Most of us know the story of the college professor and his jar of big rocks. It goes like this:
A teacher walks into a classroom and sets a glass jar on the table. He silently places 2-inch rocks in the jar until no more can fit. He asks the class if the jar is full and they agree it is. He says, “Really,” and pulls out a pile of small pebbles, adding them to the jar, shaking it slightly until they fill the spaces between the rocks. He asks again, “Is the jar full?” They agree.
So next, he adds a scoop of sand to the jar, filling the space between the pebbles and asks the question again. This time, the class is divided, some feeling that the jar is obviously full, but others are wary of another trick. So he grabs a pitcher of water and fills the jar to the brim, saying, “If this jar is your life, what does this experiment show you?” A bold student replies, “No matter how busy you think you are, you can always take on more.” “That is one view,” he replies.
Then he looks out at the class making eye contact with everyone, “The rocks represent the BIG things in your life – what you will value at the end of your life – your family, your partner, your health, fulfilling your hopes and dreams. The pebbles are the other things in your life that give it meaning, like your job, your house, your hobbies, your friendships. The sand and water represent the ‘small stuff’ that fills our time, like watching TV or running errands.” Looking out at the class again, he asks, “Can you see what would happen if I started with the sand or the pebbles?” 1
If the Professor started with the sand or the pebbles then that would mean his time (jar) would be filled with just the “little things”, leaving no room for the big things.
Being able to work on those areas in your life that are the most valuable and most important to you starts identifying your own set of “big rocks” to focus on. If we only spent time on the smallest or smaller things in life then we miss out on achieving and nurturing our dreams and aspirations. Laying out and setting major priorities leaves a productive division of time. Asking “Is this the most useful use of my time?” to reconnect with those bigger values ensures you are able to work on those areas.
Charles Dickens once said “Procrastination is the Thief of Time… Collar him!” and truer words have never been spoken. Procrastination can rob you of not only your valuable time, but also rob you of your motivation, your focus, your productivity and your success. So, it is essential in both business and in life, to ensure you recognize procrastination and have the tools and self-management to overcome and eliminate it.
Procrastination is continually reinforcing itself - every time you delay, it reinforces your negative attitude toward that task. Every time you put off something you dislike, you:
No-one wants to fail… but if we allow our fear of failure to get in the way of taking action, then we may end up not even trying. A fear of failing can cause complete inaction, which then reinforces our belief that we can’t achieve our goal.
Many of our fears would actually be better described as concerns, little niggles we have about how things may turn out… we may not actually think of them as major “fears”. Nevertheless, they fill our minds with thoughts and can lead to an internal dialogue that can keep us trapped in time.
Where would we be if Thomas Edison had allowed a fear of failure to prevent him from inventing the light bulb? Edison and his team tested more than 3,000 designs for bulbs between 1878 and 1880, eventually succeeding through pure grit and determination.
Having a lack of knowledge or skills can be a primary factor in procrastinating over a task. In the Four stages of learning matrix, the second stage of ‘Conscious Incompetence’ is where you’re conscious of what you should be learning but you still don’t have all the knowledge or skills to make it happen. This lack of knowledge or skills can be frustrating and is a very common time for procrastination. There can be a lot of confusion in your mind at this stage and if you’re not careful, your confidence can take a hit.
It stands to reason that if a task seems hard to do, we naturally tend to avoid it in favor of those which seem easy to us. This is explained well by Timothy Pychyl, author of ‘Solving the Procrastination Puzzle’:
“the key issue is that for chronic procrastinators, short-term mood repair takes precedence. Chronic procrastinators want to eliminate the negative mood or emotions now, so they give in to feel good. They give in to the impulse to put off the task until another time.” Then, “not faced with the task, they feel better.”
If the task is going to take large blocks of time, we will often delay starting the task until “I have more time”. Interestingly, people often overestimate the amount of time it will actually take to do a task, especially as you can build momentum once you get started. There are many steps you can take to help alleviate this avoidance tactic.
