In Procrastinate on Purpose, author Rory Vaden proposes a practical prescription to an increasingly complex and busy world — a world where we now average an hour a day just looking for stuff. Distraction is more tempting than ever, and burnout is more Googled than ever. The increasing options for how we spend our time and even the tools to help us can feel like too much to manage. Rory asserts we better manage ourselves instead so we can continue enjoying work, creating with our teams, and being present for those we care about. The five permissions: Ignore, Invest, Imperfect, Incomplete, and Protect accompany five choices arranged in a Focus Funnel to help us better approach our work and the opportunities around us. This book is less about identifying your many priori-ties and more about determining your priori-ty right now.
The Truth About Time
- Priority Dilution is delaying the day’s most important activities by consciously or unconsciously allowing our attention to shift to less important tasks. This most affects top performers and high achievers who push for excellence and are asked to do more as a result (p. 6).
- Rory thought he was always so busy but realized the people he found successful never shared how busy they were or seemed overwhelmed. He asked one, and they replied, “You reach a point where you realize how futile it is to expend energy sharing or even thinking about how busy ‘you’ are. Once you get to that place, you shift to focusing that energy productively into getting the things done rather than worrying about [doing them].” Rory calls these people Multipliers (p. 8).
- There are irrefutable challenges brought on by our roles and work environments, but all commitments were made or allowed by you. Owning your problem enables you to begin changing the situation (p. 8).
- Balance means equal force in opposite directions. We often think of this as a metaphor for long-term health and effectiveness at work. It is more useful to think of it as imbalancing our efforts toward one priority and returning to other priorities after we accomplish the first, like working in seasons
- To a Multiplier, success is less about efficiency or effectiveness and more about efficacy — the quality of being successful in producing an intended result. Efficiency serves to increase our speed while effectiveness is merely the quality of the action involved in a task (pp. 16-17).
Managing and Prioritizing Your Time
- Time management literature is mostly about being efficient, which only helps get work done faster. People get stuck in this linear thinking from the semantics of the phrase itself. It suggests you should work faster with the time you have without much consideration for results or priorities. Time is fixed, so it is better to think of yourself and your approach as the focus of your efforts (pp. 21, 25).
- The efficiency paradigm and “managing your time argument” does not hold water because there is more work than you could ever do, something to improve, something to add, and so on. Your focus is best placed on your own priorities (p. 24).
- The popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey, set forth the Time-Management Matrix, which graphically separates four distinct quadrants: 1. Important and Urgent, 2. Important but Not Urgent, 3. Not Important but Urgent, and 4. Not Important and Not Urgent. Dr. Covey shifted the conversation by appealing that results come from focusing on quadrant two — things like “planning your strategy, relationship building, and recognizing and investing in new opportunities” (p. 34).
Multiplying Your Time
- Moving things ahead in your queue (prioritizing) is a relevant and worthwhile skill, but it does not create more time. It’s a feeling of juggling tasks which might work for a while, but eventually seeps into protected things like family time. Reprioritizing alone leaves you with only two options: juggle more balls or juggle faster — a sure path to burnout (p. 41).
- “While most people are still making decisions based only on the two-dimensional model of factoring in Importance and Urgency, Multipliers make a third calculation that is based on Significance” (pp. 45-46).
- Urgency: How soon does this matter?
- Importance: How much does this matter?
- Significance: How long is this going to matter?
- Those making the Significance calculation are engaging in the third dimension of thinking. “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” (pp. 46-47).
- Rory highlights how Significance reinforces the importance of adapting yourself over trying to manage time. “[Multipliers] have given themselves five permissions that the rest of us have not. It is those five permissions and the frameworks they use to determine when to employ them that enable them to multiply time” (p. 60).
Eliminate: The Permission to Ignore
- Each permission begins with a question, and when we Eliminate, we ask ourselves, “What are all the things I can just eliminate?” The best things to just stop doing do not require explanation, apology, or warning. Of the five permissions, what we choose to ignore presents the most immediate opportunity for saving time (p. 67).
- Once we reduce the volume of insignificant tasks, more time and headspace are available for Significant tasks. Some common things to eliminate include re-thinking things you’ve already decided, favoring long email messages over phone calls, and overthinking what you’ll do next (p. 68).
- Get better at saying no. “You cannot say yes without also implicitly saying no.” Multipliers ask themselves, “Am I saying yes to the things that create more time tomorrow, and am I saying no to the things that don’t?” (p. 76).
