June Dennis on Embracing Perhapstination and Keeping Priorities in Order

June Dennis is based in Queensbury, West Yorkshire, in the UK. We connected with June thanks to her post about procrastination pencils on Twitter! 

Background on June’s Portfolio Career

Having worked in marketing management roles and running my own marketing business for the first 10 years of my career, I became a lecturer in marketing when my younger daughter was a few months old, thinking it would be an easy job to do while my children were little. I stayed in the sector a bit longer than I intended – my daughter was 21 when I left Staffordshire University as Dean of Staffordshire Business School last year to set up Mountain Top Perspectives.

I now have a ‘portfolio career’ working with organisations in the higher education sector,  providing strategic marketing support for businesses and offering coaching and mentoring support for marketers and career academics. I’m an expert witness in marketing and have provided evidence for intellectual property disputes and several criminal cases. I’m also setting up a job club in Bradford in an area which has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the country.

On quiz results

Apparently, I’m a perhapstinator. I honestly thought I would come out as a procrastinator but, on reflection, perhapstinator is an accurate description. I know I’m a procrastinator when it comes to doing some tasks like writing a difficult report and I do leave things to the last minute. I usually get them done on time, but I’ve submitted too many conference papers at 1 minute to midnight for my own good! I don’t like letting people down though so that usually motivates me. It’s rare that I’m all sorted days before a work deadline as deep down I’m a perfectionist and there’s always more I can do to improve what I’m doing. However, I am mega organised when it comes to significant events such as planning for a trip away or organising a party (the ‘nice’ stuff!). I love checklists!

Running her own business has made her a different person

I like to be prepared at work and know what I’m doing but I rarely have enough time to be as prepared as I would like to be. I also like interacting with people and enjoy having ad hoc conversations throughout the day, which can scupper plans. I find it very difficult to turn people away but I’ve had to learn to do that. I tend to catch up on my work in the evenings. 

As a Dean, I was expected to attend loads of meetings that I couldn’t miss or delegate to – sometimes more than 25 hours in a week. I often had back to back meetings with no time to dash from one side of the campus to another which meant I would be late for meetings or had to skip lunch in order to get to the next meeting on time. It did stress me as I hate being late for events. Now that I manage my own diary, this rarely happens and I enjoy having time to prepare for meetings and follow up afterwards. 

I always like to allow a lot of time for travel and get agitated if for any reason I can’t get to the airport 3 hours before a flight, for example. However, if I’m not busy, I know I get easily distracted by the interesting sparkly things that give immediate results or feedback. Similarly, if I’ve got to write a report that I find difficult, I tend to procrastinate and will find 101 other things to do before I get around to tackling it – suddenly housework can seem very attractive! Usually, once started, it’s never as bad as I feared. 

For a long time, I succeeded in hitting deadlines and getting work done by just extending my working day – working until late evening and getting up early in the morning, but if like me you need 8 hours sleep a night, that’s not sustainable. Since running my own business and having direct customers, I’m a different person and I’ve even submitted reports to clients well before the deadline, which has surprised me! I actually like planning out my days in a realistic manner.

The best time management tool ever invented

Having children was the best time management tool ever invented! It’s amazing how much I could get done in the last half hour of work when I knew I had to leave the office at 5pm so I could collect my daughters from nursery or after school club. I was totally laser-focussed! Similarly, when you don’t know when the baby is going to wake up, you do the most important thing first. 

I do tend to be a precrastinator when it comes to booking important events, such as holidays and treats well in advance, so they’re in the diary. Otherwise, we would never get around to doing anything as life takes over. For 9 out of the last 10 years, I’ve worked away from home during the week, so we’ve had to be very careful to ensure we plan our weekends as that’s the only time the family is together.

How the pandemic allowed her time to focus on health

Until recently, I seriously procrastinated on my health, and it is one of the reasons why I decided to leave my last job and set up my business. It’s very easy when you’re working long hours not to plan meals properly or give yourself time to make a meal from scratch and end up buying a ready meal on the way home. Similarly, because I was working long hours I didn’t permit myself to have the time nor the energy to do any exercise. Now that I’m working from home, I’ve started exercising more, going out for walks, eating better and I have at least an extra hour’s sleep a night. I feel so much better for this. I even voluntarily go out for walks at lunchtime when it’s raining! I still procrastinate about the housework though!

