- August 11, 2020
As I write this, guilt has me by its claws. You were supposed to read this article sooner, but my self-administered excuses ensured that I procrastinated. Mostly, my implausible excuse has been the infamous writers’ block. Shouldn’t be an excuse at all!
Someone once asked, are you a murderer because you kill time? At this moment, even as my fingers rove my keyboard and type, I plead guilty as charged.
For the past one week, I’ll admit, I’ve had a lot on my plate. Old tasks that required a new pair of eyes for a fresher perspective. (Ok, not literally, although I recently got blue-light blocking spectacles). New tasks that required I unlearn and then relearn afresh. A fast-rising pile of job-related frustrations. A manuscript for a thriller that I hope to release sometime later, after every word, every paragraph, every scene is hand-roasted into a masterpiece that makes movie wheels turn in heads. All these tasks would keep me actively working. Or so I thought.
The truth was quite the opposite. The workload led me into procrastination. I felt weary. Just one more episode of the T.V. show Originals, and then I’ll write the article on time management, I repeatedly said to myself. The sands of time streamed away, yet I got not even a paragraph written. This morning, however, my passion for writing broke me out of this prison of procrastination. Like a sneeze that could no longer be held in, the writing came out.
The exciting thing about this topic is that I’ve started us off with a breath of honesty. I’ve pointed out that in as much as I write about it, I too need to keep working on myself. My desire is that you will be honest with yourself too. How good are you at managing your time?
Two years ago, I received an invitation to speak at my former high school. The schedule had a series of topics to be handled over the course of two days. On the eve of the day I was to speak to students about time management, I went through my presentation over and over again, because preparation is key if you are to successfully deliver any speech. Satisfied, I decided to catch up with some friends before turning in for the day. The conversations got interesting. For a delightful moment, I forgot what lay ahead of me and lived in the gaiety of untamed laughter with friends. It was at 2 a.m. in the morning when I finally crawled to bed.
When my alarm went off, it was chaotic. My eye-lids were heavy with sleep, my mind working hard to think of something that could excuse me from the talk. How was I supposed to abandon the comfort of my duvet to speak to some students early in the morning? I hit the snooze button to sneak in just ten more minutes of sleep. Only that it is never enough. It was my desire to lead by example, however, that finally forced me out of bed. I wasn’t ready to arrive at the venue late, and then courageously talk about time management. Preaching water while getting bent on wine! A cold breeze that poured in through my window when I opened it made me want to switch off my phone and fall off the map. But again, there are times you’ve got to show up even if you don’t feel like it.
In the above case, it was fear of embarrassing myself, and the need to lead by example, that pushed me. What often pushes you to get tasks done? Steve Muthusi, the author of Stir Up Your Potential, loves talking about the three factors that push human beings to work. Fear, authority, and self-drive. Let me take it a tad further with explanations.
Let’s imagine. Your schedule requires you to wake up at 6 a.m. to work out. Someone points a gun to your face, or to the face of a loved one, and threatens to pull the trigger if you do not work out. Out of fear, you get up and get going. The same applies to when you are on the verge of being kicked out of your rented home because you haven’t paid, and there is this one gig that will credit your bank account. Out of fear of the harsh consequences, you show up and work.
You have a report to write, yet you’ve procrastinated for days. Your boss writes you an email that’s a thunderbolt of a threat; an ultimatum. Just like that, you regain your focus and get things done. Here, it’s authority, well, and a pinch of fear, that got you moving.
The third scenario is where neither fear nor authority pushes you into getting things done. It is self-drive. You have mastered yourself enough to know what to do, what to stop doing, and when to stop doing. That’s the level this article hopes to nudge us all toward.
The Stop Start More Less Matrix
To be disciplined enough to get tasks done in good time while balancing with other social requirements, an understanding of the stop-start-more-less matrix is needed. Professionals worldwide have used this simple matrix to ease the pressure when to-do lists overflow.
It comprises of four factors:
START: What do you need to start doing?
STOP: What do you need to stop doing?
MORE: What do you need to do more of?
LESS: What do you need to do less of?
Please be honest with yourself. Assess your life and then answer the above questions. Success at this little task will open your eyes to the things that need your priority; the things that while good, they have been wasting your time; and how to strike a good balance between the two.
Do you need to start working out? Do you need to start writing that application essay? Or is it to start taking that online course you signed up for, a month ago? What do you need to stop? Sleeping all day? Procrastinating? What is it that you are already doing and you need to do more of or less of?
The most important thing to have in mind is that you need to strike a healthy balance between work and play, whatever the two mean to you. It’s true that all work and no play makes Jack (you) a dull boy. Yet again, all play without work makes Jack (you) a mere toy.
Will the above matrix take you out of procrastination in a snap? Definitely not. Scott Bellows, a professor at United States International University and writer at Business Daily explains: Our powerful logical conscious brain battles with our brooding and emotional subconscious over the completion of unpleasant duties. In an article on how to overcome procrastination, he tackles behavioural science research covering some solutions to procrastination.
It was Abraham Lincoln who said, give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. We each have an axe in our hands, called time. How sharpened is your management of time?
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