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Do You Need a 'Guilt Hour'?

Stop feeling bad about putting off that much-dreaded to-do list item you've been avoiding and just get it done.
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When you look at your to-do list, is there one or two items that cause a wave of guilt?

Whether it's a difficult conversation, a truly stultifying task or the unpleasant unwinding of a previous mistake, there are things you must do for your business that you really, really don't want to do. So you put them off and feel guilty, which is not only an unpleasant waste of mental energy, but also unlikely to get you any closer to actually accomplishing that nasty bit of work you've been avoiding.

How do you free yourself from this circular whirlpool of guilt? Design firm owner Nick Jehlen offered a simple but powerful suggestion recently. Institute a "guilt hour" for your team. Here's the basic idea:

Guilt isn't a great motivator, so a few months ago my team at The Action Mill added a new item to our work calendar to try to put an end to the avoid it, feel guilty about avoiding it, avoid it some more cycle: the Guilt Hour.

Every Wednesday at 10am, we sit together and look at our task lists (we use Personal Kanbans, but any list of stuff you should do will work). We take 2-3 minutes to identify the one thing that we feel most guilty about not having done yet. Then we go around the table and name our One Guilty Task, and commit to spending the rest of Guilt Hour working on it.

That's it: declare it, do it, move on. And once we implemented Guilt Hour things started to flow in interesting ways.

Check out the post for all the rest of the details, including the necessity that guilt hour be a group event and that members of the group do their utmost to help each other (and not make each other feel bad about their procrastination) in order to put their most dreaded tasks to bed once and for all.

The underlying idea of guilt hour that the best cure for procrastination is to go easy on yourself and move on without beating yourself up has some scientific support. Studies have found that simply forgiving yourself for avoiding a task makes you more likely to recover from your bout of slacking and less likely to procrastinate again going forward.

Should your company institute a guilt hour of its own?

 

Last updated: Mar 26, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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