When it comes to productivity, there’s a whole self-help industry, culture, etc., that’s established itself. No wonder, more than ever, many of us really do need ‘the help’ … especially when it comes to ‘regulars’ like procrastination – “… the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished.” From the highly academic to the exceedingly practical, procrastination rightly serves as the target for research investigations to hacks, respectively. That being the case, there is hardly the need to add to this mountainous and at times unexpected terrain that today characterizes the landscape that is procrastination – except, to share what might be a serendipitous intersection between procrastination and lead measures. For those seeking more-comprehensive resources on procrastination, you’ll need to look elsewhere (via Google for example), as our focus here needs to be squarely on this intersection.
Before making the procrastination connection, we need to ensure we’re on the same page when it comes to lead measures.
As I understand them, based upon Cal Newport’s introduction in Deep Work, the notion of lead measures derives from McChesney et al.’s The 4 Disciplines of Execution. Briefly, and in my own words, the approach requires you shift your emphasis onto lead measures when chasing your Wildly Important Goals (WIGs) – i.e., it requires you to emphasize those behaviors that’ll allow you to ensure the success of your WIGs.
Suppose your WIG, a lag measure, is to find a job. A fine example of a lead measure then is networking. In other words, if you ‘merely’ ensure you network with three people per week for example, you’ll be executing a behavior that will contribute towards your WIG of finding a job. In fact, your lead measures with respect to networking could be even-more granular – for example:
Reach out to (say) 15 people in my LinkedIn network to secure introductions to people at employers of interest
The act of reaching out to those you know, via the enabling means provided by LinkedIn (for example), serves as an effective behavior for securing the introductions you require for networking. As an effective lead measure, it has an embarrassingly low activation energy. Whereas I’m not purporting to be an expert here on job seeking, networking, etc., I’m sure you get the gist of lead measures through this example. (In the case of networking, for example, one cannot overemphasize the importance of meeting in person – a behavior that has an even greater potential to serve as a lead measure, I’m sure many might argue.)
I shared another concrete example of a very different nature recently. At its core, the idea was to chase the WIG of propping up math skills in probability and statistics, for the purpose of engaging in the field of Deep Learning. Amongst the lead measures suggested, was that of tutoring prob & stats to high-school students as a vehicle for acquiring valuable knowledge and skills in this mathematical cornerstone for Deep Learning.
Whereas even a SMART’ly crafted WIG whose core objective is “getting a job” or “learning some math” has the potential to be overwhelming, teasing out lead measures results in things that are readily actionable … and that allows us to return to the matter of procrastination …
By employing the execution-discipline of acting on lead measures then, I believe we have herein the potential for a very different take on addressing the challenges and opportunities rendered through procrastination. With its execution focus that emphasizes the ‘right behaviors’, teasing out easily actionable lead measures is so much more than merely breaking down WIGs into digestible chunks – it’s a strategic approach that, when executed, has a much greater likelihood for success. In some respects then, lead measures serve as a foil for those lag measures corresponding to your WIG.
As the examples above illustrate, effective lead measures are the means through which lag measures that encapsulate your WIGs are achieved. Since we are concerned here specifically with the matter of procrastination, successful application of the approach described here rests upon striving for appropriately teased out lead measures. Stated simply, you’ll know you’ve ‘arrived’ at the right articulation of your lead measures when you can honestly state: “I can do that, right now”. In the examples used here, that would mean reaching out to LinkedIn contacts and booking math-tutoring sessions.
The process of ‘extracting’ those lead measures that best ensure the success of your WIG takes some concentrated effort and practice. For example, networking has been deemed by qualified others to be of value to job seekers at certain stages of their career; it may not be appropriate to others whose circumstances are quite different. Tutoring math to learn math will only be useful to those who have some experience both as a tutor and in math; it may be almost useless to others. In other words, the need for personalization is also critical in teasing out lead measures – and this is especially so when it comes to procrastination. So important is the matter of personalization to effectively crafted lead measures that I suspect the need for additional posts, courses/workshops, coaching, etc. Of course, this’ll demand an even deeper level of appreciation of the very nature of procrastination. For example, many have alluded to the emotional angles of procrastination. Owing to the inherently behavioral foundation of execution mediated via lead measures then, there exists an approach here that has the potential for mounting a targeted attack on procrastination at an emotional level! I remain optimistic then, that lead measures could become our superpower for addressing procrastination – as they have the potential to collectively serve as the foil for the lag measures that encapsulate our WIGs.
The most-comprehensive template I’ve ever run across for ensuring the success of habits-oriented goals can be found in Michael Hyatt’s Your Best Year Ever. A less-comprehensive, yet effective ‘template’ is provided by your calendar – a fine tool for tracking your streaks. Popularized by comedian Jerry Seinfeld, streak tracking addresses the final two of four execution disciplines head on – namely the need to keep a compelling scoreboard, as well as a cadence of accountability.
To make use of our two examples above for one final time, tracking might translate to:
- Logging weekly the number of times you’ve reached out to LinkedIn contacts for networking referrals, and then weekly logging the referrals acquired, and finally the (monthly) conversations held.
- Logging weekly the number of math students tutored, and for each time spent, over some period of time (e.g., a term, semester, session, course).
Such quantitative measures render your actions visible, without ambiguity. If your outcomes aren’t matching your expectations, you have at your fingertips the data to validate your hypotheses – e.g.:
Is reaching out to 15 LinkedIn contacts weekly producing the number (3) of referrals I need?
With evidence then, you can always re-examine your lead measures to ensure they are appropriately aligned with your encapsulation of your WIG via your lag measure.
It’s a no-brainer that professional athletes engage intensely in the habit of daily practice – and the best, NFL football’s Tom Brady for example, never stop! Even though along with his teammates and the coaching staff of the New England Patriots they have collectively won five Super Bowl championships, Brady remains a ‘student of the game’, practising with the utmost intensity in a effort to repeat this feat for a record-setting sixth time. The same could be shared with respect to world-class musicians irrespective of musical genre.
Actions quantified, through streak tracking on calendars to thorough templates, allows each of us to confront procrastination through the discipline of execution – thus elevating our game, our level of play, to the level of a professional. Stated differently, armed with the right lead measures, these final two steps ensure that failure is not an option – or that we’ll, at the very least, land a whole-lot closer to our WIGs.
Having WIGs is great. However, achieving WIGs is better. The difference is in execution. By focusing on lead measures, your prospects for actually achieving your WIGs will be significantly enhanced in practice (literally). Appropriately teased out lead measures have the potential to significantly inhibit procrastination – by focusing on behaviors that you can implement immediately … behaviors you can make use of to evaluate your progress in an objective way. Net-net, the four disciplines of execution can be especially valuable to those of us ‘prone’ towards procrastination; they can become a highly effective mitigation strategy.
Commiting to a WIG, or some aspect of a WIG, that can be achieved in about a month’s time can be extremely appealing. Whereas the focus of a 30-day effort may reduce symptoms of procrastination in some of us, interweaving lead measures into the context of an Agile Sprint is even more likely to drive most of us to the next level of achievement. For a concrete example, based upon the teaching-math-to-learn-math ‘use case’ above, please have a look at the Agile Sprints section in this previous post.