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“延”之有理

Laura Vanderkam 2012年06月26日

拖延是一种恶习,是意志薄弱的反映,完全没什么好处。但推迟呢?也许只是一种合理的策略。好好想想,分清哪些是拖延,哪些是合理的延迟,也许能够免受一些冲动的惩罚。

    老话说得好,今日事今日毕。命运常常垂青大胆行动者。但我们有时候是不是太草率了,目的只是为了显得更有决断?

    从随大流的交易员到试图控制损失的政客,“多数时候,我们应该慢点行动。等得越久越好,”新书《等待:延迟的艺术和科学》(Wait: The Art and Science of Delay)的作者弗兰克•帕特诺伊说。作为圣迭戈大学(the University of San Diego)的法律和金融学教授,他在书中鼓吹“扼住延迟的喉咙,为我所用。”

    当然,我们必须明确区分推迟和真正的拖延。“拖延是意志薄弱的表现,没有任何好处,”加拿大渥太华的卡尔顿大学(Carleton University)心理学教授蒂姆•皮切尔(参见他的网站procrastination.ca)说。拖延就是“我知道应该去做但不愿去做,即使心里明白最终还是躲不过”,就因为能拖一会是一会,舒服一秒是一秒。比方说,你到4月14号还没有报税,但还是熬夜看电视直到午夜(美国个人报税的截止日期是每年4月15日——编者注)。

    但如果时间非常紧张,有时“延迟也是可以考虑的一个选择,”帕特诺伊说。“我们总是推迟做某些事的时间。这是人之常情:先做某些事而推迟其它的事。如果我们偷懒了,或者搞错了事情的优先顺序,那才需要反思。”

    下列四种情况下,推迟也许是正确的选择。

1. 需要掌握更多信息。

    确实,有些项目永远卡在了调研阶段。但如果还没有掌握那些影响整个结构的细节就开始写报告,显然是不明智的。帕特诺伊的研究对象包括记者。很多记者坦承:“对,拖延对我来说是个大问题。”但实际上他们很清楚写800字的文章要多长时间,他们总能在截止时间前留出刚刚好的时间来写作,只是为了确认引语和数据。“这是记者重要的职业技能,”帕特诺伊说。“他们的直觉是不要马上动笔。因为还没有掌握足够的事实材料,所以需要花些时间去观察,去理清思路,与人交谈。”

2. 问题也许会自行解决。

    这听起来也许是一厢情愿的想法,但高管们认识到,多数时候下属报告的问题要么随着时间推移不在成其为问题,要么不需要亲自花费宝贵时间也会得到解决。推迟提出解决方案也是一种选择,因为这样就可以看出这个问题到底多重要,同时也可以鼓励中层经理自己想办法。

3. 还有更重要的事情要做。

    因为要安慰、关照刚刚受到欺负的孩子而推迟洗衣服不叫拖延,那叫知道轻重缓急。

    Never put off for tomorrow what you can do today, the saying goes. Fortune favors the bold. But, in the interest of seeming decisive, do we sometimes act too fast?

    From traders following the herd to politicians attempting damage control, "In most situations, we should take more time than we do. The longer we can wait, the better," says Frank Partnoy, author of the forthcoming book Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. In it, this professor of law and finance at the University of San Diego advocates "grabbing delay by the throat and using delay as a tool in your life."

    A distinction must be drawn between putting things off and true procrastination. "Procrastination is weakness of will," says Tim Pychyl of Carleton College in Ottawa, Canada, who also runs the website procrastination.ca. "There's no virtue in it." Procrastination is when "I know what I ought to do and voluntarily don't do it, even though I know it will come back and bite me" -- because not doing it feels good in the moment. Think watching TV until midnight on April 14, even though you haven't done your taxes.

    But if time is ultimately limited, then sometimes "delay is just another variable that you need to take into account," says Partnoy. "We're always putting things off. That's our natural state -- to be doing some things and putting others off. What we should feel bad about is if we're being lazy, or doing the wrong things today or putting off the wrong things as well."

    Here are four occasions when putting something off might be the smart thing to do.

1. You need more information.

    Sure, some projects get stuck in the research phase forever. But it's not worth starting to write a report if you're missing details that will shape its whole structure. Partnoy studied journalists as part of his research. Many said, "Oh, I have this terrible problem with procrastination," he recounts. But, in fact, they knew exactly how much time it took them to write an 800-word story, and they were trying to get the right quotes and figures right up to that amount of time before a deadline. "It's part of your professional skill," says Partnoy. "You develop this intuition that the right thing to do is not to start writing right away. You don't know enough, so you take some time to observe and process and talk to people."

2. You think the problem might go away.

    While this sounds like wishful thinking, managers soon learn that the majority of problems direct-reports mention to them will either go away with time, or can be solved without you actively investing your scarce time in them. Putting off proposing a solution can be a way of seeing how important a problem is, or of encouraging a mid-level manager to put out her own fires.

3. You have more important things to do.

    Putting off the laundry because your teenager needs support after a bullying incident isn't procrastination. It means you have priorities.

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