The Cost of Doing Nothing

Stressful Manager Sleeping On Laptop

Why am I blogging less than 6 hours after my second child and first son came into the world, while he and my wife sleep comfortably? Because I am no longer allowing procrastination to rob me of my limited time or money that my growing family depends on.

My title of Corporate Account Manager/Father/Husband/Home Owner/Dog Owner puts a lot of tasks on my plate. I like to think I’m a pro at juggling all them, yet wonder why I sometimes find myself repairing a snow blower when I originally started mowing my lawn.

How does a person, manager, department, or corporation avoid being pulled in hundreds of different directions and instead focus on one task?

Warnings against putting off what needs to be done can be found everywhere from Aesop’s Fable of The Ant and Grasshopper to the words of House Stark “winter is coming”.

When I told a friend I was struggling with procrastination back in 2008, he gave me a book and promised it would change my life. Shockingly, I used this new book as an excuse to put down another book, The 10-Day MBA. Completing this ponderous tome on procrastination took me over 5 years. The book’s 100 pages didn’t scare me as much as the content I was about to face. Instead I managed to read all five of the Game of Thrones Novels (twice), learning phrases such as “ponderous tome.” My tendency to use to a new project as an excuse to delay completing a current project is why the words of House McDonnell are: Finish the Task at Hand.

Turns out that once I read that book…it changed my life. From the graph below, you’d think that book was Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but I haven’t finished that one either.

His matrix challenges people to assess activities by asking:

Is the task at hand urgent and is it important?

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A former co-worker recently asked me if I missed our old firm with long hours and intense training of Sandler Sales, Ken Blanchard, and Stephen Covey principles.  I surprised myself by saying yes. Since leaving, I haven’t had the discipline to work the same hours and continuously focus on self-improvement, even though I still have all those books. In 2010, my boss took the total number of dials I made for the year, and divided it by my commission dollars. I was astounded to see that number was over $10 per call. In 2011, my dials and my earnings went up. Some days I use that memory to push myself to make one more dial. In jobs outside of sales with no variable component, time is still money. Wasting 15 minutes a day means you’ve lost 65 hours over the year that could have been used to get promoted or noticed.

The point is, we all procrastinate:

I Procrastinate: In February, I blocked a weekend off to paint a large room. Friday night to prep. Saturday to paint. Clean up on Sunday morning and take my wife and daughter to the zoo in the afternoon. But Friday night I found myself out to dinner despite an impending blizzard and baby. The storm hits Saturday and buries me. I drop $100 to hire a plow, but still have to spend 3 hours shoveling pathways on Saturday. I don’t even open a can of paint until Sunday. When my wife returns Sunday with my daughter, I tell my daughter we’ll go to the zoo in an hour…Twice. Her reaction was heartbreaking, especially when I finally told her we weren’t going. It hardened my resolve to stop procrastinating, and to also finish that book.

Prospects Procrastinate: “Andrew, I’d love to talk to you about improving my budgeting and reporting process, but I’m too busy building a board report in Excel that I spend 3 days every month doing.”

Corporations Procrastinate: Kodak invented the digital camera, yet had to file for bankruptcy because they were too late in shifting their focus away from print film. BlackBerry is sputtering because it took them years to roll out a touch screen smart phone.

In my own matrix  below (which was required because I am always looking to the upper right (leader) quadrant as the best, and I like to create tasks for myself), I’m striving to stay out of the “Nothing Quadrant”. I wasn’t able to layer in utility into this graph, but it’s also important to consider if you actually enjoy the activity.

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Contributing to this blog has some importance to my long-term career growth and though it’s not urgent, I truly enjoy writing. Checking my banking app is important, though almost never urgent and I hate that I do it every day. Addressing the scenario that your product will be obsolete in the future can always be ignored because it’s not urgent, as can your product. When a decision is made to pursue a project, you can’t be the only person who knows why. Resource planning with a purpose-built solution like Adaptive Planning documents the projected cost, the justification, requester, and approver. Our human and financial resources are too scarce to not document why time or money should be spent, and is critical in helping us decide if future projects are worth undertaking. That “why” helped me complete “Operation Snow Blower” (I put it back out on the curb where I found it years ago).

All this deliberation about focusing on both short and long-term objectives has me thinking that the Words of House McDonnell; “Finish the Task at Hand”, might need to be changed. I’m OK with a new task, especially because we finally got to the zoo.

Andrew and Daughter

Andrew McDonnell is a Corporate Account Manager for Adaptive Insights.

Follow @McdonnellAndrew and @AdaptiveInsights on Twitter for more leading business finance advice.

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