Procrastinate Properly


As near as I can tell, almost everyone is suffering from information overload coupled with an unreasonable need to be available to everyone and to respond to everything immediately. How often are you in a face-to-face conversation with someone who, without a word of apology, answers their phone? How often has someone sent a follow up email to you within moments of their first email, wondering why you haven’t responded yet? Worse, how often have you interrupted something important you were doing to respond to someone’s text which turns out to lack any urgency at all?

How often would the result be different if you waited to respond?

If you’re like most people, the result of waiting until it’s convenient for you to respond rarely makes a difference. In fact, judicious procrastination often leads to better results.

I used to try and respond to everyone and everything immediately. It was a combination of feeling it was a nice thing to do and worrying that if I didn’t respond immediately I would forget to respond at all.

Then circumstances led me to procrastinate. I began traveling long distances and getting caught in places such as remote villages in Uganda and Senegal where the internet connections are erratic at best. My schedules included days when there was not much chance to respond rapidly because I was with a client, leading a program, or giving a talk. Emails languished, texts lingered, voice mails waited. I aggravated about it.

Until a funny thing happened. I noticed that a significant number of issues wound up being resolved without my intervention. Some requests turned out to be so unimportant that the senders couldn’t even remember them by the time I responded. The issues where my input was actually important and useful were sitting there waiting for me, with no apparent disasters occurring during the time it took me to respond.

It was a wonderful learning experience. These days, even when I can respond immediately, I don’t. I’ve trained people to understand that I’m rarely immediately available. It turns out that when people know this, the urgency goes away. A bit of appropriate procrastination goes a long way in both calming people down and making my life easier.

To be clear, I do pay attention to messages I receive as sometimes there are things requiring an immediate response. Family matters, flight changes, meeting postponements. But such things represent only a fraction of the deluge that inundates me daily.

Uninterrupted time has made me more productive and reasoned responses have made me much more effective. Taking my time has led to better ideas and better results both for me and for my clients.

More done better: An unexpected result of procrastinating properly.

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Eyes Wide Open

You might have noticed that the Benari tagline starts with “Pay Attention”. For many this means focusing on the task at hand to the exclusion of all else, wearing blinders to ensure that nothing intrudes.

It means the exact opposite for those in positions of leadership, those charged with ensuring their enterprise keeps moving forward successfully. For them, paying attention means having a 360 degree view, observing as widely as possible. Yet they too often find themselves focused narrowly, oblivious to good ideas and opinions of others surrounding them.

Focusing narrowly makes it much more difficult to make the best decisions. It leads you to ignore information, information that often holds the key to breakthrough ideas. Worst of all, it keeps you from understanding others, from learning what drives them, what excites them, what basic beliefs underlie their actions.

A few days ago I listened with interest to Krista Tippett’s NPR show On Being, as she interviewed Sister Simone Campbell, fighter for social justice and exceptional speaker. I was struck by Campbell’s thought, so similar to mine, about how “having the willingness to see their perspective leads to better decisions.”

Having the willingness, the openness, the flexibility to not just listen to but to actually hear and understand someone else’s perspective is the path to expanding your options. Expanded options lead to better decisions and better decisions lead to better results.

Get out of your comfort zone and enter the comfort zone of others. Pay attention to the people and the world around you. Most importantly, be willing to consider that the best option, and ultimately, the best result, can come from anywhere.

Sister Simone Campbell, left, and Sister Diane Donoghue, right, lead the way as the the "Nuns on the Bus" arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 2, 2012, after a nine-state tour to bring stories of hardship to Congress. Sister Simone Campbell is executive director of Network, a liberal Catholic social justice lobby in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sister Simone Campbell, left, and Sister Diane Donoghue

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