Insights from the book ‘Procrastinate on Purpose‘ by Rory Vaden.
Time to read: 6:36 minutes
Procrastination has evolved over the years.
Thanks to our ‘information age’ we have adopted an advanced form of procrastination called ‘priority dilution’.
“Priority Dilution has nothing to do with being lazy, apathetic or disengaged. Yet it is the same net result: We delay the day’s most important activities by consciously or unconsciously allowing our attention to shift to less important tasks…To someone struggling with Priority Dilution, it can sometimes feel like the harder they work, the more they fall behind. For every e-mail they send out, they get two in return. And each task they complete seems to hold behind it two more additionally that need to be done.” – Rory Vaden, Procrastinate on Purpose
We are bombarded by hundreds of requests (emails, phone calls, texts) and thousands of distractions throughout the day (advertisements, newsfeeds, status updates). All this information clouds our priorities and leads us into ‘reaction mode’.
In ‘reaction mode’ we don’t take the time to consider the significance of something.
Significance is different than importance.
I mistake importance for significance all the time. When I first had the idea to start my own business I took the time to build a business plan. A business plan seemed important at the time and it probably was important…up to a certain point. I spent weeks trying to perfect my business plan. Even after weeks of work my work on the business plan it still ‘felt’ important. However, looking back, the more time I spent on the business plan the less time I spent testing my ideas, building productive systems and hiring people to grow my business grow – all significant items that would have a lasting impact.
Minute-by-minute we all believe we are performing important tasks. As the days pass we look back at our results we realize how ‘unimportant’ many of those tasks were.
The main reason we believe things are more important than they really are is due to our sense of urgency. The pace needed to keep up with the information coming our way and the impatience of others around us causes us to think everything is urgent AND important.
“As you factor in a calculation for Significance, it begins to offset some of the weight and pull of Urgency— which is the exact cause of Priority Dilution!” – Rory Vaden
The 3rd Dimension
The feeling of importance and the sense of urgency form our two-dimensional time management model. However, when we expand our thinking to consider the ‘significance of a result’ we uncover a third dimension of time management: significance.
“Those making the Significance calculation are operating on a plane of different perspective. They are considering not only what matters now but also what matters later. Therefore that person is better able to resist the temptation of the tyranny of the urgent— which is exactly what ultra-performers do.” – Rory Vaden
By thinking “how long will this matter?” we move truly important items to the top of the priority list. By considering the impact of our next action on our life and the lives of others we can see that most things are just noise.
However, it’s unrealistic to pause and consider the ‘significance’ of every option we face. We need a system to automatically filter external requests and actionable insights.
The Focus Funnel
Author Rory Vaden suggests that we filter each idea/request through the following stages before we commit our time to completing it:
- Eliminate: Is this something I can live without?
- it’s OK to say no…
- Automate: Is this something that can or should be systematized?
- invest in systems that pay off in the long run (this will compound your free time)
- Delegate: Is this something that can be completed by someone?
- let go of your need for perfection...
- Procrastinate on Purpose: Is this something that can wait until later?
- now may not be the best time to take action (wait for more information or wait to batch process this item with a group of similar items)…
- Concentrate : Is doing this thing the most significant use of my time?
By the time we think through steps 1 through 4 you end up ‘concentrating’ on something that is likely to have a significant impact.
If we can’t eliminate it then we try automating it. If we can’t automate it then we try to delegate it. If we can’t delegate it then we try procrastinating on it (deliberating waiting until you have all the information necessary to confidently completely the task OR until the task is deemed unnecessary). If the thought of procrastinating on something is unbearable or simply unacceptable, then we have permission to focus all your energy on the item until it is complete.
“Until you accomplish your next most Significant priority, everything else is a distraction.” – Rory Vaden
When we don’t filter items through our ‘focus funnel’ we inevitably begin:
“Trading the things we know we should be doing for the things that other people want us to do. Allowing ourselves to be commanded by the Tyranny of the Urgent into things that are not Significant, but they are in front of us.” – Rory Vaden
Author Rory Vaden identifies each stage of the focus funnel as a ‘permission’.
