I hate managing priorities. Mainly because I have too many, priorities that is. I suspect that most of us who are in knowledge intensive jobs that have a great deal of agency are in that same boat. We see something cool and we want to do that.
A few months ago, I wrote a post on priority management called Loved and Valued. The premise of that post is that, while you might love a certain idea or project, if it isn’t valued by the organization, you shouldn’t pursue the idea. At the same time, there is a lot of work in our lives that isn’t loved, that has to be done (for me, that includes anything related to administration). It is often easy to focus on the little administrative stuff rather than world-changing stuff.
The other side of priority management is procrastination. I am a master at finding distractions to avoid working on projects, especially those projects which have fuzzy, vague deadlines far into the future, those projects which are undefined and I don’t really know what I’m doing. They seem like they will be hard. And really, I’m terrified that I don’t know how to even start. So I don’t. Start, that is.
Oh, I think. I’ve got plenty of time. I’ll start that tomorrow, next week, or next month. Less painful than thinking about this right now. I’d rather play free cell or go on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in (insert your favourite social media site here). The kind of work I’m talking about is the kind of work that gets you noticed, stuff that might have an impact on your organization, the world, people around you. But it also gets you judged. This is where the fear kicks in. What if it isn’t good enough? What if it is just plain wrong? What if I have to defend it? What if they think I’m stupid?
So I just don’t get started. This is not about “time management”. This is about fear management and temporal perspective. This project won’t be any easier because I put it off until the last-minute, in fact it will be harder. If I don’t try to do the work, I won’t find out that it isn’t as hard as I thought.
I don’t have any pat answers for those of us who are trying to kick the procrastination habit. I try to create structure for myself, with lots of interim deadlines and accountability to others. I create a distraction free environment to help myself. Recently I’ve been using simple reflections to get myself to sit down and do the work:
- Is this work important?
- Why am I trying to avoid doing this?
- What would I be giving up if I left this to the last-minute again?
- Is goofing off worth the guilt I will feel?
- Is goofing off worth the stress I will feel?
- Am I going to feel satisfaction when this task is done?
Just be cause a project is loved and valued, doesn’t mean that we won’t procrastinate. The gap between intention and action is filled by many barriers. In order to do anything worthwhile, we have to overcome our fears, and just get started.