E9 – Procrastinating, Frozen Peas, and the Snowball

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Short and Sticky Stories
Short and Sticky Stories
E9 - Procrastinating, Frozen Peas, and the Snowball
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E9 – Procrastinating, Frozen Peas, and the Snowball

Do you have a looming deadline that still seems a long way off? Do you occupy yourself with ‘clearing the decks’, convincing yourself that you’re being productive anyway? After all, you still have plenty of time… Yet you still feel the stress of it weighing on you. Do your health a favour, do your best work and stop procrastinating!

A man in extreme winter conditions, wrapped up in a coat, throwing a snowball
The notion of the snowball relates to the podcasts title and how one should not procrastinate.

Perhaps you tell yourself that the looming deadline isn’t urgent or important enough to make a start. You simply put it off.

In fact, you know that you have too much time. If you got a jump on the deadline and made an early start on that presentation you will undoubtedly tinker with it until the last minute, wasting more time!  Listen to our podcast to learn some useful tips to help you stop procrastinating and start learning to trust yourself.

Read the Stop Procrastinating Podcast Transcript:

“I’d like to share with you a sticky story about being so stressed on the topic of frozen peas. You’re at the home of Sticky Learning, MBM making business matter. I’m Darren Smith and we’re trainers to the U.K. grocery industry. I worked in the corporate world for many years at the head office of Sainsbury’s, I was the frozen veg buyer and one of the things that the buyers were asked to do at that time was to present as a subject matter expert on a topic. And it was a bit about presentation skills, a bit about raising your profile in front of senior people and a bit about sharing what you knew about your category. And that was fine.”

The Presentation

“So the schedule was published, there were about three, 400 buyers and a few of us got chose to go first. That’s great. And the schedule said that in six weeks time I was due to speak about my category or one of the frozen peas. I did what most people do. I put it off, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t put off the stuff that they just don’t like doing or they consider isn’t urgent and important. That’s if they’ve gone through that conscious decision-making process to arrive at is this urgent and important Eisenhower’s Boston Matrix well worth looking up. I hadn’t done that.”

“Subconsciously. I think I’d gone, Hmm, that’s not as hard as this stuff I’m doing right now at work. I need to negotiate prices, have supplier meetings and so on and so on. Manage the category that can wait and I did what most people did and put it out of my mind.”

Days Go By

“Coming up to the six weeks and a few days before the thoughts wore of, Oh, I must do that presentation. I really must get that done and my days in the run-up to that went like this. I’d arrive in the office, let’s say 7:30, 8 AM. Grab a cup of tea, coffee and then go to my desk and I just have a quick look at my inbox. I’m looking through my inbox. Someone would come over that just joined. Hello. Hello. Good morning and I was still looking through my inbox, just getting a sense of what’s going on. But then I’d look up probably an hour and a half later. I had a couple of people at my desk and answer their queries. I’ve done a lot of emails or so thought I had time. And then into my half, nine, 10 o’clock meeting.”

Running Around Like a Headless Chicken

“That would last an hour and a half, a couple of hours I’d spin out of there and just have another quick look at my emails knowing that I must get this presentation done. It was coming to the front of my mind and someone, my boss had asked me about it. Are you ready for Thursday’s presentation yet? Yep, yep, I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’ve just got to do these meetings and get this done and clear the decks. I even think I said.”

“So I’m checking my emails. This is just before lunch. Okay. And then I’ll have a sandwich with one of my team. We’ll talk about our project. Good. We’ve done that. We’ve had a sandwich. I’ve just had another check of my emails before I go into the two o’clock afternoon meetings. If I can just get that out of the way. Then I know I’ll get stuck into this presentation and of course, I came out of the meeting. My boss called me into another one, so the half-past three just ended. I then go into one at quarter to four.”

No Time, Leave It to Tomorrow

“I was in there for an hour and a half knowing that I must come out and just get this presentation done. Spun out of that meeting, went and checked my emails again, got stuck into a problem that had come up on email and before I know it, it’s half-past six. I must get that presentation done, I must get it done. It’s on my mind now. Okay, it’s tomorrow. Must get it done. It’s 4:00 PM tomorrow.”

Stop Procrastinating

“Now what happens is we’re putting off, we’re procrastinating as the time management gurus would say. What my subconscious has done is it knew I had six weeks to do it, but here’s one of the reasons why it put it off because it knew if I’d started it, let’s say two weeks in, and that’s a Wednesday for instance, and it took me about eight hours to write the presentation.”

“What would happen is I don’t trust myself as we all don’t. Meaning that if I’d started that presentation four weeks out from the deadline and I completed it in eight hours. I know what I would’ve done and it’s what you would have done as well. You would have started to tinker with it, play with a format, put a few more slides in. Maybe we’ll get some dancing people on stage. Wouldn’t that be fun? Dressed up as frozen peas.”

“It’s because you don’t trust yourself to stop procrastinating. You don’t trust yourself that you knew it would take about eight hours to do. You wouldn’t finish at the eight hours. And you would continue. Whereas if you have a hard deadline as in it’s four o’clock tomorrow, I’ve got to stand on that stage. I’m then going to start it at 6:00 AM tomorrow. You’ve worked out in your subconscious. I will just get it done just over the line, ready to go.”

We Don’t Trust Ourselves

“So I want to raise that awareness with you. That’s why we put staff off, or at least one of the reasons I’ll come to another in a moment. But that’s one of the reasons we put things off because we don’t trust ourself, that we won’t continue to tinker with it, whether it’s a presentation or a meeting or whatever it is. So let me plant that seed for a moment. Let’s come back to the story.”

