“You’re late again.”

I’ve got a student who’s late every day, each time with a better excuse.  We don’t use the clock anymore–class officially starts with a round of applause when he arrives.  Then we all get to work.

Everyone’s got an excuse.

“My little brother peed on my notebook,” one kid said.  “So I don’t have any of my stuff.”

That excuse was true.

There’s always an excuse out there.  Some are better than others.  I’ve got a collection.

The ironic part is the biggest ones don’t come from students.

They come from adults.  Whether we justify doing things the way we’ve always done, fail to make changes that make sense, stick to old stories whose answers we don’t even remember, or manufacture reasons for putting off the tough stuff, for every one excuse I hear from a kid, I hear five from adults, myself included.

Excuses are like rear ends.  Everyone’s got one and all of them stink.  That’s a quote from my mom, except she didn’t say “rear end.”

“We have to do it that way because…” “I didn’t get to it because…” “I couldn’t because…”

We can solve the Great Excuse Plague by coming clean and telling the truth.

Just yesterday I took care of three projects I needed to finish–eventually.  They should have been way down my priority list since there were two things I really needed to do.

“This is important,” I said.  I picked up project one and finished in record time.  I felt pretty good.

I got an idea for a blog post, then I finished an article and cleaned some things.  I was high-fiving myself when I should have been kicking myself in the butt.  I got a lot done–everything except the two things I needed to do which were still staring me in the face.

The truth:  I wasn’t being productive.  I was procrastinating.  I was avoiding the first thing because it was a red tape timewaster and I hate red tape timewasters.  The second involved redoing my lesson plans again because of technology fails when I had already prepared an amazing unit.  I was mad.  I was getting even.

“There…I’ll show you!”  Sadly, procrastination doesn’t work that way.  The only one I’d be hurting was myself.

Instead of solving the problems at hand, I did every nonessential task I could find.   It’s amazing how much I accomplish when making excuses for other things.

The problem with excuses is this–excuses quickly become justifications–plausible sounding reasons for why we’re behaving in a certain way–which morph into non-productivity in the end.

Non-productivity is the stage before stagnation and failure.

So, excuses–you have to go!

Why can’t I do the thing(s) on the top of my list efficiently?  Why do I make excuses?

News flash: excuses are something else in disguise.

Tell the truth

The first key to solving excuse problems is recognizing excuses.  Excuses all sound reasonable–that’s the nature of the beast.  Once you recognize them for what they are–ploys to distract you from the important things–you can stare them down and win.  Excuses are little white lies wrapped in a smile.

Tell the truth!

The real excuse  for not dealing with red tape? “The truth is I don’t value this process.  It costs me a ton of time without producing value for me or my class.  I’d never do things this way in the outside world, and I resent I’m forced to here without input.  Having no input or control makes me feel I am not valued.”  There.  I said it.  I stared the monster in the face.  That’s Step One in solving the problem.

The real truth behind not replanning my lessons?  “It’s the end of the quarter and I’m busy.  Now I have to redo my lessons because technology failed again.  I’m frustrated this is a recurring theme, so I put off planning because I’m expecting more roadblocks than progress.  I’m angry.”   There.  I’ve said that, too.

Whether it’s putting off cooking dinner, paying the bills, doing schoolwork, or getting healthy, if you want to get rid of excuses and procrastination you have to learn to tell the truth every time.

Solve the problem

Once you have the truth in hand, find the root cause of the problem.

To do this, ask “Why?” several times in a row.  The best CEOs do this.  There’s actually a system behind it.

Start with your problem statement.  “Kids don’t do their homework.”

Turn the first answer into the next “Why?” repeating this process several times.   This allows you to dig deeper into the real problem.  Soon, you have the root cause.

Problem:  Kids don’t do their homework. 

“Why aren’t kids doing their homework?”  Because they tell me they lost it.

“Why do they keep losing it.” Because they don’t want to do it. 

“Why don’t they want to do it?”  Because they hate this style of worksheet. 

“Why do they hate this style of worksheet?”  The directions are long and boring, and they have walls of text.

“Why are the directions long and boring with walls of text?”  Because it comes from a standardized workbook that they don’t connect to. 

There’s your root cause.  Solution?  Toss the workbook and use the concepts in a way students value. 

Identifying the problem–the real problem–helps me know what to do to solve it.   Sometimes I can’t solve it.  It’s important to know that, too.  Excuses and procrastination don’t help alter reality, they only make it worse.   Often I just need to get things done.

Set a deadline

Most excuse-level problems benefit from a deadline.  I’ve always waited until the last minute because I work quickly.  As I get older, life throws me curve balls.  Now, I set deadlines well in advance to account for any possible setbacks and disasters I might encounter.

Using a calendar helps get rid of excuses and procrastination.  Scheduling time blocks for tasks on the calendar makes it official, like a doctor’s appointment.  Nobody misses those.

“No Excuses”

One of the first things cadets learn at West Point is this: “There are only three answers: ‘yes sir, no sir, and no excuse sir.'”

Learn to recognize an excuse, then say “No excuse!”  Better yet, ask yourself this question, “Is this excuse important enough to delay my success?”  Because that is what you are doing.  If so, it’d better be a pretty darned important excuse.

Just Do It

Still struggling?  Dive in with the Nike approach.

“Just Do It.”  That’s my favorite advertising slogan of all time.  Sometimes I just need to take myself off the radar, hide out, and get stuff done.  I don’t have to like it… I have to “Just Do It!”

Get rid of distractions

Distractions are little devils poking at you with a stick.  “You don’t need to hit that deadline.”  Ignore them.  Better yet, give yourself some space from them.  Turn off the email, get away from the TV, or remove yourself from the room you might find yourself cleaning instead.  Learn to settle into a productivity mindset without things that get in your way.

Then… get things done.

The more I plow through the better I feel.  Recognizing why I delay, excuse, and wait is much more than half the battle.  Knowing how good I’ll feel when I get things done is the reward.



Vine Credit:  Thomas Sanders Vine #386, Racing to Make It.