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For Business
May 20, 2014

Do you have the Ostrich Problem?

Tracking your progress towards that goal is an essential part of delivering that sense of satisfaction. It also keeps you motivated, by showing what you’ve done so far and how much more you have to do.

Bearing this is mind, it might seem strange that some of us have a tendency to stick our heads in the sand, and ignore the signs that would show us how far we’ve gotten towards our goals.

It’s a real issue, one that psychologists describe as the ‘the Ostrich Problem’ *. Those affected intentionally avoid or reject information that would help them to monitor their progress towards a goal. Classic examples include: ignoring your bank balance when you should be watching your finances; not keeping track of what you eat or how much exercise you do if you’re trying to be healthier; or not checking in with the project plan you’re supposed to be following.

The psychologists who describe the Ostrich Problem suggest that we avoid monitoring our progress because accurately assessing developments might conflict with the desire to protect or enhance the self. In short, monitoring where you are can be tough if it shows that you’re not on track.

By trying to protect ourselves on a subconscious level, we actually end up self-sabotaging.

So how can you avoid being afflicted with the Ostrich Problem in your working life?

One approach might be to scrap your to-do list in favour of a set of priorities and a done list.

A to-do list is an essential tool for most of us. But if you have a tendency to stick your head in the sand, it might not be the best approach, as it doesn’t force you to confront your progress. Instead, you could try writing down and ordering your priorities.

Prioritising is great for your focus – doing it daily (or even several times a day) will ensure that you’re spending your time on the most important things.

Once you have your priorities, break them down into a workflow of small individual tasks or steps you need to take to meet that priority. This will give you an unintimidating way to start working towards a bigger goal, and an in-built way to track your progress towards it.

Done lists are a great tool, for ostriches and non-ostriches alike. At the end of your day, write down what you’ve actually spent your time on and how those tasks – however small – have helped you take a step closer to your goals. If you can’t think of anything, or the things you’re putting on your done list don’t feel useful, this could be a wake-up call to reassess how you’re spending your time.

Take a look at your done list when you need to feel a sense of satisfaction, or when you feel like you haven’t achieved anything. It might be a good idea to put it in an app like OneNote or Evernote, and pin it to your home screen for easy reference.

Are you an ostrich? Do you have done list, or is it something you’d like to try? Let us know with a comment.

Image credit: Tambako the Jaguar