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Prioritized Procrastination August 8, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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It takes a strong will to resist the pull of procrastination.  We fall into the trap for various reasons, some conscious, many not.  It happens at work, at home, and most of all, at school.  Fear, anxiety, social and economic pressures, stress – all conspiring to put up mental blocks and false leads against our perceived potential failures – and successes.

If you are awake, you are probably procrastinating.  And this article by Rory Vaden of Southwestern Consulting shows you just how insidious it can be.

We all have to-do lists.  Some are simple, some complex.  A typical project plan is a to-do list of sorts as well.  Everyone has their respective tasks and priorities.  But most projects and businesses also have their share of firefighting and reactionary management, silently wreaking havoc on the successful achievement of your goals.

Managers in particular face this battle nearly every day.  Especially at 24/7 operations that are so common in heavy industries like mining and materials processing, the first question on many managers’ minds is, “what happened last night?”  This sets every day up for potential failure.  Rather than addressing the pre-existing priorities, managers get sucked into the vortex of day-to-day reaction, moving farther and farther from their strategic goals.

Vaden’s tips come down to a few key questions when a new “priority” arises:

  • Was this activity on my primary to-do list when I arrived at work today?
  • Is this activity one of the key drivers of achieving success in my position?
  • Does this activity require my unique thought process?
  • Will this issue likely resolve itself without my intervention if I allow some time?
  • Is there another person on our team who is mostly capable of handling this?
  • Can the resolution of this issue wait until some point in the future without substantial repercussion?

As simple and straightforward as this list seems, these aren’t always easy questions to answer.  Also, like so many other choices, our inside voice can often ignore otherwise obvious signs to the right decision.  Hence, one of the best phrases in this article: objective accountability.

If you are having trouble focusing on those most critical tasks – the ones that provide direct, measurable value to your business – it may be wise to seek an objective opinion.  The key is not to necessarily look outside the organization, but at least outside your normal chain of authority.  Find someone that can not only provide a ruthless culling of your to-do list, but someone who will hold you accountable to stick to it once it’s done.

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