When prospective clients tell me about their struggles with time management, they typically blame themselves for their lack of organization or discipline, or they blame other people for the interruptions they create, or both. They look at their situation from a highly pragmatic perspective.
Obviously, improving organization, optimizing time allocation, and creating healthy boundaries and systems to reduce interruptions is a good start, but that’s not enough. You could read every book ever written on time management and still be unable to manage your time more effectively because “knowing what to do” and actually “doing it” are two different things.
While you may not have all the best time management practices in your tool box, you certainly know what you could do better, but you don’t. There are emotional reasons conscious or not, for continuing to do things the same way. Here are 4 common reasons why people’s actions don’t match their intentions.
1. Task avoidance
One common reason why people procrastinate on reports and other projects is because they expect the task to be unpleasant. Consciously or not, they rationalize why it’s okay to work on it later to alleviate their guilt, but their reasons to push back the project are just excuses. The longer they wait, the more resistant they become. Days, weeks, and sometimes months go by, creating more pressure and regret.
What to do about it: Remember that you have successfully completed much more difficult tasks in the past and you are more than capable of doing this project. Instead of focusing on the pain associated with doing the task, ask yourself how you’ll feel if you do it and how you’ll feel if you don’t. Become consciously aware that doing the task won’t be difficult and feeling accomplished is priceless, whereas feeling regret, guilt, and pressure is draining and destructive. Assessing emotional consequences is a powerful motivator.
2. You see no purpose in the task
If the task at hand seems like a waste of time, it will be difficult to motivate yourself to get it done instead of focusing on work that actually matters to you. Unfortunately, in higher education it’s not uncommon to be asked to complete reports that may or may not be read by those who asked for them. The data you provide may or may not be used for decision making. If you are asked to write about your staffing needs but there is a hiring freeze, or about your budget needs but there are no budget increases available, I won’t blame you for thinking it is a futile exercise. But the task is still required and you have to do it!
What to do about it: Start by finding purpose in the task. Having to report on your accomplishments or on your needs is a way to document your situation and it will help you advocate more effectively when resources become available. Also, never forget that how you handle these projects determines how you are perceived on campus. This is an opportunity to show yourself as a leader, a team player, a reliable asset, and someone who is easy to work with (people won’t have to send you reminders and get frustrated with you). If you want to keep moving up in administration, this is a chance to look good.
3. No stick, no carrot
Sometimes you procrastinate because you can! There are no rewards for doing the right thing and no punishments if you don’t. You are not intrinsically motivated and there are no extrinsic reasons to follow-through. So you choose to focus on what is familiar and easy, or simply right in front of you at that moment. For example, you might spend hours responding to emails while employee evaluations are overdue. If no one in HR reminds you to do regular evaluations and your direct reports aren’t asking for feedback, you can procrastinate for years.
What to do about it: Create your own stick or carrot! Even if others don’t keep you accountable, you can keep yourself accountable. Think of the consequences of your actions - or lack thereof. For example, if you procrastinate on employee evaluations, the stick is that you are not giving a chance to your employees to grow and do a better job. You are hurting your department’s performance. You may also be losing good employees because your lack of engagement leads them to look for a job elsewhere. The carrot is knowing that you’ll become a better manager and leader. You’ll help people grow and step up to new challenges. You’ll build a strong and loyal team.
4. Inability to say no
Some people have a mental block to saying no to requests and consequently, they chronically over-commit. The desire to please everyone back fires when they can’t deliver what they promised and creates more disappointment than if they had said no in the first place. Pleasers tend to exhaust themselves trying to meet multiple deadlines and reprioritizing every day. No matter how hard they work, there is simply no possible way to do it all.
What to do about it: Realize that when you make a commitment but you can’t keep it, you create a crisis for the person who was counting on you. Once you miss the deadline, they have no time left to find someone else to help them. If your desire is to make people happy, please understand that people will be much happier with you if they can count on you than if they can’t. When an unrealistic request comes your way, you can say no tactfully and help the person find a suitable alternative. They will love you for it.
Please take a moment to reflect on what causes you to procrastinate on certain projects. Stop blaming yourself and/or others. Starting today, you can break old habits and become more self-empowered. You are the master of your mind. You are the one who controls what you do with your time. No situation renders you powerless. If you’d like to develop a stronger mindset and new success habits, consider working with me. Click here to schedule a complimentary phone consultation and we’ll discuss how I can help you optimize your time management and make your work more enjoyable and energizing.
About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.