- Rory describes a series of interactions with his favorite author who turned him down repeatedly “in the best way possible”. He wanted to discuss writing his own book with the author and reached out while in town. An assistant replied with a friendly rejection. A few years later, he tried again and received a personal response from the author apologizing for his loaded calendar and saying his family had asked him to commit the remainder to more time with them. Several years later Rory was rejected yet again, but this time by an assistant sent to thank him in person with flowers. The point: “You can say no and still be nice!” (pp. 79-84).
Automate: The Permission to Invest
- Each decision to do something comes with an opportunity cost — losing a chance at doing one thing by picking another. Rory describes a more detrimental hidden cost — “the extrapolation of potential additional benefits or costs associated with a certain opportunity cost”. Buying a five-dollar coffee rather than investing it is the opportunity cost, while the hidden cost is the potential forty-five dollars gained in interest (pp. 91-92).
- Choosing to do things you can Automate is one of the most common wastes of time in each workday. “How many things are you doing that are completely regimented and routine, yet you are spending your precious time doing something that a simple computer program could do?” (p. 97).
- Identifying problems is the easy part. Investing in their solutions is how we make real progress. “A company can never outgrow the strength of its systems.” Automating repetitive tasks allows us to return our attention to that second quadrant: Important but Not Urgent (p. 99).
- Calendars can become a source of distraction and frustration. Using category blocks such as family, client-work, or discretionary reading instead of loading it with singular events can help reduce the back-and-forth drudgery that comes with tools we let harm us more than help us (pp. 108, 110).
Delegate: The Permission of Imperfect
- The next best thing to Automating a task is Delegating it. The critical question here is: “Does what I’m doing right now require my unique skillset, or is it possible there are other people capable of doing this?” The most dangerous idea is: “In the time [I’ve taken to teach you] this, I could’ve already done it” (pp. 118-120).
- The thirty-to-one rule is a helpful way of deciding what’s worth delegating. Generally, if something takes you five minutes, it should take you 150 minutes to teach someone else. Compare that to the 1,250 minutes you would spend across business days in a year (pp. 121-122).
- The real reason we have a problem delegating is perfectionism. “Perfectionism isn’t a logical issue; it’s another emotional one.” We have to grant ourselves permission to be imperfect and see the service in allowing others to make mistakes. “Things turn out never to be as bad as they feel or as good as they sound” (pp. 128-129).
Procrastinate: The Permission of Incomplete
- As the Focus Funnel progresses, our options for handling a task decrease, and we are left asking, “Can this wait until later?” Our natural response to urgency is to drop everything and act now, but Rory encourages procrastinating on those things we answer “yes” to (p. 149).
- The difference between healthy procrastination and what we typically think of as intentionally delaying because we determined the timing is wrong, compared to unconsciously delaying something we are avoiding (p. 150).
- Waiting until the last minute (within reason) allows you to account for unexpected change. “Doing something early is not the same as creating more time. It is just taking time from tomorrow and moving it into today and adding the risk of unexpected change cost” (pp. 155, 157).
- Rory refers to the archetypes on either extreme of acting too late or too early as Gun Slingers and Worry Warts. Gun Slingers risk acting too late and often come in rowdy after the last minute and drive co-workers crazy. Worry Warts never wait until the last minute and risk creating re-work for everyone later on because plans changed halfway (pp. 158-159).
Concentrate: The Permission to Protect
- Concentration is the antithesis of Priority Dilution, requiring all “efforts, faculties, and activities” are brought to bear on one thing. You should only use it if the answer to the previous four questions from the Focus Funnel is “no” — that’s what makes a priority (pp. 187-190).
- If it’s not a priority, Eliminate it, Automate it, Delegate it, Procrastinate it, or leave it Incomplete so you can Concentrate on what you know you should be doing. If something comes to mind while you’re focused on a priority, Procrastinate on Purpose and be present. The most critical question to have in mind: “Is what I’m doing right now the next most Significant use of my time?” (pp. 191, 193).
- Concentrating is about protecting yourself from the chaos around you and elevating your best self and therefore your team. Multipliers feel obligated to spend time on Significant things today that create more opportunity for themselves and their teams (p. 197).
Multiplying Your Results
- “As Individuals, we regularly think about how we can be more efficient — sure. But as teams, companies, and organizations, we never talk about all the things we are doing that are a complete waste of time.” Unintentional procrastination, turnover, indecision, interpersonal conflict, and change are all common costs of time (pp. 209, 211).
- Getting whole teams to do the most Significant thing at once takes patience in applying the Focus Funnel to incoming tasks. Set the foundations by clarifying differences between two- and three-dimensional thinking and reinforce the value of saving on hidden costs (pp. 212-213).
Vaden, R. (2015). Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time. New York: Perigree, Penguin Random House LLC.