Just do it.

I have always struggled against the forces of procrastination when there’s a deadline or work project that is long dated in nature. This was particularly tough in the early years of University, where you’re essentially reliant on self-motivation and drive to study and complete your work assignments. Despite having decent visibility into assignment due dates and exam dates well in advance, I nearly always waited until the last minute to pull something together or cram for an exam.

On the other hand, I’ve always excelled at working hard in short bursts, particularly leading up to an urgent deadline. Working in Investment Banking and Private Equity were the ideal conditions for me. Most work assignments tend to be short-term and/or high-pressure in nature, so there isn’t as much of an opportunity for procrastination. You’re forced to deliver work towards a hard deadline, and there are severe consequences to missing those deadlines. Let’s say you’re reviewing an investment in a company. Often, you’re competing with multiple other investment firms, and working towards a pre-set deadline to submit a bid or purchase offer. You can’t show up late or ask for extra time (“Oops, sorry”). It’s simply not an option.

As a result, it was a big transition joining Avanti and the corporate world. Not to suggest there are no high pressure, short-term deadlines for projects in the corporate world (there are), but on a relative basis, the consequences of delay are less severe, and the nature of the work seems to lend itself more to sustained long-term efforts to be successful. It’s much more of a marathon than a series of sprints. As a result, I’ve really had to train myself to be better at pushing forward projects with long-dated deadlines and less severe consequences of delay. I’ve found it’s primarily a mental game. Once you get into the work, the reality is often much easier than we make it out to be in our thoughts.  

Over the years, I’ve gotten significantly better at managing this. A big part of it is practice. But the important realization I’ve had, is how real the mental cost and burden is of continually thinking about the work you need to do before doing it. Let’s say your boss tells you she needs a PowerPoint presentation prepared and you have three weeks to complete it. If you used to be like me, you would wait 2 weeks and 4 days before starting to pull it together; however, over the course of those two+ weeks, you probably spend several hours thinking about the work, even if you haven’t started on it. In any given week, the time spent thinking about the things you need to do can outweigh the amount of time it takes to actually do them.

Nike really nailed it with their slogan, “Just Do It”. If you can ‘Just Do It’, you’ll relieve much of the wasted thought exercise of thinking about it. Our CFO has a similar, great quote she shared with me, which is “Love it so you can leave it”. The sooner you complete the daunting task, the faster you can leave it behind. Keeping this in mind has helped change my perspective and been a powerful motivator to getting things done, earlier (even if it’s still an uphill battle).

I’ve found this is equally as true regarding tough conversations, whether with employees, your boss, or a peer, as it is with completing work projects. Both have a real mental cost of delay and the sooner you can get to it, the sooner you can leave it behind.