The student syndrome is alive and well. I see it all around me, and I am no less guilty than any other.
Why do we put everything off until the last minute? Especially the important things?
I’ve recently read The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss, which has helped heighten my sensitivity to this phenomenon going on all around us.
Timothy explains in the book (and I agree) how many people fill their days up with “busy work” that takes real effort and activity, but delivers little value. Part of this is postponing those things that really add value. Usually these are the difficult tasks, which is why they are put off. It’s like subconsciously sticking our heads in the sand of minutia and busy work.
I have a renewed focus on my goal to increase productivity. I have become pretty good at being organized, which has helped. This new insight from Ferriss has helped me see the benefit of elimination, which means cutting out all the busy work that doesn’t really add much value. Instead, I plan to focus on the 20% of activities that deliver 80% of the potential value I can provide. Thank you, Vilfredo Pereto!
The same goes with my project work and writing activities. When I take a look at 50 project deliverables due, I can start to see how only about 10 of them add 80% of the value (from the point of view of my stakeholders). Thus, I should focus on those top 10 and leave the ones that provide less value for later. If bottom 10-value item doesn’t get done, it will likely be much less severe than a top 10-value item. (Note that there is no necessary correlation between the value added for a deliverable and the actual cost of completing it! Interesting….)
Of course, in project management there is usually the schedule and dependencies to worry about. If a task is on the critical path but delivers little value on its own, its still on the critical path. The 80/20 rule applies more during planning project work (setting priorities and alternative methods of getting the product produced). During execution, I would say it’s more of a general productivity issue in prioritizing work that needs to be done that day, and saving the fluff and “nice to haves” for later.
Thanks Timothy, for showing us again that almost everything applies to project management, and project management applies to almost everything.
About the author
Josh Nankivel is a Project Planning & Controls Control Account Manager and contractor for the ground system of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, a joint project between the USGS and NASA. His academic background includes a BS in Project Management, summa cum laude. He can be found writing and contributing in many places within the project management community, and his primary project management website is located at pmstudent.com.
1 thought on “Put Off Procrastination”
I want to extend Josh’s comments to say focusing on what’s important and adds value applies not only to projects but also programs and portfolios. Organizations are starting to do more coordinated prioritization and careful selection of projects but still suffer from allowing pet projects and exceptions to rule. These become “busy work” activities instead of contributing to strategic objectives. The same thing goes for many reports and metrics that need to be pruned to ensure they contribute value.
I would also add that setting [realistic] deadlines is one means to get value-added work done. I know that I tend to procrastinate, especially on some of the harder projects as Josh points out, up until there’s a real deadline. That provides the motivation to focus on a certain project or task. Setting and reminding people of deadlines is a key project manager responsibility. Be sure those deadlines are important, not just urgent.