I meant to write this blog last month… but you know how it is.
You might think that I’m joking, but sadly I’m not! Why is it that we are all so good at putting off what we need to do, whether it’s at work or in our private lives? The simple answer is that it’s human nature — we don’t like having to do tasks that are not enjoyable or aren’t a priority — but I believe it goes deeper than that.
How many times have you been putting off a task, only to find that once you’ve got started you’ve actually quite enjoyed it?
An example of mine was due to a recent training course that I’ve attended. I haven’t had any formal training for quite some time and being a trainer myself, I do like to keep learning (or is it because I’m a Gemini? I foolishly read that I’m always looking for new learning when reading an astrological chart recently. I was looking up a star sign for my daughter; any parent of a 17 year old will understand why she needed to know!)
Anyway, back to the training course. It was Ken Blanchard’s ‘Situational Leadership II’ for managers. I’ve referred to their model many times in my Management Development Programme as additional learning for my delegates. This year I wanted to know more and to be able to talk about it with real knowledge, so I booked myself on their 5 day training programme.
As mentioned, I run courses myself and nearly always have pre-course prep work for my delegates to perform. It’s there for a number of reasons: –
- It gets them thinking about the course content before they rock up on the day
- It means that any data required to use on the day is ready and available before the course
- They then tend to start exploring the subject for themselves and learn something before I’ve said the first word
- They feel they can talk to me and approach me if there are any concerns
- I can tell from the first session whether they’ve done it or not, who is dedicated to the learning and who I need to ‘convince’ a little bit more… or who has poor time management skills, but that’s another course!
So I was pleased that there was pre-course work to do and was informed it would take approximately 6 hours (!), although I was given a month to achieve it… plenty of time.
Guess what?! Yep, I left it until the weekend before, when I wouldn’t have been able to get hold of the trainer if there was a problem as the course started on the Monday. I’d logged in to the ‘portal’ a few times and seemed to always get distracted by something else. Luckily for me it was all very straight forward and wasn’t an issue. Many others on the first day had done the same as me, but were very confused/concerned/ hesitant/nervous about the work, so not a great start.
So why do we leave it until the last minute?
There are a multitude of reasons:
- We think we’re prioritising by leaving it until it absolutely has to be done. But then it’s become an urgent and important task, which means we may end up rushing it and not giving it our full attention
- We don’t enjoy it — human nature again that we’ll do the things we like before the things that we don’t
- We don’t think we’ll be able to do it. When we question our abilities, it’s likely to be put off until we have to do it
- We don’t know where to start. Sometimes a task seems really daunting and we know it’s going to take a long time, so we put it off.
So how can we get rid of procrastination?
In the old days of paperwork and sitting at a desk 9 hours a day (what did happen to that paperless office?!) I had a trick of making a mark on the top right hand corner of the page with a red pen every time you picked it up. By the time you’d made your 4th dot, you made sure you finished the task and filed it.
Now, in the digital age it’s a to do list with a timeframe estimate and a start and end date. That way I can work to an ideal timeframe and then if that slips I’m still on track. I’m also a visual person who likes to see things, so the satisfaction of putting a tick in the done box is high.
Add to that a priority level A, B or C which you can cut and paste the A tasks to the top of the list.
A = urgent and important
B = important, but not urgent
C = neither important nor urgent (currently)
Urgent = it will have a detrimental effect if I don’t do it now
Important = it will have a detrimental effect if I don’t do it
This blog hasn’t been achieved because I stopped writing my To Do list a while ago, so no wonder!
For the big tasks… break them down into smaller elements and focus on those one at a time, it then won’t seem so daunting. If it’s a task that you don’t know how to do, then I refer back to my Ken Blanchard’s SL II learning. Make sure you have an environment in your business that allows people to ask for help with a task, without being made to feel inadequate.
We all have different levels of skills, knowledge and abilities… but we all seem to be good at procrastination!
“I’d be more frightened by not using whatever abilities I’d been given. I’d be more frightened by procrastination and laziness.” – Denzel Washington