Everyone procrastinates. Some of us more than others.

We are particularly good at avoiding complexity, uncertainty, and risk of failure. The more energy a task might take, the more we automatically avoid it.

In our personal lives, it results in a family neglecting to put together a will, or a planned kitchen remodel languishing.

At work, it can result in a project being delayed, a great employee quitting, a poor employee sticking around, or complete disaster.

Look around corners and force yourself to do the hard things first. A leader who chooses to address the hard things up front will reduce risk and improve outcomes.

Reducing project risk

In a large project, there will be areas which are clear, and areas which are uncertain. Picture the amount of time a task will take as a number, and the uncertainty as a "+-" on that number. If you completed those tasks sequentially, you would have a mathematical formula for when you would complete your project.

Scenario: Creating a website

  • Task A: Create logo - 3 weeks +- 2 days
  • Task B: Create contact form - 2 weeks +- 1 week
  • Task C: Write content for site - 5 weeks +- 1 days

If you procrastinated and did the easiest (least uncertain) tasks first, your project plan would look like this:

  • Start (Time zero): Estimate 10 weeks left +- 1 week and 3 days
  • 5 weeks into the project: Estimate 5 weeks left +- 1 week and 2 days
  • 8 weeks into the project: Estimate 2 weeks left +- 1 week

As your project progressed, you grew less certain of when you would finish, as a percentage of the remaining time. With 2 weeks remaining, you still were at least one week +- on your schedule.

If you did the hardest thing first, your project plan would instead look like this:

  • Start (Time zero): Estimate 10 weeks left +- 1 week and 3 days
  • 2 weeks into the project: Estimate 8 weeks left +- 3 days
  • 5 weeks into the project: Estimate 5 weeks left +- 1 day

As your project progressed, you grew more certain of your launch date. You improved your certainty as a percentage of time remaining by reducing risk as a percentage of a project. Of course bullet two above might be "3 weeks into the project" if it took on the long side of expectations. Yet you still have reduced your uncertainty.

A known delay is significantly better than an unknown delay.

There is significant business value in finding ways of reducing risk, and doing the hard (uncertain) tasks first.