As the new year begins, many of us find ourselves rushed and overscheduled. And, it can be tempting to turn to procrastination for comfort.
No time management technique will work if we continually put things off. Procrastination is a bad habit and a clear sign that our time is not being managed well. Performance requires productive routines and regular work patterns. Procrastination creates, at best, erratic performance, which in turn can create a series of crises that can affect others.
There is an argument that asserts that many talented people do their best work under pressure. In a sense, that’s true. Yes, there are instances when everyone must step up to the plate and work at top speed and under intense pressure. The problem occurs when the exception becomes the habit, and the habit becomes the culture.
Living close to the edge can sometimes improve, rather than diminish, quality. But a culture that works on adrenaline cannot sustain long-term, dependable results. The habit of disruption reduces the time available to explore new information and cultivate productive working relationships. These are key ingredients in a culture of transformation. Procrastination and crisis drain resources not just for the person who delays her work until the last minute, but for all the other work and colleagues whose schedules and goals depend on her late results. When workflow is regularly disrupted in this way, the organization will be just as regularly rattled by the crisis du jour. Ultimately, the crisis mentality is a force for inequality, because in crisis mode one person’s priorities usually trump those of everybody else.
One solution to procrastination is time management. Unless we specifically set aside blocks of time for certain tasks in our schedules, the tasks are unlikely to get done on time or at all. As we become conscious of our bad habits, we can practice new reactions to tasks that seem easily put off. We can choose to set deadlines for ourselves and make sure that unfinished tasks do not begin to clutter our work lives.
Procrastination is a common bad habit, and new ways of responding to the environment in a more efficient way do not come easily for most people. But it’s possible to imagine a way to break through. Prepare mentally by visualizing what working on the project will feel like. Collect the materials needed and choose a good place to work. Then just start working. Take one step, any step. Just get moving.
Once engaged, be sure to take breaks. Exhaustion is an experience of defeat. When it’s time to return to the task, the same routines will work again. Remember, as leaders we are living examples to others about how to contribute to our shared goals.
Clutter is a manifestation of procrastination. Each piece of paper or unanswered phone message represents a choice to put off a decision. Tasks can clutter our consciousness. They belong on To Do lists, which carry the burden of keeping track of priorities and all aspects of tasks. The list leaves our brains free to solve problems, and to communicate and listen. Of course, a To Do list can be cluttered, too. Lists that sort by priority and organize work into realistic subsets enable us to put our values into action.
Scheduling time to walk around and listen, and to regroup quietly alone, shows that we’re progressing in our ability to manage time and master interpersonal interactions. Paper and e-mail clutter can be quicksand for effectiveness. Clarity and vision are hard to communicate from behind a mountain of paper, and productivity is hard to promote when e-mails back up in our inbox. Messiness can communicate an inability to make decisions, because every piece of paper on top of a desk is a decision we have failed to make.
Telephone calls are probably the tasks that are easiest to postpone. And yet, telephone calls are important modes of communication and methods of making connections and exercising interpersonal mastery. Procrastinating about telephone calls can be procrastinating about leading. There are some tricks of the trade to help us practice new reactions to making and returning telephone calls. Batching calls and returning them in a block reduces disruption. Prepare for calls by deciding in advance how much time each call warrants and defining what needs to be said. The process of personal mastery takes this effort deeper. Sometimes putting off telephone calls is about resistance or avoidance toward a person or a responsibility. Admitting this to ourselves is the first step in overcoming it or confronting it , so that we, as leaders, can remain in motion.
In a culture of transformation, leaders are people in motion. They are flexible and open, because they are constantly ready to challenge themselves and put an end to habits such as procrastination. They are vigilant about making these changes, because they choose to evolve consciously.