A Project Manager's Perspective on Procrastination & Time Management

Introduction Writing about time management is a difficult thing. Actually, it isn't. It's WHEN you write about it that is difficult. One of the biggest challenges to successfully managing your time effectively is this behavioral demon called "Procrastination". I have been inspired to write this blog by my friend and fellow PMP, Andy Kaufman, who's podcast on procrastination can be heard here: https://PeopleAndProjectsPodcast.com/123. The LinkedIn post that promoted the podcast can be seen here: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/buildleaders_projectmanagement-leadership-management-activity-6734100567251054592-iDIq In this Podcast Andy's guest says that, in some cases, it is fashionable to say that you are procrastinating. I was shocked when I heard this as I think of procrastination as a bad behavior. I do remember people not getting things done, or not getting my things done, because they are "too busy" or "swamped". This, I found common in the type of procrastination that I define as "Occupational or Trade Procrastination". I find this to be somewhat histrionic. Procrastination Types Identified There are many reasons why things are not done in a timely manner and when they are done, why they are not done correctly or with the highest level of quality. In today's world, we get things done by executing multiple tasks or steps. Sometimes those tasks or steps are not controlled by us and have dependencies. When we experience this we end up with delays of execution and not getting the desired results leaving a high level of dissatisfaction. Procrastination, according to Merriam-Webster is "to put off intentionally and habitually". This definition puts the responsibility on one person or entity. While it doesn't say what the root cause of procrastination is, it may imply "laziness" or lack of focus. It's not that at all, as a matter of fact, in today's world, there are different types of Procrastination that I hinted upon as a comment to Andy's LinkedIn post. I've identified three different types of procrastination. They are: Personal Procrastination Delaying an event, such as taking an exam, changing jobs, getting married (once you and your intended are in agreement with being married to each other) are examples of things that we have total control over. So why the delay? What is the root cause? I've noticed for this type of procrastination that the root cause is primarily fear of failure. This makes sense as no one wants to fail. As project managers, we know that failure is a real risk and that risk needs to be identified, analyzed and managed to the point that if the risk does become an incident it will be of low impact and recovery will be relatively easy. Failure, to some extent, is a reality that can never be eliminated 100%. Perhaps the reason for this type of procrastinating is because we feel we don't have enough information or wisdom to make an informed decision. Remedy: Don't be Kermit the Frog! Institutional Procrastination The root cause of this is the "process" that MUST be followed. (We've heard "Trust the process" quite often recently!) Often times an institution, (corporation or government) can't get things done in a timely fashion because of too many entities involved in the final result that take advantage of their SLA to deliver later than sooner. The process of overcomplicating a simple task is known as a Rube Goldberg Machine. This takes the focus of delivering of Minimal Viable Product and puts the focus on following process and procedures, which may not add value or guarantee quality or safety of the deliverable. For example, I saw a job opportunity one Sunday and applied online immediately. Eight days later, I received the "Thanks but no thanks" e-mail. Often times, within an organization, these policies and procedures MUST be followed otherwise anyone that breaks them is subject to disciplinary action. Once again, FEAR is a demotivator. In addition, the SLA "gives permission" to not expedite a process that can easily result in an early completion of a task. When you have an estimate that works in the Rough Order of Magnitude, your estimate can be -25% to +75% of the actual completion. An SLA written to this allows a delivery date of 100 days out to be as late as 75 days beyond that with no penalty to the provider. The problem is that this 75 days delay can impact your project's completion by 75 days. In literature and the arts, we've seen Institutional Procrastination normalized. The 1985 Terry Gilliam movie "Brazil" was based on George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four". The result of a Institutional Procrastination can certainly contribute to Personal Procrastination. It can also result in perceived "illegal" activities -- click on the meme to see a clip from the movie "Brazil". Remedy: Don't be like Central Services creating a Rube Goldberg Machine which creates unnecessary delays. Occupational or Trade Procrastination I've noticed this in certain occupations where advocacy is their main service and they will often tell you that they are too busy once they get your business. These occupations, as part of their livelihood, may require that the practitioner get signed commitments from their clients/customers for exclusive engagement, under statutory or legal penalty. We've seen this in occupations that are licensed by certain government jurisdictions who provide legal protection to the practitioner, not to the consumer. How many of these can you identify? Many of these Occupational Procrastinators measure their success in terms of quantity of engagements, projects started or clients signed on. Their success may be recognized through financial rewards as in bonuses, commissions or increases in lines of credit. But they don't finish what they start, resulting in lost money and dissatisfied clients who have lost opportunities because of them. It's important to recognize this sort of procrastination as it can contribute to personal procrastination. Remedy: If you are in one of these occupations, consider that the measure of your success is in delivering to your clients what you promised them and that repeat business and referrals from that client is your true measure of success! Where are we now? Have you ever been asked this question from a supervisor, client, family member or friend regarding a promise you made to them? It's possible that you don't know the answer, perhaps because you've been distracted by other things. One of the biggest distractors that I've seen comes from the Occupational or Trade Procrastination space. These folks are so busy engaging commitments of new clients/customers and ask you to do their job of marketing, legal research, etc of your request. Not only do you run the risk of doing their job incorrectly, you also run the risk of losing time doing your job of honing your skills or preparing your product. This is often referred to as Scope Creep. For example you want to sell your house. You become engaged with a professional who has the ability to bring several financially qualified buyers to you. The professional should "inspect" your house, get the market comps and market it to their inventory of qualified buyers. They should not ask you to do any of their work simply because you are busy in buying a new house and preparing the move to that new house. You are also preparing/repairing your current home to make it sellable. As a result of this distraction, you may not have a new place to call home and you have a contract or closing date on your current home. Now, you are in the unfortunate position to renegotiate the closing date on your current home, which may result in the mortgage rate changing, which can cancel the deal. Reducing or Eliminating Procrastination In conclusion, consider the following: Tips in Procrastination Reduction (1) Take charge of your tasks, projects and life. Look at things from the perspective of a Project Manager. Start simply by using a Kanban board. It's more than just a board with columns and sticky notes. Each of those columns must have a WIP (Work In Progress) Limit. This is especially good for those where Occupational or Trade Procrastination is common practice. If you are in any of these advocacy occupations or trades, you cannot have a large active "Work in Progress" log and provide 100% customer satisfaction. It's about quality of work, not quantity of work. (2) Before you start to execute your plan, use the tool of "Critical Path Method" analysis to determine how you will get from Start to Finish. While Murphy's Law does enter into many plans, with the Critical Path Method analysis, you are able to layout various paths from Start to Finish, just make sure that you are able to be agile enough to go from the current path that you are on, that unexpectedly gets interrupted, to another path that you've laid out. A simple real life example is driving from home to work. In the event traffic slows down or stops on your preferred route, make sure that you've got easy access to get onto your alternate route. Final Steps Never, at any time, stop the motion of moving forward. Never, stop and wait, for someone else to complete their tasks of which you are dependent on. After introducing the concept of Rough Order of Magnitude to them, introduce and enforce, a Definite Estimate, which would reduce the estimating time of that 100 day task from 75 days to 175 days down to an estimation time of 95 days to 110 days. While anyone would prefer getting something completed in 75 days over 95 days, keep in mind that there are unexpected events, so the top range of 110 days worst case is favorable over the 175 days worst case. Always track your progress Always reward yourself upon completion of major tasks and projects. Always identify and learn from the experience Always incorporate this new knowledge from the experience into best practices. ©2020 Tufaro Information Systems ©2020 Nicholas Tufaro PMP