There are two steps to changing your mindset that can help you eliminate procrastination forever:
Best-selling author Seth Godin argues that it isn’t the “fear of failure” that holds us back and keeps us small, rather it is the “fear of criticism.” So, how can you stop caring what other people think?
The first step is to remember that if many people have felt this way and still achieved great things, that they’ve faced their fear of failure—and judgment—and won. Successful risk takers manage to keep criticism from holding them back.
If you want to eliminate procrastination, then eliminate your fear. Just ask yourself: Are you pushing away the things you want? And if you are, are you pushing them away because of your fear of success or a fear of failure?
Once you get clear on what’s stopping you, you can reframe those fears and empower yourself to take action
Remember, emotions govern your behavior. Fear pushes you away from what you want and desire pulls it towards you. Your emotions are what drive your behavior. If you keep putting something off, then you don’t have a burning desire to do it. No desire = no action.
So, how do you cultivate desire? If you can associate strong emotions with the end result, you can cultivate a burning desire. Then watch how fast you jump into action.
Once you’ve got your mindset right, there are many small steps you can take every day that will help you overcome procrastination and take action. Here are just a few to get you started:
If, after going through all the points above and improving the way you do things you are still procrastinating, then you need to get yourself a bigger dream – or set yourself a bigger goal.
The one you have isn’t inspiring you enough to get you off the couch.
We all need to stop using the excuse “I don’t have enough time”. There is no one in this world that has more time than you do. We all get the same 24 hours in a day – you, me, Richard Branson, Beyonce, Barack Obama…. it’s what we do with it that counts.
A lot can be achieved in 24 hours if we start the day proactively.
You can download the Thief of TIme E-Book HERE.
If you could use help with time management within your business, or overcoming procrastination to achieve your business goals, our upcoming workshop on 90 Day Planning can help.
You’ll find having an Action Centre business coach is just like having a marketing manager, sales team leader, trainer and recruitment specialist - wrapped in one - all for one nominal investment. We are the business partner you need without sharing your profits - with over 60 years of collective coaching experience to keep you on track and accountable for your own success.
 ‘Solving the Procrastination Puzzle’ - Timothy Pychyl PHD
Let’s look at two seemingly similar matters - urgent matters and important matters. We may think both come hand in hand but in fact they each serve different purposes. Urgent matters are ones that “press on us; they insist on action. They’re often popular with others...pleasant, fun to do. But so often they are unimportant.” (Covey S. R., p151) Whereas important matters are aligned with results, “...your mission, your values, your high priority goals.” (Covey S. R., p151).
Examples of urgent items can be anything from the printer being broken, the computer system crashing, clients calling to ask for quotes to be re-sent, staff re-rostering and a multitude of other daily tasks that crop up during the day. Although it’s okay to spend some of your time in these activities and delegating where appropriate, but it’s where you spend a majority of your time that counts - and it starts with not being overly involved in “urgent” matters.
When being busy is your default position
Generally speaking, when a typical business owner is asked them how they spent their time and serviced their customers they often explain how busy they were in putting a lot of their efforts into servicing a high demand customer. When finding out more about that customer it turns out that the customer was low on financial return to the business. They used more business resources than other customer’s who provided much higher financial return.
This is a classic example of thinking that being “busy” with a customer means the business is in good shape. Unfortunately this is the zone of ‘delusion’, where “busy” has become the default position in the business without much consideration as to the value of that time to the long term viability of the business. Given the example above, if the business continued to service the high demand low paying customer in the same way and couldn’t find more resources to provide an excellent level of service to the high paying customers, the business would eventually go backward and start to decline. The high paying high value customers would find better service elsewhere and the orders would eventually drop off.
Making busy meaningful
How do we avoid being delusional in our daily business activities? It all comes back to knowing what is “urgent” and what is “important”. We have explored what urgent matters can do to a business when it goes unmonitored, now let’s look at how we allocate a large proportion of our time to what is important.
