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Delay, Defer, Deny

Delay is the deadliest form of denial. – Historian C. Northcote Parkinson

Most professionals keep work journals and calendars, either on paper or electronically. Somewhere alongside the notes and dates, you’ll typically find a to-do list. The list is designed to serve as a reminder of the high priority items that are critical to the business. Here’s the kicker though – the to-do list is only effective if you scratch things off. (Is that how that’s supposed to work?)

Occasionally, you’ll notice that a specific task stays in the day’s top 10 over and over, much longer than it should. If it isn’t completed, it’s re-listed and then added again but there’s no guarantee if/when it will actually be accomplished. Eventually, the carryover task almost looks like part of the template instead of an actual work prompt. When it reaches that point, you can bet your bottom dollar that avoidance is the problem. Not difficulty or resources, but rather an intentional delay rooted in some reason other than the task itself.

20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions – Psychology Today

The carryover factor does many things – it’s denial by delay. It keeps the important functions on your list as a way of saying, “yes this is important and I’ve got to get it done.” It can come with a daily dose of guilt that you think will shame you into finishing it (doesn’t work.) Or, the delay can lull you into complacency. Soon it becomes like an old chair that you’ve been meaning to toss. First you see it and decide to move it (but you’ve got to watch that episode of Breaking Bad.) Then you plan to schedule the trip to Goodwill (but a trip to Target is in order first, right?.) In a few weeks, you simply walk around it – that is until an old friend or relative calls to say they’re dropping by for a visit. The chair/task is then a full blown emergency.

When the deferred to-do list task reaches emergency status, it can wreak havoc on your team and impact your productivity. You can no longer deny that it needs to be handled but now it’s causing stress and it’s disruptive. If this happens too often then you must find a way to avoid the carryover effect.

Here are a few tips:

  • Dig Deeper. If you notice a trend in the specific types of tasks you avoid, it sheds light on your discomfort or anxiety. Dig deeper and ask why – does it bring up a bad memory? Is it an area that’s too challenging or reminds your a previous failure?
  • Lift and Separate. Try to separate the task from an initial cause of discomfort. If you’re avoiding your bookkeeping because you’re uncomfortable with numbers because it reminds you of a poor grade in your accounting class, do whatever you can to separate the two issues. The class was then. You’ve learned so much more since that point.
  • Know the consequences. Look at those items that have had the longest to-do shelf life. Write next to the list item exactly what will happen if you don’t complete this task. Don’t just tell yourself the consequences in your head, write it down so that you can see the full effect of your denial.
  • Time yourself. Set a reasonable time limit. (You’re not going to finish 3 months worth of filing in 2 hours.) If the items are not handled by your deadline, grab a mirror and give yourself a good, honest talking to.
  • Pass the rock! Outsourcing works. Two boxes of receipts sat in a corner for months. They needed to be scanned but it wasn’t happening. Paying someone $200 to scan, organize and store them online turned out to be an invaluable investment.  What you’re avoiding may be the exact thing that turns the next person on, so they’re much more efficient – and it gets done that way.

Whatever you need to eliminate the carryover items, do it now. Keeping an item on your list for two months simply means you’re avoiding it out in the open.  So do it, fix it, or pass it off.  I know you can.

4 comments on “Delay, Defer, Deny

  1. TRDx

    Uh Oh! I’m a 20%er… an Avoider…. NOOOOOOOOO!! They say knowing is half the battle huh. I’m working on the other half of the battle. THANKS

    • doromarketing

      Knowing is definitely half the battle; guess we’re all working on the other half. Thanks so much for the comment.

  2. Jenever Utsey

    I love this article and it is so true! I can attest to it! Great work!

    Sent from my iPhone

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This entry was posted on 10/11/2013 by in All About the Business, DOOR #3 and tagged , , , , , .
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