To some extent (some of us more so than others), we all procrastinate or put off things. Sometimes, the task is important or urgent, and sometimes it is not. Often, we will do the not so important or not so urgent task first because…?   Our brain tells us to!

In a recent New York Times article, “Why Your Brain Tricks You Into Doing Less Important Tasks”, Tim Herrera (July 9, 2018) explains that the “urgency effect” in our brains tells us “…to prioritize immediate satisfaction over long-term rewards.” (Id.)  He points to the famous marshmallow experiment in which a marshmallow (or a cookie) is placed in front of a child who is told that if she can wait 15 minutes, she can have not one but two marshmallows. The adult then leaves the room and watches to see how much self-control the child has:  can she hold out for 15 minutes for two marshmallows or does she eat the one sitting squarely in front of her immediately?  This test is supposedly designed to test willpower or self-control; if the child is disciplined enough to sit the fifteen minutes to gain the second marshmallow, then supposedly, as an adult, she will be disciplined enough to hold out for long term (and more rewarding) gains in her career rather than taking the immediate (and less rewarding) gain. (However, a more recent study puts this conclusion in doubt, indicating that a child’s ability to hold out for the greater reward has more to do with her social and economic background than willpower.)

But… back to procrastination.  Research indicated:

people may choose to perform urgent tasks with short completion windows, instead of important tasks with larger outcomes, because important tasks are more difficult and further away from goal completion, urgent tasks involve more immediate and certain payoffs, or people want to finish the urgent tasks first and then work on important tasks later.

In other words: Even if we know a larger, less-urgent task is vastly more consequential, we will instinctively choose to do a smaller, urgent task anyway. Yet again, thanks for nothing, brain. (Id.)

How to deal with it? Well… recognize what you are doing. And ask yourself whether it is truly important or not so important and whether it is truly urgent or not so urgent. The author suggests using a box created by former President Eisenhower to figure this out:

Use the 'Eisenhower Box' to Stop Wasting Time and Be More Productive


Once you have categorized the task, figure out whether to put it at the top of your “To Do” list or at the bottom. If the task still seems overwhelming, break it into smaller parts or “baby steps” and then tackle each small step one at a time. (Id.)

How does this relate to disputes? Easily!  Disputes are generally distasteful and no one enjoys being in one. Consequently, we will often put the “dispute” in the “not important”, “not urgent” box, when we should do just the opposite.  We know deep down that the dispute has vast consequences, but to avoid the “unpleasantness” of “dealing with “it” and the other disputant, we will put it off, spending our time on something far less consequential.

Instead, use the box above to categorize the dispute. No doubt, your inner voice will tell you  not only is it urgent, but also extremely important to resolve it and to do so, now! Otherwise, it will only fester and grow much worse with time.

…. Just something to think about.



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