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How to stop procrastinating and start leading


Over the past two decades I have been lucky enough to work with dozens of business and political leaders.

The best leaders are those that are able to make professional decisions quickly based on the information available to them.

But this does not mean they are immune to procrastination. They are just using tools to manage it.

Most of us if we walk into an ice-cream parlour struggle to choose a flavour.

We have eaten ice cream hundreds of times and know all the flavours. But we still stands there at the counter examining the pistachio, chocolate, cookies and cream and salted caramel in the hope that divine inspiration will come to us.

And that is a simple decision.

Presented with hard decisions, such as where to invest or whether to enter a new market, can be crippling.

Kicking hard decisions into the long grass is the easy option. But it is rarely the right one.

We are told from a young age to not rush to decisions but our gut instinct is usually right.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking he makes a powerful argument for going with your gut.

He showed that geologists at the Getty Museum in California spent 14 months investigating whether a statue was a fake. Within seconds three different art historians could tell that it was. Their years of looking at masterpieces had given them a gut advantage that experts couldn’t match.

As a leader in your own field you have years of experience. Do not underestimate how valuable that is.

While you might want to gather all the information to make the right decision. At a sub-conscious level, within two seconds your mind has gone through thousands of data-points and previous experiences.

More than 90% of the time you will be right in your decision first time. The decisions that are wrong are wastage. Don’t waste time regretting them.

Even if you really sweat a decision, waiting until you have every bit of evidence you possibly can get will fractionally reduce your bad decision making. Even if you really sweat a decision you may only reduce your wrong decisions fractionally.

The extra time it will have taken will have closed other doors to you.

Shall we enter these awards for this great work we did? Oh dear the deadline to enter has passed. Decision made: no.

Shall we enter this new market? Oh dear now our competitor is dominating that sector so we can’t get a foothold. Decision made. It’s a no.

Shall we invest in training for this valuable staff member? Oh dear they have been poached by a rival. So that’s a no as well.

In your mind procrastination is putting off a decision. But as a leader a lot of the time it is not just putting off a decision. It is allowing time to make the decision for you and that answer is almost always no.

So here are seven ways to stop procrastinating and regain the most important tool for you as a leader – decision making:

Split your week: Assign yourself days of the week for the jobs you need to do.

(My week is split into Monday and Tuesday clients and new business, Wednesday content creation, Thursday management, Friday finance)

Wedge difficult jobs: If you have a job you really don’t want to do but keep putting it off, schedule it in BEFORE something you do want to do and force yourself to do it then.

Deadline decisions: If you need to gather more information to make a decision, set a clear time frame for when you will get that information.

Do not go back on decisions: Unless circumstances change move on.

Delegate decision making. You have a team; use them.

Minimise distractions. Turn off all notifications on your phone and laptop. Tell your staff that you only look at emails at certain parts of the day and do it.

Two minute rule: Anything you can do in two minutes do it immediately.

Note: To write this article I used techniques 1,2 and 6.

John Higginson

John Higginson is the co-founder and CEO of purpose-led communications agency Higginson Strategy and host of the Communicating Purpose podcast

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