This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistia team member's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Jeff Vincent is Director of Customer Happiness at Wistia.
There was a time, not too long ago, when I worked in a cubicle farm. It involved a lot of paper-pushing, signatures, and micro-managing third party services.
I was terrible at it. I spent a lot of my time reading, watching funny videos, chatting with college friends. Despite projects running dangerously close to behind schedule, I never felt a sense of urgency. Instead, I spent my time procrastinating.
I've always been somewhat disappointed in myself because I failed so badly in that role. There is no doubt in my mind that my procrastination was the problem, but I just couldn't shake it.
The absolute worst source of procrastination for me was not knowing what the heck I was supposed to do next. I'd spend hours avoiding the task at hand when I didn't know where to start.
That paralysis would spread to other tasks, things I was very familiar with. I'd gotten used to the idea of being helpless, and fell into a lack of confidence trap. I'd end up in the grocery store, staring at potato chips, unable to make a choice (true story).
Ask for Help
To fix this one, I had to force myself to face my fear of asking others for help. When I don't know the answer to a question, I know which steps to take to determine if I can figure it out for myself, or whether I need to ask for help. Conquering that fear, and doing things I never thought possible thanks to things I learned from others, has made me more confident and ready to tackle any task.
Document Like Crazy
I also document things like crazy. I document lessons learned, articles read, and the steps needed to take on tasks. I created a support bible, the "The Moreau Doctrine", that contains snippets of information and technical facts to help tackle a myriad of questions. When new support folks start at Wistia, they are given this tome that represents all my knowledge. No one is stuck on a question and doesn't know where to go for help. Avoiding that frustration leads to more productive days for everyone.
Before graduating college, I spent two years on-and-off running a small restaurant's kitchen. We ran a restaurant and a banquet hall out of the same tiny kitchen. As a teenager, I was probably pretty cheap labor for them, but I also ran a tight ship.
These were 12- to 14-hour days fueled by coffee and an endless stream of work. Other cooks would call in sick constantly, or just up and quit for extended periods of time. I learned a lot about culture from that experience.
I quickly learned the value of to-do lists - you don't want to forget to take out the turkey before a Thanksgiving dinner for 200 (although microwaving a turkey in an emergency is easier than you'd think, but that's a different story).
Understand Why It's Important
To-do lists are great, but they aren't the silver bullet for my productivity (or anyone else's for that matter). In my case, understanding why something was important and needed to be done was the rocket fuel I needed.
Donnie, my mentor at the time, always did a good job of communicating how he wanted something done and why it should be done that way. Instead of just blindly assigning tasks, he would explain how it fit into the larger picture. Believe me, when you're taking the scales off fish, or dicing buckets of broccoli (that's a technical measurement) the only way to remain focused is to understand why it is valuable.
These days, I continue this practice with everyone I work with. Assigning tasks to someone is useless without explaining the full context and being open to their input. You don't need a song-and-dance to get the right people excited about work, just give them a sense of how they contribute to the whole and why they are valuable. They'll be off to the races.
One of my favorite cures for procrastination is to just do. Sometimes, we spend too much time planning or worrying about the tasks ahead, and not enough time just doing. When I'm falling into that trap, I find myself thinking that messing up the first step would be disastrous.
In reality, you just have to get started. Break that first step into such tiny pieces that it's easy to get started and build momentum. When you make mistakes (and you will) you'll find correcting them much easier than trying to plan for them.
Just take one tiny step on that daunting project you are facing, right now. Before long, you'll be able to look back and see all the amazing things you've gotten done. Get going!