Don't Delay

Understanding procrastination and how to achieve our goals

Viktor Frankl on Procrastination

Frankl's principles to defeat procrastination

 

In his autobiography published (in German) in March 1995 to coincide with his 90th birthday, Dr. Viktor Frankl reflected on "The Manner of My Work." His reflections are simple and clear, speaking directly to two habits that defeat procrastination.

Dr. Viktor Frankl, author of numerous books and articles, but probably most well known in North America for his book "Man's Search for Meaning" (1945), has influenced people throughout the world. Man's Search for Meaning has been translated into many other languages including Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Russian. His English editions alone have sold over nine million copies. In fact, the United States Library of Congress has listed it as one of the ten most influential books in America. Clearly, Frankl has a great deal to offer us.

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The focus of Frankl's work is on meaning and, more specifically, his meaning-centered therapy known as logotherapy. A quick search on the Internet will introduce you to these ideas if they are new to you (e.g., Victor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy, The official Web site of the Victor Frankl Institute Vienna).

For readers of this blog, it won't surprise you that Frankl's ideas have been an influence in my life. I first became acquainted with his work during my undergrad years in the 1970's, and his existentially-based philosophies have continued to surface in numerous ways. Even popular books such has Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People begin with Frankl's focus on individual choice in the creation of a meaningful life.

Although Frankl's understanding of the central importance of meaning in an individual's life was developed prior to the Second World War, it was Frankl's experiences in the Nazi concentration camps that galvanized this theory and the attention of those who have read of Frankl's life. As you will see, these experiences were a turning point for Frankl even in relation to his work habits and potential for procrastination.

Logotherapy and meaning are too much for a blog entry, and, in fact, they're not my focus today. Instead, I want to write about three short paragraphs in Frankl's autobiography where he speaks about his work habits. He writes,

"Another thing: I try to do everything as soon as possible, and not at the last moment. This ensures that, when I am overburdened with work, I will not face the added pressure of knowing that something is still to be done. There is yet a third principle that has guided my work and it is this: I do the unpleasant tasks before I do the pleasant ones. As I have said, I do not always follow my principles. For example, as a young physician I worked in the large Steinhof Mental Hospital and I often spent my Sundays at vaudeville shows. I enjoyed them, but I always regretted that I had not stayed at home to work on my ideas and writing.

Since my years in the concentration camps, this pattern has changed. How many weekends I have sacrificed in order to dictate my books. I have learned to spend my time more wisely, indeed to make every minute count. I do this so that I have time for the things that are really important" (Frankl, 2000; p. 34, emphasis added).

"Do everything as soon as possible" and "Do the unpleasant tasks first"
Readers of this Don't Delay blog have seen these conclusions emerge before based on more recent psychological research. It is reassuring to see the lived wisdom of Frankl's life concur. What Frankl certainly realized was that the unpleasant tasks had the most potential for procrastination, and rather than "giving in to feel good" , he faced the unpleasant tasks (and associated emotions) directly, first. Progress on these goals is particularly rewarding.

Frankl's closing thought
Nevertheless, I must confess that I do not always hold to my principles. But then I am angry with myself - so angry at times that I do not even speak to myself for days. (Frankl, 2000; p. 34,)


No one is perfect, not even this legend of the 20th century. ☺

We're not called to be perfect, but we can think carefully about making time for things that are really important in our lives, and doing this requires that we "just get started" - particularly with the unpleasant tasks we're facing. We have much to learn from Viktor Frankl. I hope you'll take time to read more.

But right now, my 3-year old daughter is calling to me from the other room to dance with her. It's time for the important stuff. I'm glad I've got my work done.

Reference
Frankl, V. (2000). Victor Frankl recollections: An autobiography. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books.

Note: Originally published in German in 1995 under the title Was nicht in meinen Büchern steht, Psychologie Verlags Union, Weinheim, Germany. This English edition was translated by Joseph and Judith Fabry.

Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he specializes in the study of procrastination.

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