Recognizing missed opportunities

I’m sure there’s been a lot of things that I’ve procrastinated on in the past and missed the opportunity. Sometimes, it can be as simple as not making a phone call or sending a card to someone and then regret it when the opportunity passes. Other times, it’s meant that I was too late to put an application in for a job I was interested in or didn’t allow myself time to write a conference paper. When I do try to be organised and do something in plenty of time, I often forget to complete the task. So, I’ve been known to write out a birthday card a week before it’s due to be posted and then never take it with me to put in the post. Looking back, this was mainly due to being so busy and overwhelmed with work that I didn’t make time to plan ahead. Now, my precrastination tendencies are becoming stronger.

The benefits of being a perhapstinator

As a perhapstinator, being flexible with my time has meant that I have been able to follow up ideas or deal with emergent issues and opportunities without stressing about sticking rigidly to plans. If I’m honest, I do enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with working to a deadline. Do I do better work when I plan and pace myself? I really don’t know but it would probably improve my blood pressure if I did.

Embracing curveballs

Procrastination can waste a lot of time and energy and I do sometimes wonder what I could have done if I hadn’t wasted time on diversion tactics. However, I’m also pleased that I can cope with unexpected curveballs and some of my best opportunities have occurred when I’ve embraced them. There are times when I’ve ended up working late to complete a project I’ve procrastinated on and had to submit something I’m not particularly proud of or haven’t proofread as a result.

On procrastination and perfectionism

I definitely procrastinated when I was younger. At school, I think I was so scared that I would get my homework wrong that I didn’t want to do it. Fortunately, I was also quite a goody two-shoes, so eventually I would produce something so I didn’t get told off by the teacher.

A memorable trip that almost didn’t happen

We had booked a holiday in Russia in August 1991. It was cancelled less than a week before we were due to leave due to a coup. We dithered about trying to find another holiday for that week but couldn’t find anything we both liked and had resigned ourselves to not having a holiday that year. A few days later, the holiday was reinstated and we were on the first flight out of Heathrow following the end of the coup. We arrived in Moscow at a pivotal moment, visiting the Kremlin whilst the country’s leaders were determining the future of the Soviet Union. It was an amazing trip.

I believe it is important to fit work around other priorities rather than the other way around – and I’m beginning to practice what I believe.

JUNE DENNIS

Strategies for overcoming procrastination as a leader

Obviously, as a senior manager and leader, you cannot get away with being a procrastinator, so we have to find ways to address it. I’ve several strategies.

  • Firstly, I don’t like letting people down, so having deadlines set by other people is great for me as I’ll do my best to hit them.
  • I share my goals and intentions so I make myself accountable to others and they might just prod me into action.
  • I like the Pomodoro technique – setting a timer for 25 minutes and focusing solely on the task in hand. I then permit myself to make a cuppa and check emails for 5 minutes before resetting the timer.
  • When I’m really procrastinating on getting started on something I think might be boring or difficult, I permit myself to spend just 10 minutes on it and see how I go. Most of the time, I stick at it for much longer.
  • I only have one diary and put everything in – even my hairdressing appointment. I block time out for big projects when they come in and then try to stick to it. I also colour code activities and allow space either side of meetings for preparation and taking actions. Deadlines in my diary are in Red with a warning 24 hours before
  • When I’m in charge of my diary, I schedule time to enable me to deal with the day to day issues that crop up.
  • I have to turn off social media and notification of emails when working on a project.
  • I also colour code/flag ‘pending’ emails that do not require immediate action by week or month so I don’t miss them.

Why productivity tools haven’t worked for her

I’ve tried using productivity tools but I don’t keep them up to date nor look at them often enough to work.

I rely heavily on Outlook to manage my electronic diary and email properly. If used correctly, it can help with scheduling your time.

On being preinclined

I believe it is important to fit work around other priorities rather than the other way around – and I’m beginning to practice what I believe. For me, that means planning holidays, special events, time with family and, most importantly, time for myself before determining how much time I have for work and other activities that make demands on my time. I now proactively make time to go for a walk, join a yoga class and cook food from scratch and I’m seeing the benefits in doing so. I try to prioritise work based on the cumulative benefits it provides for the future and also whether it gives me enjoyment. I suspect that I’m at a time in my life where perhaps preinclination comes more naturally to me anyway. If I have to complete something that isn’t enjoyable, I try to limit the time I spend on it and focus on how I will feel when it’s completed.

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