What Are You Waiting for?
The Ninth Edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the word “procrastination” as to “defer action.” It further illuminates the semantic origins of the word as deriving from the Latin “crastinus”, meaning “tomorrow.” In other words, to defer taking timely action until tomorrow, or the day after, or next week, or just some later time.
Procrastination, we are taught from an early age, is a bad thing, and a habit to be steadfastly avoided. In school, it can lead to missing deadlines and lower marks, or worse. At work, it will make our boss and colleagues unhappy and could lose us a customer or promotion. At home, we’ll be scolded for such things as not tidying up on time.
Despite all this teaching and the clearly negative consequences of procrastinating, we do it every day. The mind is a wonderful source of excuses and rationalizations which grease the wheels of our in-built Procrastinator App, producing lots of reasons why we just can’t get to this or that project right at this moment. Some of those reasons are even valid.
Procrastination doesn’t only derive from laziness. After all, we’re busy. And it seems like we’re a lot busier than we used to be. The earth may not be spinning any faster, but our lifestyles and pace of work are, for better or for worse.
The same dictionary defines “deadline” firstly as “a time limit for the completion of an activity”. It also gives a more historic definition of “deadline” in the context of prisons as: “a line beyond which prisoners were not allowed to go.” Presumably, the concept of the “deadline” in the prisons of yore was that if a prisoner crossed the “deadline”, that prisoner was going to be a dead one in a hurry.
Having spent my career in editing and media, I’ve had a lifetime of living with deadlines. I’ve missed a fair share. I only just discovered the historic meaning of “deadline” in the prison context today. It’s a relief that the death penalty is not assigned to those who miss deadlines in the media context. I would not relish delivering or receiving that penalty.
I can just imagine a scene like this:
Me: “Sorry, Rupert, this story was due yesterday.”
Employee: “But Tom, I was busy with…”
Me: “Too bad!” BOOM. “So long, Rupert.” Another procrastinator bites the dust.
There are a range of important priorities for self-improvement in our careers and lifestyles, but few are more important than improving our time management skills. It’s a constant, ongoing challenge, but making progress pays great dividends in work and personal relationships, managing stress, and self-esteem.
If you want to surprise a customer with great service — an internal one, such as a colleague, or an external one — then deliver a job or task ahead of the time it was promised or expected. If you make a habit of doing this, you will build a reputation for excellent service that will enhance your relationships and earn respect in a lasting way.
Managing your time more carefully requires clear thinking, focus, planning, and flexibility. Above all it depends on prioritizing, and revisiting those priorities as circumstances change. But it’s not rocket science.
Give it a try. Progress in this area might just be a life-saver!
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