Calling upon procrastinators: Want to be cured of the Rocking Horse Syndrome?
[4 min read]
How to prioritise, take charge, and actually get stuff done.
Self-management is being defined by Google as the taking of responsibility for one’s own behaviour and well-being. Managers who can effectively manage themselves are destined for greatness – managers who need to be managed by somebody else probably don’t deserve the title. So, what are characteristics of good self-management? In this article we will take a closer look at one of them; planning your tasks.
In a management position, completing tasks within deadlines is vital (or actually just completing them. Full stop.). These days, a manager’s tasks are diverse and as everything in life, there are things we like to do and things we don’t like to do so much. Throughout my professional career, I wrote hundreds (if not thousands) of to-do list. I finally realised that the unwanted tasks always remained at the bottom for weeks, months (or even years), whilst the tasks I loved doing never even managed to get onto the list as they were completed right away or without a reminder. My excuse was that I just never had time to get around to those nasty tasks. Either I was too busy, or it was too late to get started or I couldn’t concentrate after a long day etc. But those were exactly that – just excuses. When I got dangerously close to running out of excuses, I had to top up my to-do list with more urgent (not more important) tasks, so (un)fortunately the nastiest ended up at the bottom again.
My piece of advice: keep your to-do-list simple, because it is just a tool to get to your outcomes faster. Don’t spend valuable time making them pretty or constantly re-writing them, or else you risk wasting your time rather than investing it wisely. Writing to-do-lists can be like riding a rocking horse: keeping you busy while not making any progress.
“The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.” ~ E. M. Gray
I got myself in time-management trouble too often before I realised and truly understood that prioritising is all about getting organised and actually performing the tasks that are important! It is a phenomenon how obsessed we all are with time, and the fact that we perceive time as precious means that we need to stop time from managing us. We need to manage time, or even better; manage ourselves, better. We all have 24 hours per day, whether we like it or not. Often, we are caught up in busyness and feel stressed. We use sentences like: “I have no time”, “I ran out of time” or “I need more time”. How well you use your 24 hours per day mainly depends on your skills, planning, strategies, evaluation and SELF-CONTROL.
Time cannot be managed – Time is an investment
Not everything we do truly matters. Too many little tasks that are blaring at us every single day appear to be urgent but are in fact unimportant and distract us from what is more important. Therefore, we must learn to prioritise, let go of things that we can’t control and invest that time in the things we can control.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” ~ John Lennon
To be more productive and to achieve better outcomes, prioritise your tasks according to Importance and Urgency, rather than in the order of personal preference.
First of all, we need to realise that we are spending all our time (work and leisure) within what Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” calls the 4 task quadrants: 1) Urgent and important; 2) Important not urgent; 3) Urgent not important; and 4) Not important not urgent.
The quadrant we choose will determine our outcome. For example, if we spend most of our time in quadrant 4 (doing things that are not important and not urgent), we certainly will end up in chaos and it is only a matter of time until our operational processes will collapse. This could for example mean that we ‘hide’ behind our desk writing and rewriting to-do-lists without actually ever achieving much, because we are not willing to tackle the real challenges (procrastination – at effect) we face in our position.
Versus spending most of our time in quadrants 1 and 2 (doing things that are urgent and important, and important not urgent), and keeping up to date with demands from managers, team members, casuals, suppliers, finance and regulatory requirement, just to mention a few.
Let’s define the two key terms:
- Urgent– requiring immediate action or attention in response to a pressing situation presented to us
- Important – of great significance or value
For example things that significantly contribute to our goals and outcomes, such as customer satisfaction, revenue, customer retention, WHS (Workplace Health and Safety), Margin Improvement etc.
Humans are more responsive to urgency than importance.
This is because urgency is presented to us and we are often acting reactively, whereas importance needs to be analysed based on our outcomes and vision, and it needs discipline. Urgency doesn’t necessarily mean that it is also important although we often assume it is.
For example, if a co-worker stops at your desk and starts unimportant small talk, you are likely to engage with them as you feel a sense of urgency to respond and engage; after all, that’s considered being polite, right? For this ‘politeness’, you might stop processing the urgent student intake paperwork you’ve been working on, rather than choosing to continue with what is an important task today. These actions lead to time management issues over time.
“Managing your time without setting priorities is like shooting randomly and calling whatever you hit the target.” ~ Peter Turla
Overcome procrastination: eat that frog!
Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that this is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long. Your ‘frog’ is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it.
Procrastinating and leaving the most undesirable tasks on your to-do-lists for a length of time means that you are thinking about that frog constantly. Unless you are French and a lover of Frog Legs, this will wear you out over time. So, remember to tackle important tasks, even if they do not appear appealing to you. Once you get them out of the way, it will leave more room for other important tasks that you might enjoy more.
If you want to take charge, prioritise and actually get stuff done, take a critical look at how you spend your time at work, and take action so you can spend most of your time in quadrant 2. This is the place to be, where we should spend most of our time, the place of thinking ahead, planning, preparation, designing, systems and process development. The quadrant of being pro-active and causing things to happen before they become urgent and pressing. This is the hub of leadership, where people have a clear vision and know exactly which steps are important to achieve the outcomes.
“Dare to make a difference!”
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