IPMA International Project Management Association
27 August 2018 / 10:10

Tommorrowitis: How to avoid its disruptive effects on project schedule

Tomorrow never comes. That’s as true as it gets. Yet, a lot of people often leave or postpone things, tasks, chores to tomorrow thinking they will get those done the next day. In hindsight this happens as people are caught up with so called ‘student syndrome’, which is a form of procrastination or a tendency in general (not specific to students) to keep delaying the tasks/work/activities till the last possible moment of the submission/completion deadline (More on Student Syndrome: https://pmknowhow.wordpress.com/category/useful-links/).

In a busy world that we live, it is often challenging to get everything done and completed in a day. Hence, planning to get something done in the next available time slot tomorrow is not necessarily unusual and disruptive, as long as it is completed. But what is really problematic is when leaving things to tomorrow becomes a habit, resulting in tasks getting delayed.

Tommorrowitis is a behavioral trait or an ingrained habit to put-off, delay or postpone the work/task/activity at hand to another day often tomorrow, which majority of times never arrives. Development of such a behavior could happen due to a variety of reasons including (but not limited to): lack of motivation, environmental dislike or constraints, fear of not accomplishing or not doing things correctly or as per requirements, burden of expectations, lack of skills or training, lack of commitment, lack of understanding the responsibility and lack of effective supervision, just to mention a few.

While leaving or postponing things to tomorrow could have negative implications for day-to-day business activities, it could significantly impact project-based work given the constraints of time and money. The debilitating effect of tommorrowitis on project schedule can potentially cause project failure.

Hence, the question is how to reduce/minimize or avoid the disruptive effect of tommorrowitis on project schedule? Answer to this is not straight forward as human behavior is dynamic in nature and finding definitive guidelines to diminish the impact of tommorrowitis may not be easy. However, with a view to build some fundamental thought, we propose following tips or remedies to provide some help.

Suggested remedies to deal with tommorrowitis

  1. Establish ground rules early into the project and communicate consequences of late or delayed completion using all communications channels

People born, grow-up and live in environments that are rules and regulations bound. It then becomes part and parcel of human psychology or behavior to follow rules and expected mode of conduct. The same applies to project work. To setup right expectations, it is therefore important to discuss and establish ground rules in relation to project work, the importance of completing the tasks as per schedule, and consequence of not completing the tasks or procrastinating, early on into the project.

Once the ground rules are established, communicating expectations and consequences of not completing the project work in time to all the staff members early into the project could help set the tone and parameters of behaviors. Such a practice is expected to minimize the potential of disruptive effects of tommorrowitis.

It is important to use all possible channels to communicate the established ground rules which include emails, message boards, and social media etc. Reminding people about ground rules over appropriate intervals will hedge against development of tommorrowitis. It is simple, effective and costs negligibly to project.

  1. Send updates on what has been accomplished and what is to be completed today

Sending daily or frequent updates on project work progress and completion or non-completion of work in an organized manner to relevant people could help alert those who postpone work to tomorrow. Obviously, sending out project progress should be done in a contained well thought-out manner to avoid creating panic or mis-perceptions.

Creating specific team-based social media groups can help achieve the objectives of sending relevant updates to required team members to minimize disruptive effects of tommorrowitis and ensuring that the people are reminded of their responsibilities.

  1. Have post-lunch 15-minute one-point meetings to check and discuss the progress

When tommorrowitis problem persists or found to be spreading and becoming the order of the day, it is important to take immediate action to contain it. One way to do that is to ask teams to have a post-lunch brief one-point meeting to check and discuss the progress. The progress is also documented if needed and sent to all team members to firm-up what was discussed. Using social media based communication can help. Everybody should be asked to attend that meeting and such a practice will deter people from developing tommorrowitis tendencies.

  1. Re-shuffle or re-assign duties as needed

There will be cases where a person with procrastinating behavior may be a negative influence on the entire team or some members of the team. Re-assigning that person to a team that is well monitored and mentored by a stronger team leader could help the affected person change his/her behavior. Re-assigning itself will serve as an alert or indicator that the affected person needs to rethink on how to contribute effectively and minimizing the negative effects of tommorrowitis tendencies.

