Organizational procrastination is a killer for your personal productivity.
One of my first realizations on my productivity journey was how dangerous and subtle procrastination can be. There is blatant procrastination, such as scrolling endlessly on Facebook or Tiktok. But there is more subtle procrastination, sometimes even procrastination, that is forced on you.
I'm aware of three levels of procrastination:
- Level 1 procrastination: you're mindlessly scrolling through TikTok for 2 hours a day (730 hrs per year, which equals 91 work days!)
- Level 2 procrastination: you feel productive because you were able to check off 40 tasks in your to-do app this week. Unfortunately, you've been cherry-picking tasks from your backlog that cost you the least energy and willpower. Therefore, those were 40 activities that don't drive you or others forward and create value. They were unessential tasks, and thus, in the end, this was procrastination, but a more subtle category.
- Level 3 procrastination: you're a manager or creator in a large corporation. You would like to focus on the essential few activities that move you and the company forward. Still, you find it impossible because you are forced into endless decision-making sessions and stakeholder alignments. Your calendar is 4/5 filled with meetings, and you discuss with colleagues more about strategies, guidelines and concepts instead of implementing them. "Somebody should do XY sometime" is a frequently heard statement.
Level 3 procrastination, which I call organizational procrastination, is the one I would like to dive deep into in this article.
Business theatre leads to organizational procrastination.
Many strange behaviours in larger organizations feel normal at first, But if you question them, you find that they are unnecessary and productivity-inhibiting.
Example: If a concept has to be developed on how the company should react to something new (e.g. a market trend), then it is not the expert who is closest to the topic who proposes (within 2-3 days or so), which can then be discussed and concluded in a larger group. In reality, the following business theatre is played out instead:
- The first step is determining who is responsible for the topic, who decides, and who has something to say.
- Then a greenfield-approach workshop is held to which all stakeholders are invited. For 6 hours, all those present prove to each other how well and comprehensively they understand the topic. If things go well for the remaining 2 hours, an attempt is made to sort out the topic's content and work on it. Finally, the group concludes that it is impossible to develop a joint image with 12 people without starting on a first draft. So someone is mandated to do the first draft. This is usually the expert who would have been in the best position to make the first draft in the first place. Funnily enough, he could quickly have done this draft in the time he wasted in the workshop.
- The expert now prepares the draft. Since he is constantly involved in the overall business theatre and the calendar is always full of meetings, it takes 3-4 weeks, although the expert could have done it in one afternoon.
- The expert consults with his colleagues to agree on his draft. Since you can't get everyone into one conference, many individual meetings must be set and carried out.
- Other colleagues are now coming forward who have not been involved but feel essential in this topic and are "irritated" that there are already draft concepts without being consulted. The expert has to deal with smoothing the waters and avoiding escalation.
- After one or more feedback loops, a final draft is available, which must be approved again by the overall stakeholder group and then presented to the management for a final decision.
As you can see, this business theatre can turn a task of 2-3 working days into several weeks or even months in no time. And all involved feel productive because they have brought the process forward, and in the end, there is a result. But in reality, it was only a pseudo-productivity for most of the people involved, and in total, it was only organizational procrastination which wasted chances to generate actual values.
An exuberant meeting culture is the most vital symptom of organizational procrastination.
You don't even have to analyze a company in detail to check whether it is afflicted by organizational procrastination. A glance at the calendars of various roles is sufficient. It's okay for a first- or second-level manager to have a calendar full of meetings because their job is politics, policy and coordination.
But if you look at the calendar of a software developer, marketing specialist or business developer, there must be much more time for individual work than for meetings.
But the sad truth is that in a typical company - maybe even in all large companies - the calendars of anyone are packed to the brim, and unessential activities continuously dilute the essential tasks.
You must resist organizational procrastination vigorously.
You have two options. You can play the game and, with humility, patience and gratitude, lower your expectations of productivity in business and adjust them to reality. No one would blame you for that since no one knows or does it better.
The other option is to fight organizational procrastination actively and not accept it in the tasks and goals you stand for. This is easier said than done because the hidden cause of organizational procrastination lies in the social fabric and everyone wants to be liked and appreciated.
To fight organizational procrastination actively, you must make yourself unpopular or at least feared but respected. You can not be liked by everyone:
- You reduce stakeholder alignments and feedback loops in the Pareto sense to the minimum. Colleagues will complain that you don't actively involve them.
- You can't consider every opinion, only the right ones. Colleagues will complain that they are missing something or would do something differently.
- You decide for yourself in case of doubt when it is unclear who decides. Colleagues will feel threatened by your "power grab" and put obstacles in your way.
- If you make mistakes, they will be assigned to you without a doubt. Colleagues will talk about you negatively in the hallway.
- You protect your time like nothing else. Colleagues will complain about how hard it is to talk to you, and that collaboration is impossible this way.
But: you will be mega effective and respected all the more by colleagues who want to make a difference and achieve something. So you're really only upsetting those who live in and from the business of theatre.
If the above behaviours seem too heinous for you, then I would say that there is indeed a way in the middle. You can also be someone who knows the business theatre and can play it where necessary but also knows the danger of getting bogged down and avoids the organizational procrastination part where possible.
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