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Sep 17

What if Tomorrow Doesn’t Come?

“Tick, tock, tick”

The personal side of life often implants topics in my brain that are crying to move down my arms and through my fingers to the keyboard. Only a few hours’ drive from our home in Connecticut, the trip to Northeast Pennsylvania is a nice break from having to think about anything other than relaxation. Visiting my son and his family to celebrate his birthday on Sunday came with the usual expectation of watching football in the afternoon and eating cake, but since our last visit they have begun attending a local church and we were invited to go with them. The topic of the sermon was “What if Tomorrow Doesn’t Come?” This is a recurring theme in almost all religious settings, but this was not the typical hell, fire and damnation tirade, but instead it a thought provoking message about why we procrastinate. Of course that immediately un-relaxed my mind and I began to think about all the stuff on my desk waiting for me on Monday.

We all procrastinate. Sometimes we are just avoiding doing the things that are not our favorite things to do. Other times we find that obviously critical items come with a shocking fear of failure. Momentary panic and uncertainty can grow into petrified thinking that can freeze our ability to get results. Poor leadership is also to blame. Failure to allocate resources or to give the freedom of exercising the necessary responsibility encourages procrastination. Delegation of tasks with no authority to do them is always a problem. There is such a wide spectrum of causes that no single solution can set things straight. There are some key factors that will help to stimulate action now rather than later.

Focus on the target – There must be a prime objective for anything that is important. The nature and complexity of the problem needs to be determined before it is possible to accurately plan toward a conclusion and a working solution. If there is no relevance to the solution then the problem may really not be a problem. Working on something totally irrelevant can be easily dismissed until later and the cycle has begun. So here is the paradox of the avoidance of things we don’t like to do: Doing the things we like to do first may not be a wise use of time and could actually miss the mark in terms of being productive.

Define importance and prioritize – There is a gravitational pull from all things in our orbit, but some things should be less significant. We have given artificial importance to a ringing phone, a new email or a co-worker question. Taking stock of how these distractions are forcing us to defer time spent on more important priorities is not easy, but practicing a time budget with key tasks allocated a fixed spot on the calendar is a start. Collaborative work is best done in an open environment, but sometimes physical separation may be needed to minimize time wasters. Unused minutes wasted today will not rollover to tomorrow.    

Plan and then take baby-steps – Breaking down the daunting and overwhelming projects into smaller doable tasks makes the job less likely to be put off until tomorrow. Impulsively starting a project without planning could lead to a complete restart if the direction were not contributing to an overall conclusion. Formulating an activity tree insures tasks are completed in succession, according to priority and within resource constraints. Monitoring results and graphically representing the steps for larger projects makes today seem real and tomorrow possible.

Understand how to say “no” – Forming realistic expectations and not trying to “do it all now” is important for making progress instead of becoming stagnant. So the first person to be told “no” is self. Recognizing capabilities and shortcomings is important in not only gaining the forward momentum needed but also in determining the logic of project progression. A fear of displaying weakness to management by saying “no” is unfounded in most cases. If results are important, displaying a “can do” attitude along with the caveat that additional help may be required can be seen as a sign of strength and intelligence.    

It is always possible to delegate – There is a myth that personal accomplishment is measured by our results alone. Accomplishments that come from collaborative action generally are greater than those of a single person. It is not necessary to be in a management position to ask for assistance, but it takes a bit of leadership skill to win acceptance and support. Showing colleagues the mutual benefit of working as an ad hoc team adds to an overall best use of time.  Delegating upward is also important. Tasks that are not clear or seem impossible without more information or resources need to be clarified or expanded.  

Time is fleeting. It may not be death, loss of a job or other tragic situation that stops us in our tracks. Being unprepared for successes may also result in our reputation or brand being impacted by unfinished work. Promotion or transfer to a different area is a common interrupter. Ask at the end of each day, “If I do not come back to this desk tomorrow what will someone else have to finish? Is it organized? Will my legacy be positive?” Ideas are also fleeting. On a more internal personal note, someone else’s success could have been yours if you had acted on a great idea by following up with a plan of action instead of waiting for the right time. Time keeps on slipping into the future (tick, tock, tick…).