An example of important matters could be that you have a meeting with the Accountant or Bank Manager and are required to prepare for that meeting. The financial position of the business is highly important. Being prepared with the appropriate paperwork and documents is therefore equally as highly important.
Another important business matter may come from a major economic downturn in consumer spending which affects the foot traffic into your business. Putting together a small team of experts from within your business to gather intelligence will enable you to decide how to reposition and respond to the change. Consumer spending has major long term impacts on business which may result in retraining staff to learn new products or services, refinancing or even downsizing.
A third and less obvious example of important matters may be in setting goals and targets for the business to reach in the next quarter. This may come in the form of implementing a faster quoting and payment system to better retain high value high paying customers and service a higher volume of new customers. Updated systems keeps the business overheads lowered in the long term and requires less staff to be employed and wider profit margins.
Attending to important business matters is knowing how to react to what is important and what is urgent. This understanding is critical to making the best use of your time, putting the emphasis on Zone Activity within the Time Target.
One Percenters in business
To keep on track and work on your Zone Activities as a discipline,try adopting a “1 percenter”1 attitude like they do in sport. As a Business Leader continually improving and applying pressure on your competition is essential. It’s those constant “1 percent” group of activities such as retaining high value customers, improving operations, refining products and services, finding new ways to increase margins - when supported by people in your business who put in a little bit of extra effort in - will sustain and drive a business to its ultimate success.
Covey S. R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 1990. The Business Library. Melbourne Australia.
It’s Monday morning, and for many business owners the first thing that happens is that we check our mobile. We think it’s important to know who has called us and whether we are needed to respond to something urgently. Have we missed an opportunity while I slept? Is there a crisis looming on the horizon? We believe a-hundred-and-one-things may have occurred even before we start our day.
On the other hand, a different group of business owners are strolling into their workplaces often accompanied by a slightly irritating positive attitude. So who are they? And can that even be possible? Well, the short answers are, yes they do exist, and yes, they are often successful business people. They start their Monday by looking forward to all the possibilities the week could bring. This group usually start their day with a morning ritual. Something pre determined and important to them. Like walking the dog, jogging, meditating or perhaps taking the kids to school, and by doing so, they positively prepare themselves for what lies ahead - all with a clear head1.
To be productive in a working day or week, highly successful Business Leaders have learned to identify and divide their time into four areas. These “four types of time” using a Time Target are:
It’s astonishing when we think about all the time that is taken up by trivial or inconsequential matters. And on top of that, when we are veered off direction by distractions, it can take us anywhere between 15 seconds all the way to 23 minutes to get back on task2.
Business Leaders all strive to be effective and work at the highest level of productivity because they want their businesses to be successful. However, many fail at managing their time and allocate it out according to the level of immediacy. Overcoming this by managing personal time based on a Time Target can make it easy to appropriately place efforts into what is of high value to the business. In other words “effective management is putting first things first” (Covey S. R. p148)3. Placing a priority on the Zone to be able to work on the business.
Zone activities are for the purpose of building the business, for example, finding new ways to increase profits, managing teams more effectively, implementing new IT systems to service more customers etc. Eventually more time will be spent in the Zone, growing the amount of effort placed in that area, and less effort will be applied to less important, lower value activities (like impromptu meetings or reactive urgent but unimportant tasks). The Zone is about long term thinking and the high value activity needed to create a strong proactive business which secures it into the future.
As elusive as time may seem, it can be retrieved and used to its best advantage in business. There are many techniques that can be applied to enter and stay in the optimum Zone each day. Mark McKeon, an Australian author who has written the popular book, “The Go Zone”, discusses how to prepare for Zone activity4. He believes Business Leaders should think of themselves as elite sports people, who choose a discipline and avoid ending the day in a state of stress. So, let’s get into our zone just like an athlete does, by starting the workday with an early, but very necessary, wake up call.
3 Covey S. R The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 1990. The Business Library. Melbourne Australia.