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Rare New Form of Procrastination Identified

So you don't consciously put off tasks for later. That doesn't mean you're not procrastinating, according to one management consultant.
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Your laid-back college roommate may have been the kind to put off his paper until the last possible moment in favor of lolling about and enjoying life, but that's not you.

You've been a Type A, hyperproductive person since long before you became a entrepreneur. You may be frantically busy, but at least you can congratulate yourself on having conquered procrastination, right?

Not so fast, says Rory Vaden of Southwestern Consulting. He claims to have identified a new form of procrastination affecting the high achieving in a recent post on the OPEN Forum blog. He dubs the condition "priority dilution" and reports on research by his firm into its prevalence. Apparently, it's a quiet scourge: "According to a recent poll of managers we work with in our management coaching program, 58.5% say that priority dilution is the type of procrastination that most closely describes what they are struggling with." What exactly does priority dilution look like? Vaden explains:

While priority dilution has nothing to do with laziness, apathy or being disengaged (like traditional procrastination) it nets the same result: a delay of the day’s most important activities because your attention shifts to less important, but perhaps seemingly more urgent, tasks. You are trading your to-do list for emergencies.

And more frighteningly, you might not even know if you're a sufferer. "The average procrastinator knows consciously that they are putting off things that they should be doing," writes Vaden, but "this new form of procrastination isn't as self-evident. Priority dilution is a dangerously deceptive saboteur of their goals because it is unconscious."

So how do you know if you're affected by priority dilution? Vaden offers a checklist of questions to help you decide whether you're focusing your energy and attention on the right tasks, rather than wasting effort on nonessentials. For example, if you answer no to the following three questions about how you spend your workdays, you might be diluting your priorities:

  • Was this activity on my primary to-do list when I arrived at work today?
  • Is this activity one of the key drivers of achieving success in my position?
  • Does this activity require my unique thought process?

If a light bulb just came on in your brain as you realized you're not free of this invidious form of procrastination, what can you do to cure yourself? Check out Vaden's complete post for a case study that illustrates some ways to overcome your tendency toward getting distracted by putting out small fires all day.

And what if you've been reading this post and thinking the entire time, Great; they've found another type of procrastination, and I haven't even beaten the old-fashioned kind yet!?

Fear not: There are cures for standard procrastination as well. 

Are you guilty of priority dilution? 
 

Last updated: Aug 7, 2012

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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