- We fail to ignore things because we haven’t given ourselves permission to say no.
- We don’t hand things off to others because of our need for perfection.
- We don’t allow ourselves to spend time building systems that will serve us in the future because we need to respond to every request in the present.
- We don’t allow ourselves to delay certain low priority action items because we need to get our inbox/to-do list to zero!
- We always have a choice (we just need to recognize the trade-off).
- We can learn to trust others with our work give them a chance to thrive.
- We can take some time today to build systems that will improve tomorrow.
- Most things can wait and waiting is often a wise decision when things are likely to change.
- We are allowed to block out our time and focus on a select significant things for the majority of our time.
The focus funnel is a very productive way to think.
I resonate with almost all the ideas in ‘Procrastinate on Purpose’ but based on my experience I there is one step missing from the funnel process: the 2-minute capture or complete.
The author suggests that every item we can’t ignore should go straight into the systemizing and delegation phase. However, depending on our current state of mind and the intensity of a situation we may not have the courage to ignore/eliminate certain items that should be ignored/eliminated. We might think (based on your current circumstances) that we can’t live without it. If it gets past our ‘elimination’ filter we might start building a system around it and waste a considerable amount of time doing so. If we go into the delegating phase we might waste a considerable amount of time and money doing so (creating a whole host of other problems in the process).
I suggest that we use the ‘2-minute rule’ (as explained in the book ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen) to initiate the focus funnel. The ‘2-minute rule’ states that we either complete an item within 2-minutes of receiving it or capture the details of the idea/request and schedule it to be completed at a later date.
The ‘2-minute rule’ prevents small but necessary items from piling up and it allows us to capture items that may seem critical at the time but end up being less critical when we check in them at later date (with a fresh perspective).
We can also use the ‘2-minutes rule’ to initiate the idea/request to see if it is worthwhile or to gather more data.
- take 2 minutes to list the steps needed to complete this task and the expected result/benefit.
- take 2 minutes to send an email to someone with experience in this particular area (asking for their advice).
- take 2 minutes to write a quick draft document on the topic.
- take 2 minutes to get a quote from a team member on how long they think it would take to complete
- take 2 minutes to get a quote from an outsourcing agency and find out how much they think it will cost.
Two minutes is long enough to take the action needed so we can stop thinking about it (for now). Two minutes is short enough to not disturb our current work task (you are able to easily remember where you left off and resume working – minimizing the switching cost associated from having to re-direct and re-focus our attention).
We need a systematic way to filter the things that come our way, otherwise we start living life according to other people’s agendas and never see the opportunity to leveraging the systems and people that can give us more room to concentration on what is truly important to us.
Give yourself the permission to ignore, invest, accept imperfect results, leave less significant things incomplete (for the time being) and focus on just one thing that could have a lasting impact.
“Work double-time part-time (on significant items) and you shall soon embrace the full-time free time.” – Rory Vaden
Use the revised focus funnel (click here a condensed Task Filtering Flow Chart):
- If you feel a task is important, Take 2 Minutes to capture, initiate or complete the task.
- if you complete the task there is no need to continue down the focus funnel.
During scheduled blocks of time or when you receive a reminder, look back at that time and ask:
- Could I live without this task?
- If not, Eliminate it or move it to a someday/maybe list.
- Is it best to wait?
- If you are waiting on information that might render this task unnecessary you have permission to Procrastinate on Purpose
- Can I systematize it?
- If there is existing service, software application or decision-making model to automate this process, use them. If not, determine if it is worthwhile to set up a system that can Automate this task and free up your time. As a general rule: if it takes you 5 minutes to manually perform a daily task it is worthwhile to spend 30x that amount (150 minutes) building a system to automate that task.
- Can I delegate it?
- If an employee or coworker can do it 80% as good as you, Delegate it.
- If a freelancer can do it for less than 80% of your hourly rate, Outsource it.
If you can’t eliminate it, delay it, automate it, delegate/outsource it, then you must block out all distractions and Concentrate your effort on completing it yourself.