I’m an “anticrastinator.” What’s an anticrastinator? Well, it’s a word I made up — but I define it as someone who hates to procrastinate. If I have something I need to do, I can’t put it out of my head until it’s done. This has served me well, but has also been to my detriment. I completed many college term papers only to have the assignment changed on me, or finished projects only to have new information come in and alter the aim.

While this has been a lifelong habit, it ceases around the holidays. I fail to make plane tickets to visit family before prices go up and travel windows close. I drop the ball on buying gifts, so I am scrambling at the last minute. And, I’m slow to nail down plans, frustrating my loved ones.

After some reflection, I think I have figured out why I put off such duties. And, the reasons are not unlike reasons that lead others to procrastinate in the workplace.  Thankfully, I have the pleasure of working with many smart authors and thought leaders whose advice can help me over these hurdles during the holidays — and hopefully help you too, whether it’s wrapping gifts or wrapping up a work project.

Lack of Clarity

One reason why I fail to buy gifts or make plans is because I don’t know what people expect of me, so I freeze. How long does my family expect us to visit? Does my mother-in-law really want paper towels for Christmas, or is she kidding?

Karen Martin, author of Clarity First: How Smart Leaders and Organizations Achieve Outstanding Performance, pinpoints ambiguity as the root cause for most problems within organizations. And I have found her process of getting CLEAR, which explores how leaders and organizations can boost performance by operating with greater clarity, works in personal and professional contexts.

Here’s how it works:

C: Clarify and break down the problem. Walk through a set of questions to deeply understand what problem you are trying to solve.

L: Learn about the problem and what’s causing it. Dig deep and understand why the problem exists.

E: Experiment with countermeasures. Start looking for possible solutions to the problem.

A: Assess the results, and adapt or abandon. Take a step back and study what happened, and decide if it is the result you want.

R: Roll out and reflect. Investigate if you want to formally change the process with the countermeasure you decided to adopt.

Because of Karen’s CLEAR, I’ve realized I don’t know what to get my mother-in-law for Christmas because she doesn’t like “things” — so I’ll experiment with gifts that revolve around experiences and creating memories.

Conflict Avoidance

Yes, holidays are a time of togetherness. But that togetherness can also breed conflict and passive aggressiveness — underhanded comments, muttering under the breath, or flat-out screaming. It’s inevitable when you mix people together of various personalities and expectations.

But Nate Regier, author of Conflict without Casualties, says conflict isn’t a bad thing. It can actually be used to harness innovation and creativity. And he has especially good advice in how to handle passive-aggressive behavior, which he says is a gap between what someone wants and what they are getting.

“Instead of dealing directly and assertively with this conflict, some people avoid it, and then attempt to close the gap in other ways. This comes out in sarcasm, avoidance, mean-spirited comments, or behind-the-back gossip,” he explained.

What to do? Confront the passive aggressive person with openness, resourcefulness, and persistence.

Openness. You owe it to yourself and the other person to share how you are feeling. Do you feel angry? Confused? Embarrassed? Defensive? It may feel vulnerable, but it’s critical for creating a safe, open space to engage conflict directly. Avoid blaming the other person for your feelings and avoid using self-victimizing feelings like “attacked” or “demeaned.” Don’t give anyone else that much power over you. It only puts them on the defensive.

Resourcefulness. What questions do you have about what’s really going on? What did you miss? What might they know that you don’t? What do you want to know? What information are you missing? It’s OK to ask for information about what’s going on. And it’s OK for you to explain what you’ve observed. The better you can understand the gap that led to their passive aggressive behavior, the closer you get to a healthier solution.

Persistence. This is about boundaries and principles. What’s at stake here? Why is it important for you to confront what’s going on? What values or aspirations of yours are relevant here? It’s OK to share these as context for why you want to deal directly with conflict. Caution: don’t push your values, or criticize others for not living up to a higher standard.

Next time we hear a comment about how someone doesn’t get enough time with our kids, I know how to structure the conversation to meet the conflict head-on.

Fear of the Unknown

My husband and I used to travel a lot before we started a family. But now that we have kids, fear has often kept us homebound. Fear of plane delays, illness, and disrupted sleep schedules has definitely made me wary of making that holiday trip to Chicago every winter.

But Cheri Torres, co-author with Jackie Stavros of Conversations Worth Having, has excellent advice for how to prepare for the worst. She says it’s a matter of mindset, personal worldview, and personal beliefs/values.

“If your sense of worth and being OK is tied to everything going well, when the worst comes, it topples your life. If you — your being — is not attached to ‘the way things are’ then it frees you to ask creative and helpful questions if the worst happens,” she explained.

So, if our plane gets stuck on the tarmac for hours and our kids are tired and restless, instead of asking why this terrible thing happened to ME, I need to see the events in a much broader context. I can ask questions like:

  • I wonder what this is about?
  • What is there to learn or see in this situation that might be important?
  • What’s possible, now that THIS has happened?

Cheri says, when the worst befalls, it’s time to look at our strengths and values, and reassess what’s truly important and reflect. Good advice for any challenge we may face in life.

Thanks to these helpful insights, I’m ready to start shopping, planning, and securing flights. I hope they help you do the same — at work and at home.

Happy holidays!