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There’s a saying in Hindi, “Kal karo so aaj, aaj karo so ab” (“What you wish to do tomorrow, do today; what you wish to do today, do now”). In short, don’t procrastinate.

In the following talk given at the National Institute of Professional Secretaries, R.N. Vadivelu, Assistant General Manager, Central Bank of India, provides doctors, secretaries, bosses and all those who procrastinate with a remedy against procrastination.

Life Without Procrastination

It is a universally acknowledged fact that one does not have time to do all the jobs one has to do. Therefore, efficient management of time is needed to avoid procrastination. People tend to procrastinate by nature. Some of the experiences that I have had during my career with the bank support my case to avoid procrastination. Some years ago I was posted as Branch Manager in a southern city. One of the bank’s clients had become quite friendly with me. As time went by he used to confide in me. He once told me that he was in love with a girl and wanted to marry her with the permission of his father, as my friend had lost his mother at a young age. Years later when I met him in Delhi I inquired about his marital status. I was shocked to learn that he was still to receive permission from his father, who is a well-known figure in India. Professional ethics prohibit me from revealing his name.

The most effective way to eliminate procrastination or delay in execution is to prioritise the jobs one has to do. One such way is to classify the tasks as “A”, “B”, “C” or “D”.

Category A Needs to be done immediately.
Category B Should be done after finishing category “A” tasks.
Category C Wait till “A” and “B” tasks are completed. For example, returning personal calls
                 or joining a friend for lunch.
Category D Tasks meant to be delegated.

Failure to categorise these tasks will create stress not only at work but also in one’s personal life.

The principle of 90-100 must also be kept in mind when attending to the various jobs one is expected to do. To put it simply, 90 per cent of flat tyres occur only during the 10 per cent residual life of the tyre. Also, 90 per cent of our jobs are routine and only 10 per cent are jobs that call for specialisation. Similarly, 90 per cent of customers are reasonable and only 10 per cent are demanding. May I add here that 90 per cent of bosses are reasonable and okay and only 10 per cent are demanding! If these principles are kept in mind, one will know when to take precautionary action and avoid delays.

During the course of our normal work people approach us asking, “By the way, can you do this?” I have learnt from bitter experience that whenever people say, “by the way”, it always means “out of the way”, which certainly consumes a lot of time and energy and will result in regular work being postponed.

In addition to understanding one’s own feelings, empathising with others and feeling the way other people feel will also go a long way in enabling us to prioritise our tasks.

Let me narrate a short story. One day a 14-year-old boy went to a pet shop in New York. He wanted to buy pet. He saw a pair of young puppies who were very bubbly and happily playing with each other. He asked the price and the owner quoted $50 for the pair. The boy gave him $2 as advance and requested him to keep the pair, he would come back with $48 and collect the puppies. While leaving, he saw a young puppy lying quietly in a corner. The boy asked the price of that puppy. The owner replied that the puppy was not for sale. However, when the boy persisted, the owner quoted $50 for that puppy as well. The boy agreed to purchase the single puppy instead of the earlier pair. The owner was surprised and asked the boy why he wished to purchase a single puppy when he was offering him two puppies for the same price. The boy lifted his left trouser leg and showed the braces he was wearing. The shopkeeper then understood why the boy wanted to purchase the lame puppy instead of the lively pair. It was because the boy felt the same way as the poor lame puppy.

If one were to feel the way others feel, life would be free of procrastination.

 

Low Energy, Low Focus

“Over the last three years, we studied action-taking by a group of over 120 managers in a very large global company. Over 30 per cent of these managers were procrastinators; they suffered from low levels of both energy and focus. Although they dutifully performed their routine tasks — attending meetings, writing memos, etc — they failed to take initiative, to raise the level of performance or drive change.

“Some procrastinators hesitate, Hamlet-like, until the window of opportunity has closed. One of those managers said, ‘I could have done it, but I could not get started’. The nearer the deadline for the project loomed, the more he busied himself with other activities, saying he could not turn to the project until he completed his other jobs. Managers procrastinate when they feel insecure or fear failure. Some get into the passive state that psychologist Martin Seligman called ‘learned helplessness’. After experiencing a few times that despite making an effort, they could not make a difference, they have drawn the conclusion that taking action is not worth the effort. They believe that they have no power or control over events, so they do nothing.”

Sumantra Ghoshal & Heike Bruch
Courtesy: “The Economic Times”, 10-5-2002