It’s said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t know that for sure, but I do know that you can’t build a career on them. I’ve seen many people’s careers stalled simply because they didn’t have the ability to get things done.
The formal term for this is procrastination, and although most people know what the word means, an astonishingly number of them don’t realize that they are, in fact, procrastinating. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid this career-killing condition.
The first thing to remember is that the best preparation for tomorrow is doing what needs to be done today, and doing it well. As important as it is to continually hone your skills and add to your knowledge, the most important thing you can do to advance your career is to do your daily tasks, no matter how mundane they may seem, to the best of your ability and on time. Doing things to the best of your ability is a great habit to form, and doing things on time builds confidence and relieves stress.
Next, if something unpleasant needs to be done, it should be done as soon as possible. Dealing with unpleasant tasks as soon as you can is a very effective time management technique. Throughout my entire career I tried to do at least one thing every day that I didn’t want to do, and I always did it as early in the day as possible. I always looked at it this way: if I have to swallow a spider, it’s best not to look at it too long. It’s easy to put off doing something you don’t want to do, but your modus operandi should be the complete opposite.
It’s important to realize that you won’t accomplish much if you always wait to be in the right mood. The only thing you can be absolutely sure of accomplishing is what you do right now. One of the most important earmarks of professionals is that they will do what needs to be done no matter how they feel about it, and they will do it well. Successful people don’t wait for conditions to be perfect, they do the best they can with conditions as they are. The time to do what you have to do is when it should be done. You never know how soon it will be too late; tomorrow has a habit of getting here before we’re ready for it. If you doubt this, just ask yourself how many times you’ve said to yourself, “If only I had …"
Another thing to remember is that to-do lists have to be managed; tasks not done build up and become a major contributor to stress. It’s amazing how trivial are many of the things we have to do, and yet how utterly important it is that we do them. Categorize the items on your to-do list into three categories: do; delegate; and ditch. Delegate as much as possible, ditch what really doesn’t need to be done, and do the rest. You can’t do everything at once, but you can do something at once. You will be judged by your accomplishments, not by how many items you put on a list.
Getting back to procrastination, you will be consistently outperformed by the person who does today what you put off until tomorrow.