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Overcome Procrastination - Now

Originally published
Originally published: 10/1/2009

Reduce stress and improve performance using these two techniques.

Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone realizes how insidious procrastination can be. Wasted time is just the tip of the iceberg; the “hidden” part of procrastination is the impact it has on your team members’ productivity and your customers’ satisfaction — as well as your business and personal reputation.

The following anti-procrastination techniques seem like common sense, but they probably are not common practice for you and your leadership team. This is because changing personal habits is very difficult and, ironically, this causes us to procrastinate. But making a firm commitment to these techniques will:

• Save time by preventing small problems from becoming bigger and/or one problem causing more problems.

• Improve productivity by improving organization and increasing your ability to focus and complete tasks.

• Allow you to spend more time working on customer-related issues, which will improve customer satisfaction.

• Reduce personal daily stress by cutting the number of “open” tasks you need to manage and by eliminating the need to worry about open tasks.

• Enhance your personal reputation because you will be better at meeting deadlines, being on time for meetings and calls, and more responsive to requests for time or information.

If you want these benefits, then stop procrastinating about procrastinating and start using these two techniques:

Do the Worst Thing First

What is the No. 1 cause of procrastination? The prospect of doing things we don’t like to do. The problem is that putting these things off tends to create more work and/or elevate small issues into crises. For example, if you need to fire a vendor for poor performance, and you put it off because you like the account representative, then you are allowing that poor performance and its compounding problems to continue longer than they need to. This is not good leadership. By procrastinating, you are letting your team down by hindering their productivity.

It is also not good for you personally. Why should you take home problems that could have been solved during the workday? Granted, these actions will not be pleasant while you’re doing them, but would you rather they keep you awake at night?

We recommend getting into the habit of Doing the Worst Thing First. Here’s how it works:

1. First thing in the morning, before checking voicemail and email, ask yourself, “What is the worst thing I have to do right now?” Then do it.

2. Repeat this question at least one more time (for example, set it as a Task in your calendar for 11 a.m. and/ or 2 p.m.) during the workday and Do The Worst Thing First each time.

3. Before you leave for the day, ask yourself the same question, and Do The Worst Thing First before you leave.

To get into the Do The Worst Thing First habit you may find it useful to temporarily post reminders in several places throughout your office, such as the wall in front of your desk area, on the telephone, and the computer monitor. This will help to raise your awareness that doing the worst thing first is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your team.

Do One of the 4 Ds

The second technique focuses on maintaining productive momentum and preventing bottlenecks from slowing that momentum.

1) Do It Now: Deal with paper and electronic information as soon as you come across them. Don’t close them without adding value to them, or you will waste precious time. If you’re not going to process your email, don’t look at it. If you look at it, process it then and there!

Filing is a Do It Now activity, so break the habit of making piles to file. Filing a document in an existing folder, whether paper or electronic, takes only about three seconds. Creating a new folder, then filing, takes less than 10 seconds. About 80% of what you need to do can be handled in two minutes or less.

According to our Workplace Productivity Index, which is published yearly and indicates how we spend our time in the workplace, the average person in business today wastes about 1.6 hours per week, about 80 hours per year, looking for things they can’t find because they did not “have the time” (procrastinated) to create file folders. They did have piles on work surfaces or kept in an email inbox, many with thousands of other unfiled emails.

2) Delegate It: Delegation is one of the core competencies of effective time management. Make sure you delegate things others should do, promptly delegate to the right person, and delegate completely. Delegating tasks and responsibilities is how you help others to learn new skills.

Even though you could perhaps do a task quicker yourself, Delegate It and let the work that should be done by others be done by others. Remember that even though you have delegated a task, you are still accountable for the quality of the work done.

Make sure you set times on your electronic calendar for periodic followups and make yourself available for questions on those delegated jobs. The rule is that the only “dumb question” is the one that is not asked.

Effective delegation is among the most critical leadership skills you can have. If you have not taken a course in delegation, we strongly recommend it.

3) Designate It: When you decide that you can’t Do it Now – then Designate It as a task. For example, for those large jobs that you determine will take a half-hour or more, set an appointment with yourself on your electronic calendar to do the work.

The key to success here is to treat appointments you have set with yourself with the same sense of respect and importance as you do when you set appointments with others.

4) Discard It: There is so much incoming information that sometimes you think that something is worth keeping only to realize at second glance that it had no value to you in the first place. Value is the best measure word you can use to decide what’s worth keeping and what to throw away. Be diligent and discard everything that has no value to you or your business The three questions to ask to determine value are:

> When did I last look at this information?

> Would I actually ever use this information again?

> Where else can I easily find this information?

Use Technology with The Techniques

The best way to remember everything, yet be able to forget about any issue until you’re ready to address it, is by proactively using your electronic Calendar and Tasks with a Reminder set to ping you.

Not procrastinating, which results in your keeping promises you’ve made, is at the core of your reputation – even when it’s just a quick connect to give people a status report. And, don’t forget to tell them what your next step will be and when you will next get back to them.

Kerry Gleeson is the founder of the Institute for Business Technology International (IBT) and developer of the Personal Efficiency Program (PEP). He is the author of the books The Personal Efficiency Program and The High-Tech Personal Efficiency Program.

Bary Sherman is CEO of PEP Productivity Solutions, an international efficiency consulting company. Contact them at and bary.

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Overcome Procrastination - Now

Wasted time is just the tip of the iceberg; the "hidden" part of procrastination is the impact it has on your team members' productivity and your customers' satisfaction - as …