This week’s chapter of Monotasking by Staffan Nöteberg. is Never Procrastinate. I have been working on procrastination and overcommitting my whole life. Compared to my 7th-grade self I have made step changes.  Even compared to my 2020 self, I do a better job at avoiding procrastination and overcommitting.  My five short list begins with the admonition: 

  1. Hit MIT every day (MIT = the most important thing)
  2. No procrastinating – take one step! 
  3. Don’t judge.

There are several concepts in this chapter that I see more clearly the second time through the book. Two that I have found most significant are:

The first is time inconsistency.  Staffan defines this as the belief that we will be less busy in the future than today.  This is one of the reasons my 7th-grade self found it easy to put off starting reports and Algebra II assignments. One of my least favorite features of business environments is the open calendar and ability to book meetings with relative ease. My son-in-law pointed out that just because someone sends you a meeting invite you don’t have to accept it . . .easier said than done. In my previous place of employment I “got talked” to when blocked two or three hours on the calendar more than a periodic basis. Monotasking has reinforced the need to make discretionary time and then utilize that time by working on the most important items (this should be the short list that is continually reassessed during panorama sessions).

The second is the whole idea of discretionary time. While Steffan introduced the concept earlier in the book, the section about avoiding discretionary time wastes brought the concept into sharp focus (both times I have read the book). One of the problems I have been having implementing monotasking is my calendar. Significant portions of the day are consumed in non-discretionary meetings. They represent the hardscape (unchangeable bits) that I have to planned around. My revelation is that I need to convert the soft parts (softscape) in which I can do discretionary work, the items on my short list, into hardscape and then defend the time.  With time carved out, I can then focus on staying focused.  The monotasking cadence helps significantly.

Being that I have wrestled with procrastination forever, it is easy to recognize the scenarios where I tend to fall prey. Saying yes based on time inconsistency has been the biggest issue.  Limiting with approaches like the short list and replanning on a regular cadence (panorama cues and sessions) have helped to reduce my propensity to procrastinate. A second problem that plagued me until about 10 years ago was the hard conversation (asking for a sale, confronting a problem, or telling someone something they might not want to hear fell into this category). Even before monotasking (and pomodoro) I have been a fan of to-do lists (Franklin-Covey was a favorite).  In a moment of self reflection I recognized that I was avoiding conflict and potential criticism but that avoidance was more akin to allowing the problem to fester. I moved those “conversations” to the top of the list which made them much harder to avoid.  Two morals, the first is don’t put things off and the second is to step back and reflect on how you are working (daily retrospectives). We all own the majority of our procrastination.  Until you recognize that you are responsible for your own procrastination all of the great ideas in Monotasking will not help.  If I could apologize to my seventh grade math teacher, I would (fyi — I never knew who they were which is another story).

One final note, until I read Monotasking, I had never heard of pre-crastinating (doing small, generally less important things as soon as they appear).  Pre-crastinating pushes off doing more important things on your short list. In discussing the idea with my wife it was easy to see how email, text, and chats can lead to pre-crastination.  Doing all those little tasks that crop up make people happy (positive feedback) and provide an endorphin hit as they are completed (positive feedback again). Simple solution (ha ha): turn the noise off, focus on the shortlist and build time tor communication noise into your hardscape. A few years ago I experimented with doing 30 minutes of email every 2 hours.  I feel that I got more important work done.  This leads me to the experiment for this week. I am going to work on negotiating time to turn the noisemakers off and focus on my short list. 

Previous entries of  Monotasking by Staffan Nöteberg entries:

Week 1 – Logistics, Game Plan, and Preface 

Week 2 – Introduction 

Week 3 – Monotasking In A Nutshell 

Week 4 – Cut Down on Things to Do 

Week 5 – Focus on One Task