We live in an accelerated world. If you’ve read Juliet B. Schor’s pathbreaking book, The Overworked American, you know that US workers log more hours and less vacation than the average medieval peasant. This was true in 1991 when Schor’s book was published and, if anything, it is even more true now. The supercharged pace of daily life creates a world of unrealistic expectations. We overextend ourselves because hard work is a moral imperative. Amidst this “always-more” mindset, excuses provide a lifeline. After all, being too busy is a legitimate—even revered—state of affairs, and so it provides a clean getaway from stressful tasks. In warp-speed economics, excuses save us from ourselves.
Unfortunately, they also torpedo our productivity and muddle our priorities. You see, excuses force the tasks that require the greatest care down your to-do list because they are those that consume the most energy. The issue, of course, is that they are also the tasks that matter most. Failing to sit down and write your weekly status report until 9:30pm on Friday is a contradictory act. After all, the reason we procrastinate on stressful tasks is because they are hard, while this is the precise reason we should get to them first, when we’re fresh and at full capacity.
Four Tips for Breaking Up with Your Excuses
1. Practice smart decision-making.
When deciding between two competing priorities, verbalize your choice. Literally say, “_________” is more important than “_________.” Don’t like what you hear? Well, there’s your answer.
2. Instill self-accountability.
What makes you tick? Is it staying ahead of the competition? Nailing your projected numbers? Receiving glowing client feedback? Whatever it may be, know that by tackling tough tasks first you get more of it. Why? Because while everyone else procrastinates, you get ahead. Lean on this knowledge any time you find yourself avoiding essential tasks.
3. Schedule breaks.
Periodic, short breaks help you focus for longer. This wisdom is enshrined in the Pomodoro technique but you need not be so formal. Very simply, all that’s required is that you pencil in periodic, 5-15-minute pauses in your day. The key here is that you also need to plan what you are going to do during these rest periods, though. With so many folks still working remotely, maybe it’s folding laundry or going for a short walk and listening to the latest Trevor Noah. The activity doesn’t matter; what matters is knowing the breaks are coming in those moments you notice yourself pulled off task.
4. Get started.
“The first step is always the hardest” is a cliché because it’s true. The best way to break with a habit of making excuses to avoid that which matters most is simply to stop. Hit pause. Check yourself and change course. Each week, rather than aiming to get everything done, aim only to get started. Positive reinforcement, after all, is a better motivator than anxiety.
As with all bad habits, it’s no use despairing if your attempts at change fail. Backslides are a part of the process. What matters most is that after each hiccup you reset and start again. Naturally, this is easier if you’ve got a person in your life holding you accountable and congratulating your successes. Even better is if this person knows your business and is invested in your growth.
Hiring & Empowering Solutions can be that person. For decades now, we’ve helped legal leaders and their teams advance their firms. For details on our celebrated programs and services, feel free to book a qualifier call and find out if your firm is a candidate!