  1. Pair tommorrowitis with task masters

If the tommorrowitis are identified early into the project, they can be paired (where-ever possible) with people who are considered task masters so that a proactive mechanism of support and mentoring can be established. Such a practice can help soften-up tommorrowitis behaviors and hedge against the problem becoming a practice.

  1. Have conversation to motivate people

People often procrastinate as they lack motivation and inspiration. Particularly, as in projects people come from various functional domains within and from outside the organization, hence gelling them together is never an automatic happening. This may lead to some people feeling isolated and demotivated resulting in task delays and incompletions.

Motivation and inspiration serve as an intrinsic food for people to perform the assigned task diligently. Having conversations over a coffee or lunch with people who may be procrastinating can have a positive effect for minimizing the tommorrowitis tendencies.

  1. Have schedule buffers that are not known to teams

Every human being is different. So, despite taking all the precautions one cannot completely eliminate tommorrowitis tendencies. It is, therefore, prudent to have schedule buffers that are not known to teams. In an eventuality of project delays due to tommorrowitis, project manager can use these secretly held time buffers to complete the project within the allocated time.

If the need for the secret schedule buffers does not arise, then project will be seen to have been completed before the planned completion; which will be a positive outcome of tommorrowitis management, so to speak.

  1. Identify the possible tommorrowitis and keep a tab on the tasks

It is not that difficult to know about the people who procrastinate in a normal business environment as people work and know eachother for longer durations. It could be same in a project context if the project team configuration do not vary that often.

In cases, where project team configuration is by and large stable, it will be easy to have an understanding of the behaviors of people who will work on the project. In such cases, project manager or team leaders can take a focused approach to closely work with the people who procrastinate and keep a tab on their progress.

Where, project team member(s) is new and found to be procrastinating, progress delays for a task(s) will be a good indicator to identify the people indulging in tommorrowitis tendencies and take necessary action to minimize the negative effects on project schedule.

  1. If possible avoid putting tommorrowitis on critical tasks

Putting people with tommorrowitis tendencies on tasks that are on critical path could have the potential of causing project delays, if the people procrastinated and didn’t complete the work as scheduled. If people with tommorrowitis tendencies are known, then there will be an option to avoid putting them on tasks that are considered critical, wherever possible.

It will be much more difficult when people known to procrastinate are needed to be on critical tasks due to specialized skills and knowledge they possess. In such cases, proactively monitoring the critical tasks and working closely with the specific individuals is highly desirable.

  1. Offer training and development

Projects are high intensity environments and are not meant to serve as training camps. As such it may not be possible to provide training to people with tommorrowitis tendencies while they are posted on the projects. Organizations are therefore better-off providing a wholesome training on time management to staff and developing traits that can be helpful in performance of both, project and non-project based activities without indulging in tommorrowitis tendencies.

Concluding thoughts:

It is no secret that projects often face schedule over-runs costing heavily to the client organizations. While these over-runs could happen due to a variety of reasons, human factor is invariably the main driver. Project staff with tommorrowitis tendencies can cause havoc to project health which necessitates developing behaviors and work environments that minimize tommorrowitis.

The list of remedies proposed above is neither exhaustive nor complete by any means, but certainly can provide a foundation to construct a lasting work environment that minimize tommorrowitis.

© 2018 Jiwat Ram, All Rights Reserved.

 

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Jiwat

Author of this post

Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments such as Hong Kong, China, Singapore, and Australia, among others. Over his career, he has provided leadership in establishing, designing, and delivering Executive education / Master’s, Training, and Research programs.

Jiwat is currently serving on the Editorial Board of International Journal of Project Management.

Jiwat actively contributes to project management community by speaking at various events and writing on emerging issues. His work has been published in top scientific journals and Four of his published papers have remained in Top25 most downloaded papers. Additionally, two of his papers have been ranked as the Most Cited article published since 2012, one in the International Journal of Production Economics and the other in Journal of Engineering and Technology Management. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the issues confronting project management in various industry based outlets.

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