Have you noticed there is a lot of negativity when people talk about procrastination. Charles Dickens is quoted as saying,”Procrastination is the thief of time.” Another old proverb is, “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”
Most time management tools focus on techniques to avoid putting things off. They aim to minimise frittering away time, procrasti-faffing, avoiding getting things done. However, there are many occasions where time for analysis, digestion, consideration, reflection and creativity is crucial to achieving the best result and this is what we call procrasti-focusing. This is intentionally not completing the task because there is still time for a better solution to emerge. So in this case I prefer Mark Twain’s advice, “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done the day after tomorrow just was well.” As Alexander Pope observes, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” The important thing is to be intentional in your choice to procrasti-focus.
As busy project managers, we are always juggling priorities and, however much we might like to get ahead of the game, unless a task has an imminent deadline it is less likely to bubble to the top of the list. The question is how do we align our teams around our project priorities whilst allowing them to work in their most effective personal style even when that includes procrastination?
Every year I plan to do my tax return early and every year it gets filed at the end of January and if it is finished before the deadline on the 31st I think I have done well! Statistics suggest I am not alone in this. The obvious question is, ‘Why leave it until the last minute?’ Why not just get on and do it in the Spring when the tax year ends and all the information is relatively fresh?
I am a proud procrastinator and love my procrastination monster* because I am a great believer that a task becomes easier when the time is right. Leaving a task until the last minute may give you the opportunity to acquire more information, allows your subconscious to do a better job of analysing the issue, and can make it easier to get everyone to focus on the objective. So I have learnt that my procrastination habit is actually procrasti-focusing and serves me well.
The biggest driver for me is that I find it easier to do a task when there is only a limited amount of time available. Decisions that I could dither over get made when there is a deadline. Issues that I could spend ages investigating and consulting over get researched and interpreted swiftly. If I leave it until the last minute the task will get done relatively quickly.
Of course leaving things to the last minute can increase stress levels, particularly if anything goes wrong – like not being able to log onto the HMRC system. However, I have learnt over time that I only complete things when there is a deadline – the perfectionist in me will never quite let go of deliverables any earlier. Working to a deadline creates that all important focus that allows the task to be completed.
My ability to be comfortable deferring non-priority activities until a deadline approaches is hugely helpful as a project manager, but it can be tough to work with if you are part of my Tribe** and have a different view of priorities. So be honest with yourself are you procrasti-faffing or procrasti-focusing? Do you empower your Tribe to procrasti-focus when they need to?
As with all things on a project there is no simple answer, but if you can recognize how and when you work best, the needs of your Tribe and communicate your view of the project priorities, you can harness the full power of your team.
*Learn more about Procrastination and the Panic Monster in Tim Urban’s TED talk https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_urban_inside_the_mind_of_a_master_procrastinator#t-831644
** Tribe is one of the 5Ts of the Extraordinary Project Management framework