Why You Shouldn’t “Try to Do It Now, Before You Forget”


Why is it that when you are overwhelmed by everything you have to do, it’s hard to escape this unwanted feeling? Sometimes it’s caused by unconscious habits such as the phrase many Jamaicans utter when we are under pressure at work: “Let me Do It Now Before I Forget.” While this practice comes from a good place, there’s a big drawback.

Recently, psychologists discovered that we don’t trust our future selves. It’s the version of you which is supposed to get things done later, the one to whom you delegate incomplete tasks. Where did this sentiment originate?

A first thought might be that your parents taught you this mistrust. After all, they were the ones who insisted that you pick up your socks NOW, because you could not be trusted to do so later, on your own. What you may not realize is that hidden behind their words was a subtle, negative message.

Today, your mind (or your boss) has taken over their judgmental tone. It has examined your past performance and decided that you are unreliable. So, it screams at you to do stuff now, to prevent it from joining a bungle of other promises you failed to fulfill. Although it’s a shrill, guilt-filled reminder of your mistakes, it justifies its existence because there are times when it has saved you from disaster.

Unfortunately, you won’t achieve high productivity and peace of mind with this voice shrieking in your ear. Here is the reason why, and how you can surpass it.

Why You Can’t Do Everything Now

When you were young you learned that it was better not to put things off: doing it now was the only way to guarantee peace of mind. Unfortunately, this conclusion is false.

It’s impossible to do everything now, unless you happen to be a pre-teen with few responsibilities and a strong backup network of parents, teachers and friends. It’s a habit which doesn’t scale – it falls apart when this network disappears or your work becomes too complex.

For most people this happens by their late teens. Like them, you became interested in completing projects which have a span of several months, encompassing lots of tasks. Insisting that you do everything right away became a bit like trying to study for every exam now – impossible.

As an adult, telling yourself to “Do something now before you forget” is actually an admission of failure. It implies that your own methods cannot be trusted, so you must resort to extreme measures.

Some falsely believe that this tactic is mandatory because they have a poor memory. Others blame it on a lack of character or a personality defect. Certainly when we are in a position of power and force someone else to “Do It Now” we are finding fault – it’s something they could fix if they wanted.

Maybe we have it all wrong and it’s not a matter of guilt. Here are some better options which are based strictly on behaviors.

Trust in Your Future Self Part 1 – Small Wins

Research by the Mayo Clinic in the area of fitness shows that people limit themselves with their focus on positive or negative self-talk. A better approach is to make a shift in focus towards habits, practices and tools: visible behaviors. Self-talk rarely works. Contrary to popular opinion, our mind responds more favorably to a regular pattern of behavior than it does affirmations.

Set up a long list of small actions and accomplish them one by one. Over time, your mind’s judgement will follow.

Trust in Your Future Self Part 2 – Keep Finding a Match

Ultimately, as you progress in your career, you want to prevent the kind of failures which cause you to lose trust in your future self. The only way to do so is to ensure that there’s a match between the volume of tasks you are trying to manage and your techniques. Whenever there’s a mismatch, you will make things worse.

This means that you must pay close attention to two things. First, early warning signs of trouble inform you of potential problems, showing you when it’s time to make improvements in your task management methods. Second, you should know what your next upgrade to your habits, practices and tools consists of long before you need it. Both these pieces of knowledge come from a sound diagnosis of your current time management skills.

Most people don’t have this kind of insight – they stumble around in the dark hoping for the best. However, if you follow these steps you don’t ever find yourself lost in overwhelming feelings, unable to find a way out. You’ll be able to do what it takes to correct the situation, freeing yourself from a need to do everything now, because you will be someone who never forgets: a reliable colleague.




How to eradicate the pain of broken promises from your company


Are you the kind of business-person who sometimes keeps your word and sometimes doesn’t? What difference does it make to your company?

A few years ago, a client advised me that he had a policy of not paying for weekend work. Unfortunately, I had already worked on Saturday and Sunday at his last-minute request. To make matters worse, he conveyed this news over the phone when I called to ask “Why is this cheque less than I expect?”

While it’s easy to paint him as a villain in this story, the fact is that there are many business-people who have a loose relationship with their word. To some extent, we all do. When push comes to shove, and things become inconvenient or awkward, we abandon our original intentions. In that moment, we justify our actions to ourselves: they make perfect sense. Unfortunately, they create problems for others.

Most of the time, we cannot see this impact. But we should take note. Every organization depends on a network of employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders who are tied to each other by an invisible web of promises.

In great companies, there is a strong relationship between making and keeping promises. Employees see the interaction as one which is sacred, engaging the honour of both parties. Fulfilling promises is critical to the firm’s success, so everyone treats them as important, existing only in black and white terms.

By contrast, weak companies operate like the client I mentioned. Promises are wholly contingent on circumstances; only a poor signal of intent, which often changes. Often, no one is sure when a reliable promise has actually been made.

How can you use these two extremes as an inspiration and a warning to move your company in the right direction?

— Teach Everyone a New Discipline

Recently my firm undertook a study of Jamaicans moving to live and work in Trinidad. One of the surprises our subjects discovered is that promises aren’t viewed as seriously as they expected in the twin-island republic.

This is a practical difference which has everyday implications. For example, when we lead transformation programs, one principle people remember is that of “integrity” which can be taken to mean “doing what you said you would do.” As you may imagine, teaching this principle effectively means varying the way we deliver it from one country to the next, and between companies.

For example, in Jamaica, we want our colleagues to act more like Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, but for ourselves, we still crave the freedom to get away with Bredda Anansi tricks. While this point of view is inherited, it reflects a failure to see the big picture: companies thrive when people make a supreme effort to stick to their word, regardless of the situation. matters. When they stick to their word when no-one is watching, with others who are powerless, on even small issues, it’s no minor matter.

It’s important because anyone who makes a promise puts herself in a battle against life’s circumstances. The random nature of our world resists this person’s commitment. It also militates against organizations who dare articulate a clear vision.

This is why a certain resilience around promises must be taught in companies – it cannot be taken for granted, and it doesn’t come for free.

— Learn techniques to prevent promises from disappearing

But making an effort to keep one’s promises isn’t enough. In this technology-driven time with lots of distractions, it’s also become more difficult to remember all the promises you make. Now, you need far more than your memory – you must use external devices if you hope to avoid falling behind. Furthermore, the more you progress up the corporate ladder, the more promises you are expected to be able to make and keep. Mastering promise management is a requirement.

Fortunately, the tools required to become skillful are to be found on the average smartphone or laptop. (Paper can also be used, but it has its shortcomings.)

Most companies leave employees to develop these skills and learn to use these tools in an ad hoc manner, leading to haphazard results. Then, promises aren’t kept because the skills to do so aren’t taught. This can be corrected via training or coaching.

— Open up and reveal hidden promises

The few companies who master the above steps soon realize they are not enough. Hidden in the culture of each company are unwritten, unspoken expectations which are every bit as powerful as explicit promises.

For example, every organization has invisible expectations around the speed of email replies. Making these standards transparent would save employees from the trial and error process they usually have to navigate.

Companies who get people to forge a strong relationship to their word can thrive when others fail. Sometimes it’s a direct way to produce a breakthrough in performance that meets everyone’s aspirations.