Don’t get me wrong: I’m a master procrastinator myself. But you need to play it smart to know how to procrastinate and get away with it.Start by figuring out exactly what “the last minute” is for a project.

The night before it’s due is not the ideal last minute for a 40-page strategic planning document that’s going to be presented to the board of directors. The last minute, in a case like that, is a month prior to the night before. A big project will generate many tasks that can, of course, be done the night before, but there will be even more tasks that can’t. Learn to tell which is which.

The great procrastinators indulge in a pre-crastination phase that involves generous helpings of thumb-twiddling, foot-tapping and snoozing while they decide when to put pedal to the metal to make their deadline. Then, after the successful event, they treat themselves to a period of post-crastination in which they ponder how to put off things more effectively in the future. But for most working stiffs, procrastination is poison. Don’t fool around with it until you’ve attained a certain level of proficiency.

Loose Fact-itis

This syndrome involves cooking up a “fact” to bolster one’s position during an important meeting – a “fact” that can easily be disproved by saner and more mature minds, leaving the person who came up with it up the creek without a Blackberry.

I was once in a meeting with about 10 other guys when the boss asked, “What are we going to say to security analysts about our plange rate?” (I’m making up the issue here, since there is no such thing as a plange rate, but you get the idea.)

Anyway, Leonard, who is in charge of planges for our company, said something like, “We have the biggest plange rate in the world!” “Can I use that stat?” asked the boss. “Yes, well…” said Leonard as he began poring over a spreadsheet. It took him a few minutes to admit that we had had the biggest plange rate in the world for about five minutes last February. A bad moment for Leonard. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

Being Hard Of Listening
You have to be a really big cheese to enjoy a total lack of obligation to pay attention to other people. Men slave for decades to earn that right. I knew this guy in strategic planning, Herman. He had just joined us from another company. About a week after he arrived, he was included in a meeting about where the corporation was headed.

When it was his turn, he spoke for 20 minutes. “Blah blah blah,” he said, as the chairman grew visibly impatient. Finally, he was done. Then he lolled in his chair, thumbed his smart phone, pondered the view out the window, poured himself a coffee and gave other signs of terminal not-listening. Everybody hated him so much afterwards that he was never invited to a meaningless meeting again. A lot of aeroplanes have gone down because the pilot was following the wrong flight plan. So listen. Take everything in. There’s actually information
out there that you’re going to need.

Paucity Of Truth

I’m not talking about lying, but the far more common mistake of being afraid to tell the boss stuff he doesn’t want to hear. Chetty, our former head of sales, would be called upon to give a status report at the senior staff meeting every Thursday. The problem was that he was afraid to say what was really going on.

He put a nice shine on things. Later, the head of finance would paint a much more realistic picture. After a while, when they reached Chetty, the chairman would say, “Okay, now let’s hear a bunch of lies from sales.” It wasn’t long before Chetty was retrenched.

Excess Of Honesty

I’m not saying Chetty should have told the meeting that we were posting the worst quarter in the history of the company and that nothing could pull us out. That’s just stupid and crude. Better would have been something like, “We have an issue we think we need to work on in coming weeks.” See? The message is conveyed without embarrassing anybody.

Senior executives deserve the truth, except when it would do neither them nor the business much good, in which case kindness is better. But truth is like chocolate: a little is a pleasure; too much can be lethal. The smart and non-self-destructive player will make the boss aware of the general location of the snake pit, but not inundate him with enough rancid slime to wash him over the edge.

Rampant Distemper

My first superior was a woman who was fine before lunch but really crabby afterwards. She would go into afternoon meetings and sit there with a grumpy expression on her face. Everybody in the room, including the chairman, was afraid of her. When she spoke, they would defer to her, because her ideas were generally good and strongly presented. But eventually she, too, was squeezed out of the company. It wasn’t the quality of her work that got her fired. It was the fact that she was such a sour puss. It was impossible to have a free-flowing discussion around her because she would bite your nuts off.

I’m sure you have a lot to be angry about. But if you radiate bad vibes, the guys who wear the stripes are going to feel them and pinpoint you as the source. That’s not smart. Lighten up – or at least be strategic and keep your karmic bleakness to yourself.

Bad Credit/Blame Management

This is a tough one. A lot of people trip over this issue. Naturally, you want credit for the good things you do. But this means working in such a way that (a) you are recognised as the author of the good thing in question, and (b) others are happy to give you the credit. Satisfying both criteria is not always easy – and you never want to be seen as a man who hogs other people’s credit. As a rule of thumb, aim to accept no more than 70 percent of the credit that’s due to you. Give the other 30 percent away.

Then there’s the issue of blame. Real players never dodge it when it belongs to them. There’s nothing a senior guy hates more than a craven, cowardly weasel who tries to lay blame on other people. How you manage credit and blame is directly influenced by your relationship with your direct superior. If he wants the credit, give it to him. That’s what you’re there for. And if he’s trying to escape blame, take it. As the guy who decides on your raises, he is the only one who needs to be satisfied in either regard.

Of course, if a peer tries to suck your credit for something, cut off his legs. We’re talking strategic management of the issue, not surrender.