Do you find yourself pulling an all-nighter to meet a deadline the next day for a project that you’ve known about for weeks? Are you watching the clock on April 15th to submit your tax files electronically by the deadline… only to have to file for an extension because you’re missing a document? Maybe, like me, you do the things that you love to do first with intentions of getting to the other “less fun” stuff next… and then racing to get that stuff done without penalty or consequence to you or your team.
We all know about pro-crastination and the cautions we’ve all heard against practicing it… “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today” and “he who hesitates is lost” or “procrastination is the thief of time.” And yet with all of these dire warnings, why do so many of us find ourselves procrastinating and creating additional stress and negative consequences for us and those people counting on us?
An article in the Harvard Business Review, How to Convince Yourself to Do Hard Things by David Rock, explains what many of us have recognized…we lean toward doing what is comfortable…what feels right…what saves energy and takes the least amount of effort. This tendency to be drawn towards what comes easiest to us is known as expediency bias… prioritizing tasks that are in our comfort zone and feel like second nature to us. Tasks that challenge our thinking and force us to learn new skills take more time and slow us down…we’ll get to them later. This behavior can lead us to act on gut instinct or rush to a decision without considering all of the factors in play.
Hard lesson learned…
Early in my career as a hotel general manager I had a wonderful mentor named Dawn. Her opinion of me and my work mattered, both to me personally and my success. She was my regional director and the person to which I would submit a monthly report outlining stats and a written summary of departmental happenings. Truth is, I didn’t like writing them.
I started out strong, submitting these reports in a timely manner and, over several months time, I noticed that there was no comment or follow-up from her about the reports. So many other things that needed my attention and that I’d rather do than reporting.
With no comment or questions about the reports, I made the assumption (you see where this is leading…) she must not be reading them. If she wasn’t reading them, then why should I bother to write them, I wondered to myself. So, I stopped. And there was no notice of it after the first missed report, or the third, or the fifth… Then came the call.
“Melissa, I’m looking for your monthly reports and can’t seem to find them?”
She couldn’t see me (this was well before Zoom or Teams), but my face burned as I realized I had really screwed up. I swallowed hard and then honestly explained my thought process and why I hadn’t submitted them. The reality that this could be the end of the road for me in this job hit home. But she was merciful, and disappointed (that hurt most), and totally held me accountable. I spent the next few days struggling, writing the reports and attempting to recall what had happened when over the previous months.
Once I caught up, kicking myself along the way, I resolved that I’d not let this happen again! I held myself accountable and set a deadline for myself that I would not waiver on. I focused on the feeling of success each time I submitted the report ahead of her deadline and less on the drudgery of writing it. The more I wrote, the easier they became and the less resistance I experienced. I challenged myself… and had a small win every month that I met that deadline easily.
In the Harvard article, the author provides a few strategies we can use to avoid letting procrastination take over, each of which require a strong amount of self-awareness and honesty with ourselves. Understanding why we put things off and acknowledging that the immediate gain is not worth the longer term pain is a great place to start in challenging and changing behaviors that don’t serve us, or those that are counting on us, well.
And this, as we close in on the end of the year, is the time when many of us start talking about resolutions and what we will do “next year”, waiting for the calendar to turn over as some official starting line… It’s a TRAP! Don’t fall for it! Resolve to take an assessment of the things you have been putting off today and take the first step toward progress and growth.
As you assess your organization’s goals for today and the coming year, are you identifying gaps in skill sets or human resources needed to achieve your goals? Check in with our Nonprofit Resources team to discuss how we might fill those gaps and help you take that step forward.
Wishing you all a very happy, healthy, and wondrous holiday season.