Of course, we all procrastinate a little bit — putting off tough tasks until tomorrow. Most people can keep this habit in check by recognizing what they’re doing and pushing through it. But some people literally cannot start a project until the deadline is looming. For these “chronic procrastinators,” the solution is simple: If you can’t work without deadlines, then create more deadlines.
For some procrastinators, it might be enough to create small personal rewards for achieving each of these mini-deadlines: a favorite candy bar or a favorite TV show. For others, however, these rewards might not be enough to make the mini-deadlines seem “real.” These more serious procrastinators should formalize their mini-deadlines by writing them down and giving them to their boss. That makes the mini-deadlines “real” in every way.
(Ron Barrett/For the Washington Post)
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Why is it helpful to quickly draw tentative conclusions at the start of a project?
As a lecturer at Harvard Business School, I have observed many students and research assistants performing complicated, long-term research projects. These talented individuals often spend days or weeks in the library at the beginning of their projects, performing basic research. Only after they’ve gathered a plethora of data and information do they begin to contemplate what their conclusions may be. Although this strategy will help these individuals gather a lot of facts, it is highly inefficient; most of those facts will likely not be relevant to the underlying research question.
Instead, when you’re engaging in a long-term project, you should try to formulate a set of tentative conclusions about the entire project as soon as possible. That will force you to quickly analyze the project’s fundamental issues, which will in turn allow you to greatly narrow the scope of the rest of your research. While you may need to revise (or completely scrap) your conclusions as you continue your research, this strategy is usually faster than haphazardly spending days or weeks at the library.
You make the case that billable hours don’t necessarily add up to productivity. How can the model be changed? Why don’t more clients insist on value-oriented billing?
The practice of billing by the hour encourages lawyers to do their work inefficiently and leads law firms to overstaff projects. While law firms may like this arrangement — it can lead to higher fees — it harms both lawyers and clients. It harms lawyers because it forces them to spend too many hours in the office. It harms clients because they have to compensate their lawyers for this inefficient use of time.
Over the past decade, some clients have insisted on alternative billing arrangements. In fact, one survey found that, between 2008 and 2012, law firms doubled the proportion of their revenue that they earned from non-hourly billing arrangements. Such arrangements include flat fees for certain projects, monthly retainers for repeat work, or a low base fee combined with a bonus contingent on a favorable result. However, hourly billing is still the dominant billing practice in the legal industry.