Time management isn't all it's cracked up to be
Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, popularized the concept of time management. At the time, I was so impressed, I even hired a Covey trained facilitator as a full-time employee in my company.
After a short while, staff began procrastinating and slipped back to old habits. Why is motivation spurred by time management so short-term?
Our days are filled with "tasks", meetings, deadlines, and to-do lists littered with checkboxes and cross-out lines. Daily success is measured by how much we "cross off," not how much we actually achieve.
In the quest for time management to check off as much as possible, we wind up creating stress, which leads to procrastination and delays; the very thing we're trying to avoid.
The solution? Throw out your dreaded to-do list and change the way you view time and tasks.
Science is on your side in your mission to conquer procrastination. Here's why.
Procrastination is not a sign of laziness, lack of focus or attention. Your brain actually uses procrastination as a means of protection from potential danger and discomfort. If you see a task as daunting, such as writing a report, doing your taxes or being in an awkward social situation, you may procrastinate to avoid pain or failure. Once you feel safe, you overcome procrastination.
Procrastination can be caused by feeling disorganized, poor planning and goal-setting, and time and task management deficiencies. Procrastinators also seek pleasure over responsibility, hence those hours wasted on Facebook or watching funny videos when we're supposed to be accomplishing that to-do list.
You can overcome procrastination, every time with the art of communication management.
A meeting is looming in which your team must prepare a major presentation. How do you deal with the stress? You make a list, which, most likely only offers a quick-fix and motivates no one. Lists can serve to show how little progress you've made and does not make you feel safer or less comfortable.
Instead, take some time to clarify what the mission, vision, goals, and objectives are for the matter at hand. What does this initiative mean for you, your team, your partners, and anyone else involved? Now, explore what tasks are needed to achieve these goals. How you direct your focus is very important here. You can focus on task to task, work day in and day out, or you can focus on the accomplishment of something great. Notice, you are no longer afraid of failure, but are motivated to succeed.
Watching funny animal or baby videos is instinct.
You use our prefrontal cortexes in the brain to help you make decisions and plan. Your limbic system is involved with emotions and influences the prefrontal cortex to "decide" to seek pleasure-inducing (fun) and motivational activities.
So if a task is not fun (creating a report), you may decide to seek a pleasurable activity (watching funny animal videos on YouTube). Fear and avoidance of uncomfortable work results in procrastination.
As I've mentioned in my book, The Four Intelligences of the Business Mind, fear is neither negative nor positive. It merely sends warning signs such as "Caution! Careful! Danger!" So at work when you feel overwhelmed and fear kicks in, you might tend to flee, fight, or freeze.
So how do you deal with these feelings? You either use the "sympathetic" approach of fight or flight or the "parasympathetic" approach of rest or digest to calm yourself.
Both are necessary and it is important to balance the two.
You want to be connected with your parasympathetic emotions (rest and digest) so you can think and be creative. And you also need sympathetic ways to get things done, such as putting together thrilling, and challenging activities. The key is to approach that team presentation in a pleasurable stimulating way. The brain releases dopamine as a reward, thus becoming addictive. The team will then look forward to this in the future, rather than dreading it.
A little controversy.
Some experts say that to overcome procrastination you need to get the easiest tasks out of the way, while others advise to attack the hardest tasks first. The fault here is that they are viewing the task on an individual basis instead of how it impacts the whole. When you know the importance of your role, are held accountable, and understand the significance of how your work impacts many, the motivation and enthusiasm to thrive increases (and procrastination decreases). When people come together with an attitude that the team needs to win, they overcome their own setbacks and go for the win.
Don't be so quick to judge.
What appears like procrastination to you may actually be productivity. A co-worker may be in the process of thinking, analyzing, strategizing, and getting things into perspective - which is actually work being done! Instead of criticizing, help them by seeking to understand their process and how it contributes to the whole. Then, they'll feel safe and the journey becomes enjoyable.
Now test your knowledge!
Which is time management and which is communication management? A sales organization might require 50 cold calls, 20 new client emails, 10 follow up, 8 face to face meetings per day/week, etc. Or, a sales organization sets an overall target goal of $3M in order to exceed last quarter's target, allowing the employees to be creative and strategic rather than crossing things off a list. A caveat here, time management and communication management are not mutually exclusive. In this case, communicating the goal (sales of $3M) is the priority. Then, figuring out the tasks that must be done in order to accomplish the goal is secondary.
Don't get me wrong, task-setting and to-do lists are a crucial part of any day. The key is frame them in motivational and meaningful ways to overcome fear and procrastination. I explore this topic in depth at my Communication Transformation workshop, which also dedicates and focuses on the HOW of effective communication for yourself and others. I invite you to learn more at http://acolyst.com/communicationworkshop. But, instead of looking at this as something to cross-off, think about how much fun it could be to change the way you live and work. It's all about transforming the way you communicate!
Valeh Nazemoff is the international bestselling author of The Four Intelligences of the Business Mind, as well as an executive coach, business consultant, and co-owner of Acolyst. She is founder of the Communication Transformation Business Workshop.