Words of Wisdom for
Leadership, Learning, and Life in
Exactly 99 Words

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Talk Quick!
99-Word Stories to Spark Discussion about Common Management Issues
by Brian Remer

Talk Quick! is a collection of group discussion starters designed to inspire meaningful conversations about important management issues.
(12 Discussion Activities, 33 pages, Cross Referenced, $10)

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99's On the Go

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2016 Brian Remer
Updated Nov. 2016

99's on the 9th

Ideas based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.

December 2016 - An Empty Desk: Procrastinate for Productivity

Read this story aloud or make copies for your group or team members.

An Empty Desk
For 2 years I shared an office with Mary Ellen, a high-energy multi-tasker. I always knew when she was under a deadline for a big project or grant because she would spend at least half a day clearing off her desk. Rearranging, filing, stacking, dusting, was she wasting time? Cleaning a space to work? Clearing her mind? I couldn't tell, but her projects got done on time and her grants were funded. She was very successful!

Call it procrastination if you like, but preparation for the activity is as important for success as the activity itself.


You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.

There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.

I have been thinking about procrastination for a long time. Now I'm ready to write about it!

The actions of my friend Mary Ellen in the 99-Word Story made me wonder why we put things off. And I have tried to analyze my own mindset when I've been unable to begin a project that I should be doing.

It turns out, there are many reasons I may put something off - and none of them are related to laziness, disinterest, bad habits, or deep psychological flaws. Perhaps some of them apply to you.

  • Priority - Maybe it's important to someone else but not to me!
  • Size - The project is so big I can't imagine finishing it so why bother?
  • Complexity - The assignment is like an octopus with so many tentacles I can't grab one to get started.
  • Skill Level - I don't know what to do or how to do it (usually involving power tools).
  • Energy - I'm tired and can't do more right now (easily misinterpreted as laziness).

When I've been able to analyze my inactivity in one of these ways, the ice breaks and I've been able to make initial progress that gives me some momentum for the job.

If it's a problem of misaligned priorities I can refocus and determine whose concern is really most urgent.

For size and complexity, I'll start anywhere. Take a small step, do anything, keep moving, and chip away at the big task until it has been worn down to a manageable size. (By the way, this is great for writing. I have rechecked the spelling, and tweaked the formatting, font, and color of this article a number of times. These actions are not writing but they have to be done anyway so I've accomplished something while waiting for my muse.)

If the impasse is a result of my lack of skill, I can stop complaining that I don't know how and ask for the help I need.

If I realize I don't have the energy, I can take a break and come back refreshed in 20 minutes.

Procrastination can certainly lead to bad results. And for some folks, it has deep roots. (I know a woman who paid two months extra rent and lost her security deposit because she never got around to moving out of her apartment.) But for most of us, a simple recognition of the issue can point to solutions that make us more productive without imposing an unnecessary layer of self-loathing.

Interestingly, putting things off can have some real benefits. In his book, The Art of Procrastination, John Perry says that sometimes by waiting, something better comes up: someone who really wants to do the job steps in, the need goes away, or a more interesting connection is now possible.

Perry provides relief from guilt for those who tend to put things off and insight about these tendencies for those who do everything on time. He helps us realize that, even though one may not be doing what one is supposed to be doing, one can still be a productive individual with a reputation for completing many important projects.

The secret is what Perry calls "structured procrastination, or the ability to get a lot of things done by doing other things." He points out that many of the items on a To Do list are not as high a priority as they seem. While that "hot" item is simmering on the back burner, you can be finishing off many other tasks. When the priority task comes to a boil, you'll be ready to give it your full energy.

Perry's book offers tongue-in-cheek explanations for why we wait to do important work. But rather than simply providing the proverbial procrastinator with excuses, Perry's insights give time-wasters the opportunity to embrace their bad habits and find their own path to greater productivity.

After all, if you are frustrated by not getting things done, you won't be any more productive by feeling guilty about it!


For More Information:
The Art of Procrastination A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing by John Perry ISBN: 978-0-7611-7167-6


Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.

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