Time Management : Breaking Procrastination's Iron Grip On Your Life!

No task is a long one but the task on which one dare not start. It becomes a nightmare.
— Charles Baudelaire

Do you waste too much valuable, irreplaceable time each day feeling guilty about crucial tasks that are either not started or, worse yet, not finished?

If you answered ‘yes’, you’ve got loads of company.

Not only is the condition of procrastination prevalent, so too is its most common definition, ‘the thief of time’.  English poet Edward Young, who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries, originally coined that perfect phrase.

For those of us who have survived the 20th century and are now looking for ways to do better in the 21st century, the words of 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire contain the ring of truth. His quote opened this article:

“No task is a long one but the task on which one dare not start. It becomes a nightmare.”

Let’s be real.

Both you and I know exactly what living such a nightmare is like! That’s because every single time we choose to delay starting or finishing a key task, it eats at us like a rat gnawing through a load-bearing rope. Eventually something is going to come crashing down!

If you think about the many times you’ve put yourself in such a situation because of excessive procrastination, you’ll realise it is truly one of the main reasons people fail to even begin to approach their full, awesome God-given potential. As Cervantes wrote in Don Quixote, “Delay always breeds danger; to protract a great design is often to ruin it.”

To protract a project means to delay starting on it or unnecessarily stretching out the time needed to work on it.

My work with many consulting clients over the years has taught me that most of us KNOW what should be done to accomplish more during our work hours.

Total ignorance or even a partial lack of knowledge is not usually the problem.

The most common factor is a devastating lack of purpose.

(A deeper discussion of this and related issues is found within my ebook UNSHACKLED! 7 Ways to Make Time For MY Dreams. Details may be found below.)

This lack of purpose manifests itself as a chronic malady that I consider to be a ‘vacuum of intent’ that attacks our daily schedules. It festers and becomes a breeding ground for four time-sapping maggots:

1. Procrastination;

2. Apathy;

3. Inertia; and

4. Nuisances.

Look at those four words again. You’ll notice their first letters form an excruciatingly familiar word!

In my time management workshops, I use the acrostic P-A-I-N to help participants remember these evil enemies of effective, purposeful living.

The head honcho of that fiendish foursome is our ancient time thieving nemesis Procrastination!

And just as cutting off the head of a fairytale monster is the key to killing it, eliminating procrastination has the predictable result of rendering those three other time thieves – apathy, inertia and nuisances – as impotent as ancient eunuchs who served the reigning Emperor of China in the Forbidden City.

Unfortunately, the chief robber of this vile band, procrastination, exhibits powerful Phoenix-like tendencies:

It refuses to stay dead.

And its trait of repeated resuscitation is so fused onto our human DNA that we experience relapses of Procrastination Syndrome with depressing regularity.

Incidentally, that’s why so few people accomplish great things in life.

But you and I are different. We are passionate about achievement, and are laser-focused on making something magical happen in and through our lives!

So we should take to heart something Benjamin Franklin observed way back in 1756:

“Tomorrow, every Fault is to be amended; but that Tomorrow never comes.”

We should take it to heart, that is, and then resolve to declare all-out war on this deep-seated tendency within us to delay acting on all that is most important to us.

The most effective people are those who have learnt to deal with the chronic malady of procrastination on a regular, preferably daily, basis.

Here are my five steps for doing so:

  1. At the end of each working day, in the fifteen minutes before you tear yourself away from the office, focus (and refocus) on why EXACTLY you are paid to do what you do;
  2. With that reason seared into your mental pathways, decide on the three or four major tasks that MUST be accomplished the following day to justify your existence as an economic entity;
  3. Set your priorities, while relinquishing your posteriorities, in terms of specific tasks. Then go home to your loved ones – and try not to dwell on work issues while there (if you’re at home, truly be at home);
  4. The next day, get to the office early; aim to be the first in; and
  5. Before the distractions – ‘nuisances’ like ringing phones, persistent emails, and unceasing meetings – set in, start on your number one prioritised task. Stay on it, like a ravenous dog crunching a sumptuous bone, until your job is done OR you can’t move it any further along that day! Then begin immediately on the next most important task. Keep going until a quarter of an hour before knocking off time. Then, revisit step 1!

Steps 1,2,4 and 5 are self-explanatory. But the central Step 3 warrants some elaboration.

Remember our purpose here is to defeat personal procrastination and thus become more effective. To do so, paradoxically, we should harness our natural procrastinating tendencies!

Confused? Let me explain:

Our goal in Step 3 is to set priorities and relinquish posteriorities.

A priority, as everyone knows, is something more important than something else. For instance, exceeding your boss’s expectations is a higher priority than going for that second coffee break of the day. But because each of us has only 24 hours a day, there’s no way we can get everything done that clamours for our attention.

Management guru Peter Drucker coined the term ‘posteriority’ to refer to relatively unimportant things that should be dropped from our lives to clear space for what is important. In this area - and this area alone – we need to exercise intelligent procrastination!

Therefore, giving up that second daily coffee break with colleagues in favour of creating time in your schedule to begin (or continue) on a high priority task is a classic example of wise posteriority setting.

The five steps outlined above form a structured, practical blueprint for overcoming procrastination.

If you really need to see vast improvement in your personal time management skills, I suggest you try my simple blueprint every day for one month.

Carefully observe what happens to your level of personal effectiveness at the end of the first day, the third day, the seven day, the twelfth day, the twentieth day, and the thirtieth day!

Then please write to me at rajen@RajenDevadason.com to let me know how things have improved. I wish you well!

(For more practical help on managing your time better – both at work and at home – read and study my ebook UNSHACKLED! 7 Ways to Make Time For MY Dreams. Details can be found in the Success eBooks section of my site.)