If you know me, you are wondering why in the world I am writing this. I have low self structure and low tolerance for external structure. Procrastination is my middle name.
Yet as any organization grows larger, procrastination is the grit that grinds the gears. It robs us of performance. It keeps an organization from focusing on mission. Procrastination creates sideways energy. We wait on other people. Deadlines are missed. The crucial conversations are unspoken.
That’s why the larger the organization becomes, the more procrastination must be attacked.
Why We Procrastinate
We procrastinate because:
- We have enough talent to pull something off at the last minute. When we had Sunday night services, I would sometimes prepare my sermon walking down the hall into the service. I had enough talent (extemporaneous speaking) and enough knowledge (Ph.D.) to pull it off. It worked about 70% of the time, just enough for me to justify it. It was, however, a path to mediocrity.
- We want to avoid the unpleasant. Maybe an assignment is outside our comfort zone. Maybe we are afraid of conflict. So we shuffle the pile, we do something that is a time killer, instead of that which is important.
- We live for the thrill of the urgent. Some of us have very high urgency scores. This leads us to love an “urgency high.” If you ever raced the clock on turning in paper, or studying for a test, you know this feeling. It is a rush. Unfortunately, it gives us the illusion of productivity, when in fact, the result of our high is less than quality work.
- We are waiting for “sure” and “certain.” You may have a personality that wants 100% of the information. This is impossible. Your failure fear corresponds to your thoroughness need. The higher your thoroughness need, the more likely you are to be afraid of failure.
- We are missing an important piece. This is when procrastination works for us. Something doesn’t feel right. We may be missing piece of data, or buy in for a key leader. Our reading of a meeting tells us people are saying “yes” verbally, but “no” with their souls. We delay action until something feels better.
- We replace the important with the urgent. This is most destructive form of procrastination. We have to meet deadlines and expectations, attend meetings and make phone calls. Emails pops up and says, “I’m here! Pay attention to me!” The important work – Vision, Strategy, leading leaders – is pushed aside. We may be proud of our producing a good looking chart, but that chart has done nothing to move the organization forward.
Why This Matters to Us Now
True confession: as the guy at the top of the organization I have been known to abuse my position. In my immature moments, when I have procrastinated, I have justified it as “No one knows the pressures I feel.” “No one has my schedule.” The truth is there are times when I have to ask people to flex because there is a genuine crisis. But the more dominant truth is I procrastinated, I didn’t follow my own schedule, I got engrossed in reading something interesting that wasn’t vital (my number one sin), or I was guided by my inner child “I don’t want to do this!”
Procrastination creates distrust in organizations. It makes wonder if the next deadline will be meet. It bends the family system. Soon the organization spends its time chasing each other instead of gaining higher ground.
The opposite of procrastination is not timeliness; it is trust. Trust is grease to the gears. The organization can go faster, farther, using less energy when there are high levels of trust. Decisions can be made and not checked out with supervisors because we know we can trust each other.
Trust also makes communication move from dial up to fiber optic. We are not trying to clean up old messes and undone assignments.
Trust creates respect. When I demonstrate I respect you by following the system, meeting or beating the deadline, I feel like you respect me. Although I have confessed I am a procrastinator, I can’t stand it in other people (I know, “First take the beam out of your own eye before you remove the speck from your brother’s eye”). When I distribute something to a team and all the responses pile in at the deadline, I can never give them my full attention. I like it when people are early.
Ultimately, to build a great team and a great organization, we must be unselfish. That means I must respect your needs, your system, and your deadlines.
What We Need to Do
If only we could say, “So stop procrastinating.” But it’s not that easy. If it were, we’d all be thinner, in better shape, and have a better devotional life.
What I can ask you do is engage in a 30 second personal exercise. Thirty seconds. That’s all.
Before I share the exercise with you, let me tell you about a conversation I had with Dick Lincoln years ago about church groups. I was asking his opinion about groups, and was candid enough to say, “I know we need groups. I just don’t really care. I don’t care if we have Sunday morning groups or home groups. I just know we need groups. I don’t care which.”
Dick stopped me short and said, “Clay, if you don’t care about groups, no one will. You must find why you care about groups.”
I’ve never forgotten that conversation. It’s my job to discover why I care.
So here’s your 30 second exercise: In one sentence, tell why you care about stopping your procrastination.
Before you start, let me give you a couple of thoughts. Find out why you care. Not why you should. To say something like “I care because I want us to honor God” – that only works if you are Mother Teresa.
So in one sentence, tell why you care about stopping your procrastination:
Imagine an Organization without Procrastination.
Imagine a being able to look everyone in the eye and know you meet or beat a deadline. Imagine how good you will feel knowing you did something that counted for the Kingdom. Imagine that you felt an explosion of trust with your peers. Imagine people at next the level of the organization – up or down – respecting you.
All this is possible –and more. It can happen when you find the reason to care.