October 17, 2008
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Procrastinate for Success!

Procrastination can be a useful tool. You can’t do everything. So don’t.

I’m a habitual procrastinator. It’s a fundamental component of my psyche. It’s also an important factor in success at running a small business. Here’s why.

In a small company you’re overwhelmed with things to do. At Smart Bear we still have a dense whiteboard full of marketing ideas we don’t have time for, dozens of index cards with cool features we don’t have time to implement, and 7,000 open issues and minor feature requests in Fogbugz we don’t even have time to glance at.

And that’s now, with five years of work and fifteen employees. It was hundred times worse at the beginning with just one person doing all the work.

This one person must have worked tirelessly. (He did.) This person must have been willing to do every kind of job. (He was.) This person must have been hyper-organized, allowing nothing to slip through the cracks, spending precious time on only the most high-valued tasks, not just working on whatever this person felt like at the time. (Ummmmmm… <looks sheepishly at toes>… not so much.)

“Don’t put off ’till tomorrow what you can put off ’till the day after tomorrow.” Thanks, Mark, for guiding the overwhelmed.

You really do have too much to do. Prioritization might be best in theory, but plain, gut-feel procrastination might be the right way to go. 

Many things blow over if you just ignore them. The big feature you got worked up about yesterday seems unimportant in the cold light of today. A feature a customer says is vital turns out to be something suggested by their intern, not something actually stopping a sale. An apparent fundamental bug turns out to be a misconfiguration. An important meeting turns out to be unimportant.

Besides, a lot of those tasks aren’t as important as you think. Even something critical like accounting can be put off. Late fees, lost receipts, penalties from the IRS: financial burdens more than compensated by additional revenue gained by signing up one more customer.

Financial tasks in particular also have the property of being faster to do in a big sweep rather than as they trickle in. It’s faster to enter 100 receipts into Quickbooks once a month than to enter three a day. Little tasks like that still have context-switch overhead, plus you get fast at typing and keyboard shortcuts when you’re doing the same action hundreds of times in a row.

Finally, sometimes you’ve got to let yourself do fun stuff at the expense of priorities. Most of what you do in a little company isn’t what you enjoy doing; it’s easy to become frustrated and burned-out. So sometimes you need to allow yourself to recover with plain fun. Whatever the cost of putting off duties, burn-out is even more costly.

Yeah I know I’m rationalizing. But you can’t do everything, so don’t.

And don’t beat yourself up over it.

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