“So in a panic that night, I think it was about half-past six, seven o’clock, I had a very good friend, an account manager who worked for Birds Eye. And I phone. Mark.”

“Mark, I’ve got this presentation tomorrow. Great, great Darren. Would you lead from me? Well, I’ve got this presentation. I need you to write it. What is half six I’m out tomorrow? I’ve got, I’m seeing Tesco or whoever tomorrow, which you mean you seeing Tesco and then obviously that conversation happens. When did you know about this? Six weeks ago. Well, why didn’t you ask me then? Ignore that. We need to carry on. Can you help me? I tell you what I’ll do. Mark says, “I’ll try and get some stuff over to you. Some facts and information. We might have a couple of bits, but you know I haven’t got much time now.” Okay, give me what you can.”


“I go home. I check my emails at home. Mark sent me some things, but it’s not what I need. My brief wasn’t clear. It was panicked. Mark didn’t have much time and what I got was about 10 facts of peas. Panic, what am I going to do? And I did what everyone would do, I pulled an all-nighter. I knew I’d made things tomorrow that I couldn’t cancel. I hadn’t thought far enough ahead and I worked and I said to Gail, my wife, “I’m going to have dinner. Then I’m going to go into the study and I’m working all night.” And that’s what I did and I worked all night. And the pressure that comes with that and the stress is not good for anyone and we’re starting to learn more about that with wellbeing, now. Mindfulness.”

“Now some people say, “Ah, but you don’t know I work better under pressure.” No, you don’t. The research says you don’t work better under pressure. You just work faster and more stressed and it’s not good. It’s not good for your health and you won’t do your very best work.”

The Snowball Theory

“So I had a big presentation with some senior people. The audience was about 180 in our auditorium at Sainsbury’s and I had to present this and I’d been up all night and all I got was 10 facts from Birds Eye, not their fault. My fault, absolutely. Now the presentation went very, very well, but that’s certainly not the moral of the story. Yes, I can pull it out of the bag and wing it with the best of them, but that’s not how I want to work. That’s not how I want to lead. That’s not the example I want to set for people. I don’t want people who work for me to do that. So what am I trying to teach them? What am I trying to help coach them to arrive at? The Snowball Theory.”

Alan Lakein

“Alan Lakein said, and he was the original grandfather of time management back in the 60s. He said, “That starting something you’re putting off your procrastinating on. It’s a bit like Swiss cheese. You just need to poke the first hole in the cheese.” He’s other metaphor, which is more my favourite is, “It’s a bit like taking a small snowball and rolling it down the hill. Once you start the snowball will gather and before you know it you are making a huge hole in the cheese.” You’re making a big dent in this project. You are nailing it and you are nailing it without the stress and you’re perceived by others to be more in control, calmer.”

“Let’s give that project to that guy. He gets it, he’ll do it. He gets stuff done. We all want that reputation. We don’t want the reputation of, Oh my God, there he comes. He’s stressed out his eyeballs, it’s probably something he knew about three months ago, but he’s now starting on it now and the impact on his team or other people is that they’re now going to be stressed and working late because he hadn’t thought about it far enough out.”

An Example

“When I was training a few years back, I was talking about Alan Lakein’s example, metaphor around the snowball or the Swiss cheese, whichever one floats your boat better and one guy was having that reflective moment. His learning style was a reflector and I just said to him, “I get you staring at space. I do that hugely when I’m learning. I just wanted to ask what’s hit home?”And he said, “I’ve had on my to-do list.” He had a to-do list, which was great. He said, “Move house.” And then I went into sort of coaching mode. I said, “Okay, now you know what we’ve talked about in the last 20 minutes. What are you thinking?” And he said, “It’s wrong.”

Woolly Mammoth

“And he was right. What he’s writing on his to-do list is what the time management gurus called a woolly mammoth, something big and horrible that you’re never going to touch. And I said, “Okay, so what would you do?”

“He said, “Well, I don’t know.” And after a while, we got him there and he said, “Okay, this is it.” And he wrote two words on his to-do list rather than move house. He wrote phone solicitor and he said, “I can do that.” And the joy in his voice was amazing. So he said, “It’s been on my to-do this forever, but it was always so big. It was that big woolly, mammoth. He said, “But I can phone solicitor.” In fact, he’ll do it at lunch. I’ll phone them and see what mortgage I need or what legalities there.”

“He had something that had to do around that and he came back from lunch. He phoned the solicitor and he said, “Yeah, the papers were on their way. Then I can phone the estate agent tomorrow and they’ll no doubt somebody houses through the post all day long. And then I’ll go and see one. And that was it.”

Final Thoughts

“The snowball was rolling down the hill. So if you are procrastinating, it’s normally based on an emotion of fear, fear of getting it wrong. Fear of not doing my best fear of, I don’t really get this, I don’t really understand it. My top tip to stop procrastinating is to start very small, a very small practical action that you can do like phone solicitor. And what I should’ve done with that Birds Eye, frozen pea presentation is not wait to six weeks of course. The first thing I should have done within that week and getting the brief was to phone Mark and say, “Mark, can you help me with this? You guys have got all the data. I can turn it into a great presentation, but can you just get me the data?”

“And that’s the term we use. Get the hairs running. Just like in the greyhound where you want to get the hair out of the track first before the greyhounds come after it. So in summary, start small on the snowball we’re wrong. Thank you.”

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