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How to Put Off Work

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This is a guest post by Joe Buhlig. Joe is one of those technology geeks who love to build systems. He’s always exploring new ways to use (or not use) the digital to welcome real life and loves helping others do the same. He writes about his experiences and systems at joebuhlig.com and talks about them on Twitter.


Procrastination is expensive. It’s estimated that procrastination costs businesses billions of dollars every year. It would seem we’re really good at not working when we should be.

Even if we’ve spent time learning to create more focus, we can still find ourselves scrolling through Twitter or Reddit.

The Catch

But not working doesn’t necessarily equal procrastination. If I’m procrastinating, I’m not getting work done. But when I’m not getting work done, I’m not always procrastinating.

There are times when our work can and should be put off for later. Our friends decide to pull together an outing or one of our kids asks to go to the zoo. We have a simple choice: work or go?

I would guess that most of the time, it’s something you want or feel you need to do. If you don’t want or need to do it, you’ll probably continue working.

Defining Work

I’m going to let you define work here. I could lay out what I think work is and isn’t, but in our world today, the line is blurred and often hard to find. Checking Twitter could be nothing but pleasure for you. But others use Twitter for marketing, so it becomes work. And what if you do both? When is checking Twitter a work activity and when is it for pleasure? The line gets messy in a hurry.

No matter how you define it, you need to make sure you’re not neglecting your commitments when you decide to be spontaneous. Call me boring and a kill-joy, but aimlessly postponing work can easily get you fired or create tense relationships. You need to use good judgement.

And the only way to accurately make the decision to put things off is to quickly review your commitments. You need a full view of the landscape ahead.

1. How Long?

How long are you going to put work off? You need to know how much time to review. You won’t treat a one-off meeting the same as a two-week vacation.

If you’re considering a proposal from someone else, make sure you’re asking enough questions to understand how long you’ll be away. And then add some time to it. Most people I know are pretty bad at estimating time. It’s a brain thing. We have a tendency to assume the best possible scenarios and don’t account for issues or delays. I wish things worked out the way I plan every time, but they rarely do.

2. Check Your Calendar

man on the coast using his smartphone

I volunteer to run sound at our church every few weeks. The days I help out are not on a cycle or a routine. We figure it out month-by-month. For the most part, it works. But that means we’re consistently trying to make calendars mesh.

This past week I gave our leader the dates that I was available in one of the upcoming months. He went home, put the schedule together, and sent us the dates the next day. I was scheduled for a day I wasn’t available. It wasn’t his fault, though. I had failed to see an event on my wife’s calendar that would prevent me from being able to help that Sunday.

If I had looked a little closer at our calendars, I would have prevented the re-scheduling nightmare that kicked off afterwards.

Make sure your calendar is clear for the days/times you’re planning to be away. And then double-check it.

3. Review Your Goals

Does coffee next Friday with a friend fit into your goals? For me, the answer is typically yes. I would love to spend a couple hours with a close friend. We’ll have to work out the date and time, but I’ll do what I can to make it happen.

But there are other requests and random ideas that don’t fit. And if they don’t align, you should decline.

This assumes you know what your goals are. If you don’t, Asian Efficiency has plenty of help on getting started defining goals.

Knowing my goals, I may need to turn my friend down. I’m writing a book, and if I’m behind I need to keep working. If I’m ahead, I can feel good about taking some time away. But the only way I’m able to make that decision is by knowing where I am compared to my goals.

4. Review Your Tasks

I’m a huge Getting Things Done (GTD) fan. And one of the first things I tell people when they mention overwhelm or being too busy is to start writing down their tasks. Keep track of everything you need to do. If you don’t, something will slip through the cracks.

The added benefit of keeping track of all your tasks is being able to review them. You now have the ability to look over all your commitments and use that to make informed decisions.

You can review your task lists for items with pending due dates. You can also look for items with high urgency and high importance. This allows you to quickly and easily understand where you are and know if you’re able to put work off.

With a complete picture of all the tasks you need to do, sometimes you can choose to not do them.

5. Make the Decision

Once you know how long something will take and you’ve reviewed your calendar, goals, and tasks, you can intuitively make a decision. There is no magic bullet here. You have to simply make the call based on previous judgments and experiences.

If I want to visit the zoo with my family, I can make a decision very quickly. Spending the entire day with my family is a very high priority for me. I know that I can’t do it every day, but when the opportunity comes up I try to take it.

6. Communicate with Others

This is the most important step.

When you’ve made the decision to put work off, you need to let people know. If you’re going to wait an extra day to send a report, let those expecting it know that it will be a day later than originally planned.

Think about the impact this can have. If you know something is going to be late and you let those expecting it know, they can adjust their expectations ahead of time. If you deliver it late and then explain why it’s late, people get upset and feel you’re unable to keep commitments. If you inform them about the change ahead of time, they tend to see you as proactive and responsible, even though it’s late.

These two results are profoundly different and can have a huge impact on your relationships. Be sure to give others as much notice as possible when you decide to put off work.

7. Plan Accordingly

You need to make sure you have yourself ready to take time off. Sometimes that means working ahead before you go and catching up when you return. And sometimes you can just slip away for a while. It depends on your situation.

I like to joke about this with friends from time to time. In order to take time off, I need to work more. I’m just putting in more hours before and after to make sure nothing gets behind.

8. Go Play

Happy family jumping together on the beach

Have fun. Don’t worry about what’s waiting for you. You’ve made the decision after looking through all of your commitments. What is there to worry about?

This is by far the hardest part for me. I will jokingly say that “my mind won’t leave me alone.” But it’s only partly a joke. I find my mind wanting to go back to work and continuing to have ideas. I just make sure that I have a way to capture those ideas and then go back to having fun.

Summary

Putting off work doesn’t mean you’re procrastinating—if you’ve intentionally made the decision ahead of time. But the only way you can responsibly make the decision is by reviewing the commitments you’ve made to others and to yourself. Let others know about your decision and enjoy yourself.


This is a guest post by Joe Buhlig. Joe is one of those technology geeks who love to build systems. He’s always exploring new ways to use (or not use) the digital to welcome real life and loves helping others do the same. He writes about his experiences and systems at joebuhlig.com and talks about them on Twitter.

[1] http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/20/is-information-overload-a-650-billion-drag-on-the-economy

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1 Comment

Posted by Alexandra  | June 30, 2016 at 8:29AM | Reply

Hi, Joe! Great to read your piece here and discover your Twitter feed :)
Thank you for sharing your pieces of advice, I feel oddly relaxed after considering work from your perspective.

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