I was working away on a new business plan with Paul Engels of Veloxsites fame when out of the blue he said something like: “Stop the presses, we have to do this differently.” Being an inquisitive type and not understanding what on earth he was talking about, I asked him what’s up.
Well Paul had gotten fed up (and rightly so) with the quantity of words in the document. Being someone who as you might imagine, has a love affair with words, I was very disappointed as I actually wanted to add more words.
The way I figure it, no one reads business plans anyway so adding more words just makes the plan seem all the more righteous. But no, this wasn’t what Paul was talking about.
What he wanted was to add more pictures. Yes, replace words with cute little pictures and diagrams that make it so that people who don’t like to read things can get some value out of a document.
That’s when he said something that rocked my world. He gave me a new way to think about communication. What he said was:
Having a picture gives the reader permission to skip reading in detail.
And this is true. When there are pictures in a document, most readers gravitate directly to the pictures and skip the rest. Genius. What it means for you, is that if you want to communicate better, draw some pictures.
So if procrastination isn’t a bad thing and instead is just a value judgement made by anally-retentive over-achievers (see yesterday’s blog) then it is something to be celebrated.
Before we actually get around to creating National Procrastinator’s Day, maybe we should focus on how to become better procrastinators. Here then are five easy steps to save time and effort by becoming a better procrastinator:
- When someone else gives you a task to do along with a deadline, ask them if they really really need it by the deadline date or whether it is an artificial date. Try to get that deadline extended.
- After a few days have gone by, ask a bunch of really tough questions that will make the other person think hard and take a while to answer. This makes the other person think that you’re really getting at it and at the same time it can cut down what you need to do or potentially delay completion even more.
- Let the task roll around in your head for a while, all the time thinking about what is the least amount of work you can do to get the task done. Ask more questions to seem busy and try to reduce the task or eliminate it.
- Once you have figured out the absolute minimum amount of work needed (see blog on Perfectionism) then figure out the absolutely latest time possible that you can start the task.
- Once that time has past, get down to and rescue victory from the jaws of defeat by doing even less work than you thought you needed to do and pulling off a miracle to complete the task on time.
Now you may think I’m joking about this but I’m being perfectly serious. A lot of us spend too much time doing things that don’t need to be done or spending too much time on things of little value.
The great thing about procrastination is that it can be used as a tool to avoid doing the unnecessary and reducing time on the unimportant.
You would think from the comments to my last blog that people feel very guilty when they procrastinate. I find that really funny as I never feel guilty when I procrastinate.
Apparently, there are three types of procrastinators, Delayers put things off for all sorts of reasons, Perfectionists don’t let go of something until it is perfect and Distractibles are people who are easily distracted by bright shiny objects.
No matter what type of procrastinator you happen to be, most people seem to feel some form of guilt, anxiety, dissatisfaction, depression or self-loathing when they procrastinate.
Silly, silly, silly. This must be something like left-over guilt from toilet training when one is young. After all, if you aren’t late at delivering something you promised,who cares if you did it at the last minute or weeks ago? Why do we think it is better to do things early that to do it late. After all, what does it really matter when you do it, as long as it is of acceptable quality and on time?
In fact the way I think about it, there are a bunch of benefits to procrastinating when trying to do something:
- Whatever you have to do might get cancelled before you get to it.
- You get to do things you like more first.
- You get more time to figure out what to do. (If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.)
- You can get it all done at once.
So it’s time to take off the shackles of unwarranted value judgements designed in the Victorian age to benefit the early bird who gets lots of worms. Stop feeling guilty about doing things at the last minute. Who really cares when you do something?
Procrastination is much better that not getting stuff done. These are the people who really should feel guilty, the ones who don’t produce. And the funny thing is that the non-producers don’t feel guilty about their lack of production. So why should you feel guilty about procrastinating?
I have a friend who considers herself to be a terrible procrastinator and yet she is one of the most productive people I know. If you look up stuff on procrastination online, you’ll get all sorts of information on how bad it is to procrastinate and how you can overcome this horrid tendency in 5 easy steps.
So if procrastination is so bad, how is it that my friend can be so productive? Maybe we have it all wrong, maybe procrastination is actually a good thing.
First lets look at what procrastination is. Various sites define procrastination as “the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of more pleasurable ones.” It is also defined as “the act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off or delaying especially something requiring immediate attention.” “To postpone or delay needlessly.”
Now this friend of mine fits the bill to a T. If she has something that just has to be done for work and she doesn’t want to do it, she’ll do anything else instead. When she should be working the weekend on a report, she’ll spend the time tidying her place, cleaning, doing errands, laundry, almost anything other than doing the report.
If you notice the definitions of procrastination and the description of my friend’s activities, you’ll notice something interesting. Procrastinators are not people who do nothing, they just happen to do things in an order that would seem to be counter-productive, less important before more important.
And when I look at it that way, procrastination doesn’t seem all that bad. You’re still getting stuff done, just perhaps not in the order that would seem to make sense.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re told that you must be persistent, that persistence will make you successful and I suppose that the same thing is told to many people in developing their careers. But what do you be persistent about?
Many people seem to think that being persistent means doing the same thing over and over again until somebody pays attention to what you’re doing. That, unfortunately, as I have seen recently, is just wrong headed. (Or in my case, pig headed.)
