Archive for September, 2009

Less Procrastination, more Performance: 3 simple steps

September 26, 2009

Have you ever found yourself putting off important tasks over and over again or waiting until the very last minute to  deliver on a commitment or requirement of a colleague? Or have you often had to contact time and time again a colleague to get him or her to deliver on a commitment or requirement?

Quite often, it’s not your fault nor the fault of your colleague and the more complicated and fuzzy the organization is, the more difficult it becomes to deliver on time to all stake holders when you are involved in multiple projects.

But setting aside all the organizational issues, sometimes it is down to our own behaviour and attitudes and we all are guilty at some stage of what is commonly called procrastination or putting off until tomorrow what we could do today.

Of course, most of us seek to be effective and don’t put off too many important issues until the very last moment. However, some people are seriously affected by procrastination and to such an extent that it seriously impacts on their performance and on their careers.

Meeting commitments and deadlines is a key indicator of performance and so it’s important to be able to evaluate if and when we are letting ourselves fall into the trap and take the actions to ensure that we don’t develop a chronic tendency to postpone the urgent and important issues which are the issues that count.

Why do we sometimes procrastinate?

There are many reasons why we may procrastinate:

  • we prefer to do a task that is more enjoyable than tackle a task which is complicated or disagreeable
  • We don’t know how to prioritize and tackle the first task that comes our way
  • We may listen to the person who shouts the loudest or simply do what our boss asks and forget about our other customers
  • We may be overwhelmed by the task, not knowing where or how to begin
  • We may doubt if we know how to do the job
  • We may doubt if we have the resources to do the job and so we do the tasks we’re comfortable with and let the big tasks slip
  • We want to wait for the “right time” to do the job rather than do it now
  • We’re afraid of not succeeding and so we avoid confronting the risk
  • We don’t organize our work and just “do it”
  • We’re too perfectionist and spend too much time seeking perfection

These are some of the reasons why we procrastinate but how do we deal with it?

Here are 3 simple steps to getting important tasks done effectively :

step 1: recognize it’s happening

Being honest with oneself is the first step and we all know more or less when we’re guilty of putting off urgent and important tasks. Self knowledge is the first step to dealing with the issue and so learn to track the times when we adopt behaviours or attitudes which don’t contribut to getting thing done on time: going for a coffee, going out to smoke a cigarette, reading our emails, navigating on the internet, etc.

Step 2: Understand why it’s happening

Once we realize we are not dealing with important and urgent tasks on time, it’s important to analyze why. Here are some common causes:

  • We find the task unpleasant
  • We find the task too big
  • We have too much to do
  • We’re afraid of failing
  • We’re afraid of the consequences
  • -…

Understanding why we are not doing what we should be doing will helps define a strategy to help us decide what needs to be done when.

Step 3: Some tips to sort out the important things that need to be done from the unimportant things

  • Prioritize. List your tasks on a daily basis and prioritize them using the “Urgent versus Important” task matrix.

Urgent versus important matrix

  • Tackle your important and urgent issues first and put off or cancel the unimportant and not urgent issues
  • Don’t let your important and urgent issues dictate your agenda. Focus on the important but not urgent issues because these issues are the real added value and help you reduce the urgent/important; urgent/not important and not urgent/not important issues which take up your time.
  • Tackle each priority 1 issue systematically and avoid being interrupted or distracted when you’re working the issue. Avoid stalling or stop-go. Common behaviours to be avoided are beginning a task and then going off to have a coffee or smoke a cigarette, begin reading your emails (disconnect your email alert), etc.
  • Set yourself a deadline to clear the priority 1 issue off your to-do list. Don’t allow priority 1 issues to accumulate on your to-do list.
  • Learn to say “no” to unimportant requests from others, including your boss. Do your important tasks first.
  • Delegate if possible some priority 1 tasks to others and seek to delegate all the unimportant but urgent tasks to others or again if possible, cancel them.
  • Delegate, don’t dump. Be mindful not to dump things on subordinates if and when you delegate. Delegate in relation to the roles and responsibilities in the team and remember to check if your team members themselves don’t have too much on their plates. Delegate responsibility for completing the task and the results. Don’t delegate the method. Delegate the whole task and not just a part and specify the expected results.
  • Reward yourself when you do a priority 1 task which was unpleasant (a good lunch for example)
  • Ask a peer to remind you that you need to get the task completed. Peer pressure is very effective.
  • Work out the consequence of not doing what you are supposed to do. If you don’t pay the telephone bill, your line is cut off!
  • Break the task down into smaller, more manageable tasks and build an action plan to complete each task according to deadlines.
  • Start with some quick wins and do some small tasks which are easy to do. This gives you sense of achievement and builds momentum
  • Always set a deadline for each priority 1 task and hold yourself to the deadline.
  • Plan time in your agenda to deal with the priority 1 tasks and don’t allow yourself to be distracted when you sit down to do these tasks. Don’t answer the phone, don’t read your emails, don’t go for a coffee, etc. until the task is completed or successfully launched.
  • Remember to check off on your list the tasks completed. You reassure yourself that you are getting things done successfully.
  • Make firm commitments to others and stick to them. Quite often, procrastinators don’t like to make firm commitments as this allows them more freedom not to act. If someone asks you to commit to a task that is a priority 1 task for both of you, make a firm commitment in terms of a deadline and hold yourself to it. Get the person to remind you of your commitment.
  • Define the outcomes you expect for each priority 1 task and define deadlines when these outcomes should be in place. Visualize in your mind the situation with the outcome in place. This will help you overcome fear of failure.
  • Set yourself deadlines for decision making on each task. Learn to decide. A poor decision is better than no decision and an outcome implemented on time can always be corrected. Postponing a decision because the solution is not perfect means discovering later possible issues which only serve to delay even further a successful completion. You can’t correct a solution which hasn’t been implemented.

Even if we have to spend significant time in Quandrant 1 ” important and urgent” activities, our main goal should be to spend more and more time in Quandrant 2  “important but not urgent” activities because that is where we will proactively take control of our agendas and prepare the future.

As Stephen J Covey says, we should be spending as little time as possible in quandrant 3 “Urgent but not important” and quadrant 4 “Not Urgent and not important” activities because these activities are time wasters and distract us from the real value added activities. Dealing more and more with the not urgent and important issues will help you move from the P in Procrastinate to the P in Performance.

To conclude, I’ll stop procrastinating for now and finish this article.

I suggest you  stop procrastinating  too and check out a  funny video from Daily Motion on the phenomenon.

 


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