Procrastination, priorities and the point of power

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“Procrastinators Unite. Tomorrow” – A brilliant T-shirt I recently saw.

I’m running a session all about personal organisation this week.

Its very tempting to take the easy route and give out a load of time management tips and tactics.  These tend to get greeted with ‘oo’s and ‘ah’s’ as people get excited and mesmerised by the potential to eek out more time in their day.

These tips and tactics all make sense in the context of a classroom, but they rarely survive contact with a normal working day and, even if they do, the habits rarely stick.

I know because I’ve tried every Time / Task management system known to mankind. From Filofaxes in the 80’s through the Psion Organiser, Palm Pilot, Time Manager Ltd, Outlook and a flurry of apps in recent years. None of them lasted more than a few weeks, at most.

My inability to find a personal organisation system that I could stick with became a source of major frustration for me in the corporate world. If only I could find something that worked I would be so much more efficient.  Then one day I had a realisation; I couldn’t remember the last time that I never got something really important done within the deadline.

When I became self employed I no longer had someone beating the drum to get me to work so the whole time management conundrum resurfaced. But, again, I found myself resisting the habitual behaviours that were drummed into me at coach school.

When I left the franchise I said goodbye to the last external influence to drive my behaviours. I cut myself adrift and for the last four years have, to some extent, allowed myself time to learn to trust and follow my instincts.

As a result I’ve learned a few things about personal organisation that I believe are relevant to everyone and are far more important than the latest tip, tactic or tool.


Clarity of direction

Get clear about what it is you really want and the direction of travel you are moving in. The last two years have been, by far, the most successful in my time as a business coach, both from a wellbeing and financial perspective. So to what remarkable discipline or six steps system do I owe this success?

None. I owe it to getting clear about what I was about and what I truly wanted. My big lesson was to stop setting goals around money and things. They just do not motivate me. What does motivate me is the ability to spend most of my waking hours doing things I actually like doing and living my life entirely on the terms that I set. The irony is from this position I have achieved higher levels of financial success than ever.

If you have to write your goals down and remind yourself of them daily, then I don’t actually think they are your true goals. Stop thinking about money and stuff. Instead spend some time thinking about the things that, in the moment you are doing them, bring you the strongest sense of achievement and pleasure. That’s where the gold lies.


Know and own yourself

Get to know the real you. Not the person you want everyone else to think you are. When you recognise that you can be anything you want you don’t have to choose to get caught up in the things you think you should, or could, be doing.  Focus on your strengths relentlessly. Recognise your performance blind spots and put things in place to cover them off so you can stay doing what you are great at. At the heart of this idea is one underlying principle; You are responsible for where you are now and where you are going.

Wherever you are at this point in your life is a function of the choices you have made about what you will and won’t do. Let that sink in for a moment and then recognise that from this point on you have choices about where you go next.

Seek out ways to automate or get others to do the stuff you don’t like doing. Don’t ignore it.


Living with imperfection

Imperfection was a way of life when I was a Director at Orange. We were a massive and high profile business. Yet behind the scenes we were held together with string and sticky tape.  Working in Operations was a constant battle against a cobbled together infrastructure (imagine Scottie in the engine room of the Starship Enterprise; “she Cannae take much more captain”). Yet we made lots of money and, for the most part, our customers liked us.

There will always be more things to fix and to do than you will have the time or energy for. The bigger the list the more your head is clogged up. This stifles your ability to see with clarity and apply your innate creativity. All of your energy is used up just managing your ‘to-do’ list.

As I sit here writing this I have three major priorities. There is also a car park full of ideas and, as with any other business, there are all sorts of odds and sods that are going to have to be done by others, deferred, ignored (yes I did say that) or fitted into the cracks in between important stuff. But my head is clear and I know what’s really important. How about you?


Be present

The action is all happening in the moment. If you want to spend precious time re-running past failures and successes or daydreaming about a future goal, there are a few things you need to be aware of

  • The past is simply your recollection of events. It is unreliable and almost certainly biased
  • The future is just a made up idea. Plan all you like but in reality you don’t really know what might happen tomorrow, next week or next year
  • Thinking about the past and the future are activities that take place in your head. They distract you from the current moment.

I spend ten minutes at the end of each day reflecting on what did, or didn’t happen, during the day. That’s it.

Each quarter I spend a day or two looking at what progress I made over the last quarter and I take a look at my overall direction before committing to a set of actions, focussed around no more than three priorities, for the next ninety days, or so. After that my focus switches back to execution and data collection. Things move and change so my plans are constantly adapting to the changing landscape.

Put your focus on being present to what you are doing in the moment and what is happening around you. In other words, get out of your head and act in the world.


Inspired procrastination

We all have our own personal points of procrastination. The word itself carries a negative connotation. Yet in more recent times I’ve increasingly observed that its never that straightforward.

Begin to notice what you procrastinate and, specifically, what goes on in your head at the point you make the decision to procrastinate. There will always be a positive intention behind it. Often it is simply a mechanism you use to protect yourself from the potential for failure or rejection.  If so, you can see it for what it is and move forward anyway.  Just because you think it doesn’t make it real and only action will change your perspective.

But there is something I’m noticing more and more both with myself and with my clients. I call it inspired procrastination. When you dig under the procrastination and can find no real reason why you aren’t acting perhaps there is something happening at a sub conscious level. Perhaps at your core you know you are wasting your time or that now is not the right time.

Learning to discern between inspired and fear based procrastination was the single most valuable lesson I learned in personal organisation.

If you would like to explore these ideas further then drop me a line and we’ll organise some time together.