“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” – Mark Twain
Ask anyone who doesn’t know me well and they’re likely to tell you that I’m a serial procrastinator. I’m really not, I just have a very deliberate way of approaching projects, and that way can appear to others as procrastination. I don’t like “re-dos” and I like self-imposed “do-overs” even less. I’d rather take the time necessary to do it right the first time than lose that time with an endless chain of restarts. From the outside looking in, it might seem like I’m dragging my feet when I’m actually thinking it through. Some people misinterpret that as procrastination.
I’m not a procrastinator. I’m a planner.
The term “procrastination” derives from the Latin verb procrastinare – literally, to put off until tomorrow. Throughout history, some of our greatest minds have warned against the dangers of procrastination. Martin Luther cautioned, “How soon not now, becomes never.” Charles Dickens referred to procrastination as the “thief of time.” Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against prostrating yourself on the railroad tracks of history to wait for “the train of the future” to run you over. Personally, I prefer the timeless words of master carpenter Norm Abram: “Measure twice, cut once.”
Some people like to jump in with both feet, Leeroy Jenkins-style. I respect that. In some ways, I find it entertaining (it’s fun to watch, not as much fun to be part of). But I’d prefer to take the time to get it right the first time. That frees up critical time in the event something interrupts the process, the circumstances change, or the deadline gets bumped up. You can’t turn back from the Leeroy Jenkins approach. Once you’re in, you’re committed. It’s all over but the crying.
Researchers will tell you that procrastination is caused by everything from inbred laziness to a genuine inability to cope with negative emotions. Entire volumes are written on the subject and there’s no shortage of self-professed “life coaches” offering solutions to your procrastination problem. But, in all seriousness, it’s really not all that complicated. I can cure your procrastination problem in five easy steps, and I’m not even a life coach. Maybe I should be, but that’s a topic for another day.
1. Have a plan
This is really where success starts, but it’s also where people will start to question your work ethic. Take the time to develop a plan: figure out what “right looks like” when you’re done, set milestones to assess progress, and establish a timeline. What are the key tasks you have to accomplish? Where are the risks involved? What resources do you need to complete the project? What expertise is necessary? When are you expected to deliver a completed product? Getting those answers will take some time, but it’s time well spent.
2. Break it down, Barney-style
If you’ve put together a Lego set in the past few years, you may have noticed that the sets are now broken down into individual bags that correspond to discrete steps in the construction process. The Danes are such practical people. They knew that there’s nothing more frustrating that building an Imperial Superstar Destroyer from a single, massive pile of gray bricks. So, they started breaking their sets down into more manageable “chunks.” The same thinking should apply to any project. Once you have a plan, subdivide the project down to the task-level, where execution is more manageable, and progress can be tracked more easily.
3. Gather the relevant information
Growing up, my father taught me an incredibly valuable lesson – one that I promptly ignored. Every time we tackled a major project, he would throw away the instructions. As an engineer, he valued the ability to figure things out for yourself. The end result of that philosophy was usually me digging the instructions out of the garbage can and hours of lost time. When you’re taking on a major project or initiative, set aside the time to gather the relevant information before you execute. A little time spent up front saves a lot of time down the road.
4. Get the details right
This is the spirit of Norm Abrams quote. As a carpenter myself, there’s nothing quite as dissatisfying as cutting all the wood for a project 1/16-inch short because you didn’t account for the width of the saw blade. That’s a lot of money down the drain because you didn’t pay enough attention to detail. Time is money; take the time to ensure you’ve got every minute detail accounted for before you execute your plan. You won’t get a second chance to engage the saw blade.
5. Grow a thick skin
From the outset, the “naysayers” will be nipping at your heels. Ignore them. This is the one time that it pays to stick to the plan. Execute your plan deliberately and only deviate from that plan if conditions change, not because someone else wants to go Leeroy Jenkins on you. Take your time and do it right the first time.
Measure twice, cut once. But don’t procrastinate.