Don Khouri Blog

Three steps to Overcoming Procrastination

Posted by Don Khouri on Fri, May 21, 2010

Procrastination has been a hot topic recently with a few clients, and I wanted to offer some tips on overcoming it.  First let's take a look at the reasons people procrastinate.

Reasons People Procrastinateprocrastination, productivity, technology, tomorrow

Lack of Commitment.  It may be that you are no longer committed to the task.  At one point it was important, and now it is no longer important.  You may not have even realized that this is the case, so it stays on your to-do list or in your head, and your stress level increases each time you come across it.

Lack of Clarity.  The second reason is that you haven't decided what you are going to do about it.  For example, let's look at putting an estate plan in place.  On your list, you have something called 'Estate Plan'.  It is important to you.  You are still committed to doing it for all the right reasons (minimizes taxes, family is protected, etc.).  The only trouble is you can't do anything about Estate Plan as is.  Part of the problem is you're too smart.  When you look at something on your list that is too big and too difficult to do, you process that in your head for a few seconds, and move on to the next item. 

Overwhelm.  The third reason people procrastinate is because they are overwhelmed by too much to do.  Some will be frozen by this sense of overwhelm, and as a result they end up doing nothing.  As David Allen says, "there is always more to do than you can do." 

Finally, people procrastinate because they are not focused.  It is very easy to get distracted today with all of the information, interruptions, and details coming at us. 

Overcoming Procrastination

The next time you come across something that you are putting off, something that every time you look at it you skip right over, try the following actions:

  1. Decide if you are still committed to doing it.  If you are go to step 2.  If you are not, then take it off the list.  Perhaps you are not committed to it right now but may be at some point in the future.  In that case, move it to a parking lot list or someday list that you can come back to at a later time.  Sometimes, it is more important to decide what not to do, that it is what to do.
  2. Now, decide what to do.  Going back to the estate planning example, you are not going to write yourself.  So you may need to hire an attorney to do it for you.  How are you going to do that?  Perhaps you are going to get a recommendation from a friend.  Great, how are you going to do that?  Well, perhaps email Sue regarding estate planning attorney.  Fantastic, that is something you can do.  Now, you've decided what you are going to do about it, i.e. email Sue.  By distilling the project into a clear action item, you can begin to make progress.
  3. Stay focused on that item.  Think about the times when you are most productive, lose track of time, and cranking on all cylinders.  It is when you are focused on one thing at a time.

It is that simple.  We just make it more complicated by skipping over these steps unconsciously.  When we do, things pile up and it becomes more difficult to catch-up. 

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What are you procrastinating about right now?
  • How committed are you to completing it?
  • What do you need to do to move this item forward?


Tags: productivity, leadership, technology

Five Leadership and Productivity Lessons from the MWRA

Posted by Don Khouri on Wed, May 05, 2010

We can learn a few things from the leaders of the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) -- communicate, set expectations, be visible, say thank you, and focus.

For those that are not in the Boston area, on Saturday there was a water pipe failure in Weston, MA which resulted in an interruption in water service and a boil water order issued for drinking water for 30 communities in the Boston area. Here are a few ideas that the MWRA did well in handling this crisis. 


The MWRA got the word out early and quickly.  I first heard about it on Facebook, then read the press release online, and saw the news report later that evening.  In downtown Boston, the police canvassed the neighborhoods with large bullhorns to get the message across. They were also very clear about various uses of the water (okay for bathing, not okay for drinking, brushing your teeth, washing dishes).  We knew exactly what we should do and what we shouldn't do.

Set Expectations

Very early in the process, I heard MWRA officials explain that there was a three-stage process to correct the problem -- secure the leak with concrete casing, test to ensure the pipe can handle the water flow, and finally test the quality of the drinking water.  Throughout the process, the officials explained where they were in that process.  They also explained that this three-step process could take several days to resolve.  In general, people saw it as a minor inconvenience.  If MWRA had communicated that it would be resolved in 24 hours and then taken two days, I think people would have been less understanding.

Be Visible

There was at least one press conference led by the MWRA Executive Director, and several by Governor Patrick keeping the communities informed of the status of the repairs and reminding people about the water boiling requirements.

Say Thank Youthank you, productivity, leadership, mwra

During the press conference on Monday morning (24 hours before the boil water order was lifted), the Executive Director thanked his team for their tireless effort to resolve the problem.  This came across in a very sincere and appreciative way.  It is always important to thank your team for their commitment and for good work.


From what I can tell, resolving this problem in less than three days was a project that required laser focus.  The team worked around the clock until the pipe was repaired.  Remember, we are most productive when we focus on one project.  During a crisis, we naturally clear our head of all the other distractions and focus on the task at hand.  The trick is to do that in the absence of crisis. 

Don's Coaching Questions:

  • What can you thank your team for now?
  • How good are you at setting expectations?
  • What are you working on right now that requires your focus?


Tags: productivity, leadership, technology, communication