps only two things in life provide us with no choice death and taxes. Neither the tax collector nor the grim reaper will take a rain check. But just about everything else can be (and often is) put off. Procrastination is an almost universal peccadillo. Like a cold, it's hardly disastrous, but we'd love to be rid of it just the same.

Procrastination is actually a rationalization in action (or inaction). It is not thrust on us we will it into being. Nor is it likely to simply disappear. But, by identifying our favorite excuses, we can take a solid first step toward combating this delay tactic. As an occasional procrastinator myself, I've used most of the excuses in the book, which I break down into four categories.

Distractions. We procrastinate on tasks we dislike, but rarely put off "fun" things. It's difficult to ignore the lure of a pleasant distraction, and we usually feel pretty good when we give in to those impulses at least until the fun ends and we remember that the job still needs to be done. A pleasant distraction might even include helping plan the company picnic particularly if we can put off updating the HazCom program or reviewing the HazMat spill plan. But such "mundane" tasks need to be completed. Reminding ourselves that we'll feel better once the job is done can often be enough to carry us through.

Something else came up. This "first cousin" to distractions requires more than the average dose of rationalization. To honestly succeed in procrastinating with this one, the intruding activity must truly be more important than the job at hand. It might be an optional meeting on wellness that you attend instead of documenting monthly statistics. Or conducting an audit of a facility your company is buying rather than calculating the incident rate for last year based on some trade organization's formula rather than your company standard (which is due at the end of the month). To beat this efficiency killer, promise yourself at the outset that nothing is more important than finishing the task at hand. Then simply keep your promise.

Someone else is to blame. So this wasn't your job in the first place? Someone else blew it, so now it's been dropped in your lap? You have three choices: 1) complain; 2) refuse the assignment; 3) just do it. The first two take more time and energy than the third and leave us smoldering in somebody else's bad graces. Conversely, if we perform the task quickly, quietly, humbly and well, we will earn praise and respect.

Simply not motivated. SH&E professionals love this one. "When I have spare time, I don't want to waste it on [insert task here]." This attitude disappears when the project has a drop-dead deadline like tomorrow. In the real world, this simply means that no one has cracked the whip or explained the consequences of procrastinating. Sure, its tough to drag yourself to the dentist for a cleaning, but it beats going later for a root canal. Reviewing and submitting your Oil Prevention Plan to the Louisiana Dept. of Environmental Quality is difficult because you must organize and schedule a meeting with three different groups, collect comments, revise the plan, circulate it for signatures, then submit it. But taking the time to do it right will prevent problems in the end.

Self-motivation is a challenge, but it's easier if you imagine the trouble that may cascade down on you if you don't crank up your will power and get to work now. By the way, if you decided to read this article at first glance, rather than leave it for later, congratulations. Now, move on to the next task. Quickly now, before something better comes along.

Mark D. Hansen, PE, CSP, CPE