If battering your head against a closed door is being persistent and that won’t work then what things are you supposed to be persistent about? I’ve been trying to come up with a list of four things that entrepreneurs need to be persistent about and here they are:
- Innovating – As an entrepreneur or even as an employee you must be constantly innovating. Being persistent at changing what you’re doing may eventually make you successful.
- Networking – Yes, I know I have mentioned that I hate networking but if you want to find your tribe (thanks Seth Godin) you must be persistent about networking.
- Listening – Networking isn’t about telling your idea, it’s about listening to their problems. Persistent listening will uncover more that you ever find by telling.
- Learning – Finally, if you’re networking and listening then you might learn. It is the persistent learner that then becomes the best innovator and you end up back at the beginning of this list. (Lather, rinse, repeat.)
So if you are not analytical, how do you make decisions? Are you in fact even conscious of the way you make decisions? I thought not.
I guess we all do it but essentially, if you make decisions using only one way, it means that you’re ignoring different ways you can make decisions. If you’re being analytical, then perhaps you’re ignoring what your emotions say.
Or if you’re making decisions emotionally, then perhaps you’re ignoring any analysis which might be available.
All of the stuff on emotional intelligence would say that you should be conscious of your emotions when making decisions but there is a catch here. To be conscious of your emotions, you must become analytical. And if you’re analytical, it is likely that you do not pay enough attention to your emotions.
And this is where everything breaks down. Most people just are not analytical so by virtue of this, they can’t become emotionally intelligent. Interesting conundrum isn’t it?
To become more emotionally intelligent you must be more analytical. Seems counterintuitive but it really rests at the crux of a lot of problems.
I just read a report that says that analytics is the next big thing in digital marketing. I’ve been listening to James Standen of nModal say this same thing for several years and I’m beginning to see that this might be true, to a point.
Overall I don’t think many people are really into analytics. I was talking to several people at a client’s yesterday about some potential analytics for their business and got a lukewarm response.
I went home reminded that while I am REALLY into analytics, not everyone else is. (Yes, I know, there are some of you who are making snide comments because I am an analytics nerd.)
It made me think back to all of the fascinating (well they were to me) analytics based reports I have done in the past. To me they were incredibly mind blowing, strategy altering, and revealing pieces of data with great import. To many who read them though they were a big whoop, not that the information wasn’t new but they just didn’t seem to care.
I have even gone so far on two occasions to start businesses based on new data or on different ways of looking at data and got very spotty market response.
So why is it that people just are not into analytics for the most part. And if they don’t like analysis, how do they get the right information to make decisions?
(And by the way, for those of you who thought you knew where the word analytics comes from you are probably wrong. It is from the Greek “analuein” which is the concatenation of “ana” meaning up and “lysis ” meaning a loosening, ergo: loosening up.)
There appears to be a lot of well meaning advice on how to train someone who doesn’t listen to you to actually listen. Unfortunately, the advice is all very formulaic and I’m not sure it will work.
Having had this problem in the past, I have some degree of experience and frustration on the subject. The problem is that when you try to train someone to listen, you are trying to change their behaviour and that is a hugely complex task.
I first tried all the standard ways of getting them to listen like yelling at them, brow-beating them and stomping my feet but that just turns people off.
I have tried giving people a structured memo pad to write things down on. (I really loved the memo pad but almost no one else did and they resisted using it.)
I have tried getting employees to write down what we agreed on and send it back to me in an email. That too was pretty much a failure as who has the patience to police that type of action?
What I finally decided was that I had to marginalize and eventually get rid of people who don’t listen. You just can’t spend the time necessary to teach them.
Either people are learners who can see a problem and work to improve themselves or they aren’t. If someone is a learner, they’ll figure out what to do if you just tell them what they need to learn.
If they aren’t a learner, there is nothing you can do about it. So give up and get rid of them.
I just discovered that there is an International Listening Association. Who knew? They are a professional organization whose members are dedicated to learning more about the impact listening has on all human activity.
“One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know at least somebody’s listening”. — Franklin P. Jones
While at first I laughed when I heard of their existence, the more I think about it, the more I can see what they might have to offer.
Having had employees in the past who didn’t do what I really wanted done, I wonder if their problem was that they were bad listeners. While the responsibility for communication is in the hands of the sender, if you don’t have an active listener on the other end, you might as well be barking in the wind.
But how do you know whether you’re not explaining something properly, someone is just ignoring you or whether they might really have a problem listening?
And if listening is a skill that can be learned, how do you teach people to be better at it?
Today’s TED Talk by Sarah Lewis contains an interesting discussion on Success versus Mastery. I’ll let the video speak for itself but wanted to extend something I was writing about a few days ago on perfection.
If success is doing something right one time and mastery is about being able to do it time and time again, Sarah has stated that it is important to celebrate the near wins as small failures are necessary to achieve mastery.
This means though that a perfectionist will never achieve mastery due to an obsession with small successes. Instead of being able to let go when perfect success is not achieved and trying again, the perfectionist will devote entirely too much time to each success and thus never achieve mastery.
The perfectionist will never produce the volume of work necessary to learn to become a master so in itself, perfectionism is the ultimate failure.
Anyone, enough of my sometimes incoherent ramblings. Watch Sarah.