The True Cost of Procrastination
When it comes to the more time consuming or less fun parts of our jobs, we all have things we would rather be doing.

As I get ready to head out for vacation, I’m reminded of many of those.  My to-do list has shrunk considerably over the last few days, but there is a definite pattern to what’s left.

Those I would rather not do continually get pushed to the end, until my last few hours are filled with things like cleaning out my mailbox so it doesn’t overfill while I’m away.

What’s the harm in pushing off those items we’d rather not do?  It can be significant.

The small annoyance

About 15 years ago, I was moving from Denver to Phoenix.  I wanted a warmer climate, which is hugely ironic as I am fighting to get out of New England before the next big blizzard.

I flew in from a consulting engagement and was headed back to my apartment to meet the packing company.

On the way, in my haste, I was pulled over going 7 miles over the speed limit.  The officer took pity on me and gave me a $10 “fix it” ticket.  Basically, pay the $10 and it doesn’t go against your license.  It’s the equivalent of having a broken tail light.

I thanked him, and headed back to the schedule I had planned for the following hours…days…weeks…months.

That’s right.  The ticket got packed, likely unpacked somewhere.  Or maybe stuck in a box when I had to go out on another engagement.

The potential problem

About two years went by and I had completely forgotten about the ticket.  At this point, I was in the process of moving to New Hampshire with my soon to be husband.

I received a job offer and a background check had to be run.  My future boss asked “anything I’m going to read in here that I should be concerned about?”

Suddenly, I recalled the ticket.  “I have an unpaid ticket in Denver for $10.”  He told me not to worry.  Sure enough, I got the job and three weeks later I was in New England in the dead of a miserable winter.

Just as I had planned (though what I was thinking, I’ll never quite know).

The really big problem

Spring arrived, along with a birthday.  It was time to get a new driver’s license, as the Arizona one was expiring and I could no longer put off a trip to the DMV.

I waited in the inevitable line I had been avoiding, and got up to the counter.

“We cannot give you a license.  There’s a bench warrant out for your arrest.”


It’s true.  A judge in the state of Colorado issued a warrant for my arrest for the unpaid $10 fix it ticket.  I could not get a new driver’s license, or travel in Colorado without fear of being arrested.

The big lesson

What are you making time for?

What are you making time for?

I immediately sought to clear up the issue…two years after I should have.  By the time I was through, it cost me hours of my time, along with almost $200 in fees and fines.

I was extremely lucky it did not cost me the job opportunity that brought me to New Hampshire.

The extra $190 was nothing compared to the lost salary and benefits that could have been my destiny.

Procrastination cost me over 2000% in lost money and time over what I would have paid if I had taken the five minutes to address it immediately.

Back to the question at hand

Getting back to my vacation question – what’s the harm in waiting to clear out my mailbox?

I have to find two hours that I can either spread out leading up to vacation, or pack into the final hours of the last day.

The likelihood of other issues coming up by the end of the day are high, increasing the chances that it won’t get finished.

If it doesn’t get finished, my mailbox will freeze while I’m on vacation, creating delays for those individuals that need me to handle their issues, concerns or questions when I return.

Delaying customer needs would create ill will, eroding the positive equity I have built in our relationships over the last year.

The next time I need something critical and request their help, they may not respond as quickly or be as receptive, impacting my ability to deliver.

If I cannot deliver on my objectives, I will be poorly rated and potentially lose my job.  Losing my job would cost tens of thousands times more than losing two hours.

Looks like I need to get on that mailbox cleanup.

Clearing the plate

No matter what we are procrastinating, as leaders we need to see the full potential cost beyond the initial time draw.

While other projects or tasks may be more exciting or fulfilling, those dreaded “necessary evils” can cost us much more than if we just got them done and off our list.

Ultimately, if we get them off our plate quickly, they are not hanging over our heads and we can free our minds and our time for those more engaging activities.

It’s like eating our vegetables first instead of dessert.


What’s your approach to clearing your plate before vacation?  Do you tend to leave certain activities to the end, or get them done early so they are one less thing to worry about before you go?  I’d love if you could share your comments and keep the conversation going.