“Procrastination is the thief of time” – Charles Dickens
I procrastinate. I’ll admit it. I have a bad habit of taking on easy tasks first and leaving more challenging things until last. Or I’ll put off a job until later because I’ve found something more desirable to do—but I won’t define when later is, exactly. I’m even procrastinating now; writing this blog instead of doing something more useful, such as answering emails! (Don’t tell my manager.)
I had always thought of myself as a proactive person until I went to University. It was there I realised I did nothing a lot of the time, except when an essay paper was due— and then I’d start it a couple of days before it needed to be in. As it turned out, procrastinating was not the answer. I came to that conclusion as I broke down in tears in the library one day. I sobbed even harder when the library attendant told me off for crying in the ‘quiet zone.’ (True story.)
In preparation for writing this blog post, I unearthed an article on why procrastinators procrastinate in the first place. I immediately got distracted by the excellent cartoons. Do you see my problem? The article can be found on WaitButWhy.com if you’re looking for some light-hearted background on the mentality of procrastination (or some great cartoons).
Reasoning aside—as a leader, you’ll be expected to make decisions. When people are unsure of what to do, they look to their leader for direction and insight. They don’t want to be faced with a leader who will procrastinate on decisions until the last minute—especially when the problem is a priority for them.
So how can leaders avoid delaying decisions that will guide their team?
The key is careful planning. Careful is the operative word in that sentence. For procrastinators, planning isn’t usually a problem. They love planning because planning involves not actually doing! Procrastinators’ plans often have little actual thought, are vague or open-ended, and can lack detail or direction. Instead, you’ll need to make a detailed plan. The following steps will guide you.
- Establish the objective.
Specifically identify what you want to achieve. You may be familiar with the concept of SMART goals—but if you aren’t, here’s a link to a previous blog post from David Witt. When you know exactly what you want to achieve, you’ll be able to lay out a clear path on how you want to get there.
- Prioritise what you want to achieve, putting the most important task first.
As a leader, you’ll need to balance your priorities with the priorities of the team. It’s really easy to establish a list of 15 things to do and then have no idea where to start because they all seem equally important. So first identify the things you need to do. Remember that priorities evolve as you move forward on your tasks. Therefore, you’ll need to review your and your team’s priorities from time to time to see if they have changed.
- Gather the information you need to make a decision.
Having relevant information means that you’ll be able to justify and explain your decision when the time comes. And the more information you have, the more confident you’ll be in making that decision. Don’t lose sight of your objectives here. It’s easy to fall into a trap and think you can’t make this decision because you don’t have all of the information. Don’t put off a decision because you’re waiting for arbitrary details.
- Consider all of the sensible options and select the best one.
With any good plan, there are likely to be a number of choices you can make. Identify your options and remove those that aren’t logical. Then choose the best option—the one that is going to help achieve your objectives whilst meeting your priorities.
- Take action.
This is the hardest part—but now that you’ve clarified your decision, you’ll find it easier to take action. You’ve established a clear and sensible path to achieving a specific outcome instead of our procrastinating leader’s vague, open-ended to-do list.
Overcoming procrastination, especially as a leader, is important. Much of what makes people happy or unhappy is affected by procrastination. The time to start improving is now. If you are a former procrastinator, how did you conquer it? Let us know in the comments!