Good and bad procrastination in consulting

Posted by on Jun 19, 2008 in brain food, getting things done | 0 comments

Paul Graham wrote a great essay on good and bad procrastination. I suggest you read it (takes 5 minutes max) and then continue reading, as I am referring to the main idea of it.

“Getting to work on the big things” in consulting needs to be put in perspective, I think. We live by projects, and the big thing seems to be just that: The project you are working on right now. This is, of course, also the expectation of superiors and customers alike – they want your full power and energy on their topic, right now, and they pay you to do so, after all.

As a project leader, you will often already live by the good, C-Type procrastination that Graham proposes: You focus on identifying the clients’ real need, you build and enforce the relationship, you make sure that the project is on track and that the right things are delivered on time. If not – I am not speaking from experience here – you might want to re-evaluate what you are spending your time on, and if this is leading you where you want to be. Your team is there to get the nitty-gritty details. Don’t try to micro-manage. If you spend more time working out hotel deals for your team than thinking about your client, you are procrastinating the wrong way.

As a more junior consultant, the same idea of tackling the big stuff applies. In project reality, compared to the project lead,  the feeling might be quite different. You are remote from the big picture. You are working on a stream in the project, and the world to you often ends at the edge of the Excel sheet you have to build. This, for most junior consultants, is not perceived as a big, exciting, potentially world-changing problem to solve, but more than a task that has to be done. Ok, I am getting sidetracked here – now it is about motivation instead of procrastination? There’s a link: When you are motivated, and have an idea why you do what you do right now apart from “I was told to”, you are much less likely to procrastinate on that issue.

So what can you take from Graham?
The senior – go tackle the big issues. You give your team sense and direction. As I am not in your shoes, I can’t give advise from own experience, sorry.
The junior – Yes, of course. Getting promoted to project lead soon. That’s not what I mean – I’d say, you can get your motivation up by getting yourself a better idea of the overall project, and thus decrease time used for bad procrastination. Use possibilities to see what the other streams are working on. Talk to the project lead over lunch about where he wants to go, and what the end result looks like in his/her opinion. Your ability to let go of what Graham calls “errands” might be limited, but you can, too, defer doing your expenses and replying to non-critical email for a while when cranking on your job. After you have given yourself an idea for why you are doing your task and how it impacts the big picture, chances are you will actually want to take all the time you can for it.

What about distractions?
Now this is a topic big enough for another article :-) Come back soon, it might already be up then.

By the way, I am still crying myself to sleep at night because no-no-no-one has replied to the first KC hive mind yet. I know that there are at LEAST five living people reading this (might be six, have not called them all in a few days to make sure) – so hey, if you are so inclined, make my day and write a comment!