First off … one of my favourite one-liners on procrastination ….. wait for it ……… ‘Do you know what happens when you give a procrastinator a good idea? ….. Nothing!’
Now a definition by Napoleon Hill:
Procrastination is the bad habit of putting of until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.’
OK, let’s get to it – here are two fundamentals that underpin my thinking on procrastination and priority management:
- My reading and observations lead me to the conclusion that procrastination is an emotional decision and not a logical one. We all know we should be working on the ‘Important stuff’, but doing it is different.
- Very few people deliberately do things that they know will harm them in some way, unless they think that, through the ‘pain’ they will achieve a greater ‘pleasure’ as a result.
So, if you are a procrastinator, and – intellectually – you know it is not a resourceful behaviour, what emotional pleasures do you derive from your procrastination? Think about it … there will be some – otherwise you wouldn’t procrastinate. Is it the adrenalin? The buzz? Not wanting or needing time to think? The feeling of being needed? The thrill of the deadline? The hedonistic pleasure of ‘doing whatever I like’? Or is it the comfort you feel by avoidance? The temporary security you feel? There is always a win that, in the moment, has a higher value than the perceived pain that results in doing the thing itself.
Some people can intellectualise this stuff. For a brief overview of ‘Structured Procrastination’ see John Perry’s website. He is a Stanford Philosophy Professor and it’s worth a peek.
The ‘Traditional’ Work/Value matrix suggests that all work is a function of urgency and importance and carves work up into 4 quadrants. We overlay our 4D approach on this matrix. Q1 is the stuff you have to DO; Q2 is the stuff you have to DATE ACTIVATE, Q3 is the stuff you DELEGATE and Q4 is what you DUMP! By working on Q2 and Q3 areas we minimise the overblown urgent and important Q1 load.
Below, you will see the same matrix BUT with a new twist for procrastinators, by Ken Blanchard in his book, The On Time On Target Manager. This is in his 1 minute manager series and is well worth investing in.
More often than not, people don’t do things because they are important – they do things because they like doing them – and they put things off, even important things, because they don’t like doing them.
Procrastinators and pleasure seekers do their work in the order Q1, Q3 and only then Q2 – often rushed at the last minute with obvious consequences in terms of quality, team impact and personal stress! The solution is to change the approach so that you do them in the order Quadrant 2, Quadrant 1 and forget about the other two quadrants.
Often, getting the ‘Have to do / Don’t want to do’ stuff out of the way releases tension, weight and dread; furthermore doing it is never as bad as the thought of doing it. Most people also report feeling energised once they have got that stuff out of the way. Try it – ON PURPOSE – and see how it goes.