Our management columnist's weekly compendium of tips to make you more effective
The notion of procrastinating productively sounds like an oxymoron. But productivity coach Helene Segura says it's quite possible, as long as you prepare in advance for those devilish moments of delay.
"The most common form of procrastination is grabbing our smartphones or tablets to check e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or some other form of social media. Unless your job is social media, going down this rabbit hole for 20 minutes or an hour, or longer, won't move you ahead. Instead, avoid one task by completing another. What else do you need to get done that's more enticing at that moment?" she writes on ChangeThis.
It might range from reconnecting with your favourite clients to writing a proposal due next week to washing the car. But don't leave that alternative to chance. You are already under stress when procrastinating and don't need more. Have a contingency plan in place.
She recommends starting each day with a three-plus-three plan – the three tasks you absolutely must complete and the three next most important. When thrown off your best work by the procrastination impulse, just pick up the next task (or the task after that) on the day's list and get something significant done.
In other words, procrastinate productively.
Blogger Rick Riddle urges you to develop self-discipline, which includes alternating the pleasant and unpleasant in your day's to-do list.
So instead of the three-plus-three plan, consider a list that deliberately alternates pleasant and unpleasant tasks – starting with a pleasant task that will motivate you to get started. Each time you hit an unpleasant task, you will know that a pleasant one is in the offing. Indeed, he suggests: "Once you have this habit internalized, you will be able to make a list with all unpleasant tasks at the top – your reward will be those that come later in the day that you really want to do."
Another trick he recommends is to remind yourself of the consequences of not completing the task before you. A business owner who loves the "people" aspect of work but hates the accounting and paperwork could remind himself that invoices and good accounting will bring in profit and keep the tax authorities off of his back.
Consultant Tanveer Naseer highlights research that the key to successful goal completion stems from how we shift our perception of progress as things move forward. At the start, he writes on his blog, it makes sense for us to focus on how much we've completed to date in terms of reaching our goal. But when we're about halfway there, we need to shift our focus to how much we have left to go if we are to sustain that drive to keep pressing on. "In other words, achieving our goals requires a shift from how far we've gone to how far we have left to go," he writes.
2. Beware of anger
Cornell University Professor Samuel Bacharach remembers the appeal of the movie Network, when Peter Finch as broadcaster Howard Beale urges viewers to stick their heads out the window and scream: "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more." Almost in unison, from every window in the neighbourhood, others join the chorus, as his fiery call to arms taps into widespread repressed anger.
The problem is that once anger is summoned, it is difficult to contain. He therefore warns that all leaders should be wary of using anger. "Your anger and passion may get you on first base and move your agenda forward, but if you're not careful, you may reap the whirlwind," he writes in Inc.
It's an important message as we watch Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders appeal to the anger within the American electorate brought on by deprivation, neglect and frustration. But it will be difficult for those leaders – and you, if you appeal to anger within your followers – to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
"Leaders must deliver on their passion and promises. They have to remember that their emotion may push away the moderate core they will need on their side when it comes time to execute. The leadership lesson is to keep your passion and rhetoric in check in the short-term to assure long-term success," he advises.
3. Beware of three myths about organizational change
Consultant Tom Searcy illuminates three myths about organizational change initiatives:
Myth: Transformational change is egalitarian
We believe everyone has to be on board for the initiative to work. But on chiefexecutive.net he says that waiting for everyone to agree is a pipe dream: "While there are some people in your company whose buy-in is necessary, it is not necessary to invest a lot of time and energy convincing team members who will barely be affected by the change of its necessity. The change goes forward either way. Move as many forward as you can as fast as you can. The team members not on board can either decide to come on board or go."
Myth: Transformational change is dramatic
Posters and video announcements seem mandatory, if not clowns, fireworks and a marching band to stir people up. Not so, he says. It doesn't need to be dramatic, just clear, answering the questions employees have.
Myth: Transformational change is top down
While senior executives seem to drive the commitment, change happens – or doesn't – due to the influence of "informal leaders" more than the top brass. In one company, the folks from various departments who gathered routinely through the day – the so-called "Smokers' Mafia" – were key to successful change.
4. Quick hits
– Appoint a geek as your next board member. At the board level, there is a need for knowledgeable, incisive independent directors with experience and perspective in putting technology to use, say consultants Chunka Mui, Toby Redshaw, and Olof Pripp. Many boards rely on management or external consultants for strategic advice but the stakes are now too high for that approach.
– Where financial presentations go wrong, according to Mississauga consultant Dave Paradi's recent survey: Too many numbers, too many details for the audience to understand, too small fonts, and tables of numbers rather than visuals such as graphs.
– Online shoppers soon become frustrated if they are sent back to the home page or an unrelated section when they press the "continue shopping" button. What if the same item is required in a different colour or the shopper wants a complementary item of clothing, asks marketing consultant Michele Miller. To prevent abandoned shopping carts, return the customer to where she was originally.
– The ability to scale up is overrated, says venture capitalist Guy Kawaski. Startups need to focus on people liking the product, not how to handle sudden mass usage. He has never seen a startup die because it couldn't scale up fast enough but hundreds fail because the product wasn't endearing.
– With computer time related to stress, information overload specialist Nathan Zeldes says we need to reduce computer usage in the workplace. One modest step is to intentionally support reading of paper publications by keeping a library or learning centre with paper copies of the main professional journals and daily papers. "Reading a paper hard copy is a very different experience: not only calmer but also devoid of interruptions," he notes.
– And in closing, Max DePree, former chief executive officer of Herman Miller, said, "I've got so many MBAs but what I need is a poet. Poets are the original systems thinkers."
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter