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Leadership Thought #202 – Do You Always Wait Until The Last Minute?

August 30, 2018

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I have heard many leaders tell me they always wait to do something until the last minute because they perform best under this type of pressure.  Sounds like a bit of rationalization to me.  I know that when I procrastinate on something it is not because it is the best way to work – it is often quite the opposite.  I just don’t want to do whatever it is because I view it as drudgery, am unsure how to proceed or I’m not sure I’ll be pleased by the outcome.  I cannot imagine any scenario where purposefully putting yourself under time pressure until the last minute makes any sense.

Most of us are bad at managing our time.  We waste many hours and minutes throughout the day and then try to push all our productivity into only a few intense bursts of energy – hopefully, we are focused when this happens.   Unfortunately, this work style only accumulates burdens over time, and we get further and further behind on important responsibilities that require any significant amount of thought and/or work.  In addition, the little things that are less important at the time start to fall through the cracks.  We have all experienced that a bunch of smaller issues untended can lead to bigger problems.

I’ve also seen in myself and others that managing your time poorly only leads to a bad mood and increased stress for you and those around you.  There is enough stress in life as it is without creating it unnecessarily.  It also should be obvious that working until the early morning hours and adversely affecting your sleep isn’t a great plan for your performance the next day.  How many times have you seen someone yawn, struggle with focus, and fight to keep his or her eyes open during an important meeting?

Many years ago, when I was in college, I was talking to my mom on the phone about schoolwork and a big test that was coming up the next day.  She encouraged me to go to a movie and take the night off.  Her advice was that cramming rarely works. You can’t learn a semester’s worth of lessons in one night.  You were either paying attention or you were not.  You were either doing the assignments or not.  If you didn’t understand something, you asked for help or you didn’t.  She believed that putting yourself under this type of pressure only made things worse the next day and you would confuse the information or even if you got it right, you would never remember it after the test.   I still remember her saying, “Knowledge is about studying, practice and application not memorization. Give your brain a rest. It knows what to do…Being an adult is about being responsible for your actions.”

The major problem with procrastination is that it usually leads to less-than-ideal results (despite what we would like to believe).  You may get the job done but at what cost? Are the results being optimized?  There are many resources out there on time management including David Allen’s terrific book – Getting Things Done.  You also should be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot do well.  Seek help from other people who are better at certain things than you are.  They may even like to do what you dislike doing.  If you are a responsible adult, you will realize that the biggest barrier to your own happiness, productivity, and success is how you view and manage your time.