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Friday, August 22, 2008

Obligation bankruptcy?


Over at Andy McKenzie's blog, he's thinking of declaring obligation bankruptcy:

The longer you wait to call or e-mail somebody back, the harder it is to dial those numbers. The longer you wait to start a homework assignment, the harder it is to open your backpack. The longer you wait to do anything, the harder it is to do it.

...I think that it has to do with a vague combination of cognitive dissonance and avoidance. You think to yourself, "but if I really wanted to do this, wouldn't I have done it at the first opportunity"? So you then deduce that you don't actually want to do it at all.

The main problem with this phenomenon is that it doesn't have a name, so I am naming it: obligation bankruptcy.

Andy sees a problem -- I see a functional behavior pattern. A lot of times the stuff you put off can eventually be forgotten about -- it assumes its proper unimportance later.

This is yet another way in which school assignments are artificial.

Your boss who needs something NOW, on the other hand, can quite likely do without it. Often if you can delay him for a couple of days, he no longer cares about it at all.

Andy asked me to clarify my comment "about how school assignments are artificial because in the real world you don't have to complete assignments."

Caught up in the moment, and procrastinating about other stuff, I wrote back:

It's not that you don't have to complete assignments, it's that (1) you have to decide what assignments to complete, (2) there are always more explicit/implicit requests than you can handle.

A really good example is HR (Human Resources) paperwork.

1. Some of it you have to do well [in order to provide appropriate feedback to the people who work for you],

2. some of it you have to do just to say you've done it [anything not worth doing is not worth doing well]. "Cut and paste" is your friend here.

3. some of it can be blown off.

An example of #3 is updating the roles and responsibilities for each job in your area. The best bet is to defer this until you are in a different area. Your predecessor didn't do it, so why not leave it to your successor, who won't do it either?

In fact, some HR paperwork HAS to be blown off or done haphazardly or it will interfere with doing actual stuff.

School assignments are artificial because you usually have to do them or suffer relatively clear consequences.

Maybe your term "obligation bankruptcy" is a good one, because at some point you should write off a bunch of old obligations and get them off your to-do list.