Friday, February 14, 2014

Days of Our Work Lives: An unvarnished look at work today: Part II: Susan's Saga. Episode 9: Procrastinating

Part II: Susan's Saga  
Episode 9: Procrastinating

In the previous episode, a claim by a student's parent that Susan had created a hostile environment toward gays was found baseless. But disgusted by the unfair inquisition, Susan quit. 

But now what?

That job had fallen into her lap, the result of her volunteering. But now she needed to find a job, with no time for additional months of volunteering and schmoozing in hopes it will lead to something. 

She dreaded having to look for a job:

No matter how she carefully she crafted her resume, if honest, it would unlikely be top-of-the-stack for any job, even a menial one. She felt she needed all her ducks in a row but had few ducks, in a row or otherwise. 

She found the networking game distasteful. She was, for example, repulsed at using social media for leads, for example, retweeting someone's posts not because they were great but because it makes the person more likely to tout you. As a result, judgments are made not on merit but on scheming. She didn't mind getting together with her close friends but they'd be unlikely to have a useful job lead.  

Cold-calling target employers is a surprisingly effective job-search strategy but Susan was shy even about stopping someone on the street for directions. The thought of bothering employers not advertising a job and pitching herself felt anathema. That was especially so because she felt she brought little to the table, basically saying, "I'm not great but would you hire me anyway?"

Nor did she feel good about requesting an informational interview. Even if she told the employer she wasn't expecting a job from him or her, she feared it would be perceived as a ploy to access an employer, like cutting in line at a movie theater whose performance will be sold out. 

Even answering ads--the least offensive of the job-search methods--felt onerous. She knew that many people carefully answer dozens of ads and usually don't even get the courtesy of a rejection--silence is today's rejection letter. And reports of hundreds of applications even for jobs at Wal-Mart could make anyone procrastinate. 

And indeed procrastination had been Susan's career cancer, indeed life cancer. So often she knew what she should do but couldn't make herself do it. She'd rationalize that she'd feel more like doing it tomorrow but too rarely did. Even though she was well aware that the short-term pain of doing the task would be outweighed by the long-term gain, she rarely could get comfortable being uncomfortable.

She did step-up the Excel tutoring sessions with Ben. That would add a duck to her row. 

One day, Ben asked her how her job search is going. When she tepidly answered, "Okay," Ben said, "It's easy to put off looking for a job. Part of my tutoring service is being a loving taskmaster."

The word she mainly heard was "loving." She thought, "That doesn't sound like what a guy with a girlfriend would say. Maybe they broke up?" But after being rebuffed when she invited him to dinner, she'd keep those thoughts to herself. "Okay, loving taskmaster, what should I do?"

"Obviously, you have to break the job search into baby steps. Write it on a whiteboard or something. Then, every time you get an item done, erase it or put a checkmark next to it. When you're tempted to procrastinate, picture how you'd benefit if you landed a good job...

"Like be proud of myself. Be able to afford stuff." 

"And what could happen if you did procrastinate."

"Be a bag lady."

"I doubt that would happen but...

"I have a hard time getting started."

"Be more conscious of that moment of truth, that moment you're deciding, usually unconsciously, whether to do the task or something fun."

"The problem is the task of landing a job seems so enormous."

"Might it help to ask yourself, "What's my next one-second task?" That's a friendly, unintimidating amount of time."

"Like even turn on the computer?"

"Yup. Even that can get you started. Then ask yourself, "What's my next one-second task?"

"And then I'm an object in motion, which tends to stay in motion."


"I really procrastinate when I reach a hard part." 

"Struggle with a hard part for just a minute or so. If you haven't made progress by then, chances are that more struggling won't help. It'll just make the process more odious which will make you want to procrastinate more."

"So what do I do when I reach a roadblock I can't make progress on in one minute?"

"Either figure you can let it go and work on something else, or if you can't, call someone to get help. Even me." 

Susan didn't want to jump on that lest she reveal her feelings about him but she didn't want to ignore it either so she said, "I worry I won't stay on track."

"How about this? Every night, you make a list of what you hope to accomplish tomorrow and email to me. I'll make a point of checking my email every night before I go to bed."

That sounded sexier than if he offered to check in the morning. "Was he flirting?" she wondered. And she got her answer. 

"Susan, is your offer to make dinner still good?"

"Still good."

"Would it help if we don't schedule it until you feel you've made good progress in your job search?"

She thought, "That will motivate me more than all those procrastination tips." But all she said was, "Okay." 

The next episode is HERE.

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