Updated: Apr 5
I have always loved finding ways to be more efficient in life. My mother was famous for saying “don’t leave the room empty-handed”. As kids, my brothers and I knew if we were walking from the kitchen to our bedrooms, we should look around and see what needed to be brought with us or dropped off along the way: an encyclopedia back to the bookshelf, a pile of clean towels put into the linen closet, or a replacement box of tissues brought to a bedroom. The point was to not make two trips when one would do. My mom was a time multiplier before it was a time management buzz word.
The lessons stuck with me - I write lists, prioritize, and schedule tasks based on how much I can finish in the amount of time I have. I read books constantly on ways to improve efficiency, and I preach several tips for time management to anyone who will listen. I get excited every time I find a new multiplier. One of my favorites is the catch up over manicures and prosecco monthly – pretty hands AND chat time AND prosecco? Check! Check! Check!
So, when I sat down to write a recommendations report for a client recently, my behavior confounded me.
I had allocated 3 nights to summarize the client’s challenges, identify strategies, and create solutions. Plenty of time, yet somehow there I was, at 11PM on a Friday night staring at the laptop.
Early in the day I had committed to delivering the work to the client before going to bed – I was confident I could finish, despite the client’s feedback that he wasn’t going to work that weekend. I only had 4 slides left to finish, and I knew the content. Super easy.
And then, I did nothing….
For 6 hours – I did nothing. I had all of the information; I could have finished the work in 30 minutes. But I didn’t. I wouldn’t leave the house, because I had this project to finish, but I just would not do it. I’d tell myself, “just one more episode of Scandal” (Olivia Pope is my spirit animal), “just one more google search” “just one more <insert nonessential task here>”. I had no ability to just finish the work and move on. And I couldn’t wrap my head around why. I’m the queen of time management – this had taken far too long; what was wrong with me?
I have a gift for procrastination on things I don’t like to do…. going to the gym, anything having to do with building websites and web content, and bookkeeping to name a few. I can come up with any reason to avoid all of those – and I mean ANY reason. But, finishing a recommendation for a client? Solving problems? That’s my jam – I am always on point when it comes to that!
I had a problem. So, I called my buddy Dave, a fellow business book junkie. He was somewhere in South America, but he answered his phone anyway. And he replied to my dilemma in exactly the way that would motivate me most. Following a technique from “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, Dave asked me what I wanted to accomplish in the next 25 minutes. He challenged me to be assertive. He committed to checking in when the alarm sounded. He drove me to define a realistic but challenging goal, and he held me accountable.
With a goal and a deadline, I sat down and immediately started writing. And in 25 minutes, I finished what I hadn’t done in 5 hours. He gave me a 5-minute break, and then we set the goal for the next 25 minutes: to edit, proofread, and complete the report. He checked back in, and the work was complete. And it only took 50 minutes. And 6 hours of procrastinating. And a call to Chile.
I pride myself on helping people and companies to operate better, smarter, and faster. And I hold myself to the same standards. In this situation, hindsight tells me that I may have allocated too much time for the work.
As I look back, I see the behavior pattern, but I didn’t notice it in the moment. Without a deadline or another commitment waiting for me, I just burned hours under the guise of “working on the report”. I wasn’t working at any level of efficiency; I just wasn’t allowing myself to do anything else. My procrastination skills seeped through undetected. Sneaky time thief!
They say if you need something done, ask a busy person. There’s a reason for that. When there is so much time available, there is so much time to waste. When the time available is limited, you just get things done.
So I urge you to be aware of how you are spending your time. Allow yourself those moments of downtime to savor a few episodes of your favorite show, to go for a walk, to read a book, but keep to a schedule when you need to – don’t let procrastination and avoidance rob you of true free time.
And please don’t be afraid to ask for the specific accountability help you need. Accountability circles are great for long term projects – they keep you focused and driven toward a bigger goal. I am in a few, and I love the motivation, support, and cheerleading that comes from them.
For the smaller things, the ones that need to be done now, whether writing a paper or cleaning the house, ask yourself what you can accomplish in 25 minutes. Set an alarm. Set your goal. Achieve it and more. Rest and recharge for 5 minutes, then get started again. And if you can’t hold yourself accountable, call a friend; call me. Get it off your brain so you can get on to the next project or the next holiday or the next episode of GOT with a clear head and a guilt-free conscience…
Go forth and shine, my friends…
Rita is a dedicated mentor, coach, speaker, and trainer, she helps Individuals and management teams create customized solutions based on their own unique challenges. Rita loves being a coach, a trainer, a strategist, and sharpener of business acumen—which really means she helps you see other options when you think you’ve run out of them.
Rita holds a BSBA from the Boston University Questrom School of Business, and an MBA from Wayne State University. When Rita's not consulting or coaching, she's an active member of Rotary International and serves as a Board Member and the Chair of Service Projects at the Rotary Club of Shanghai.