Amongst the tourist shops and restaurants of Pollenca in Mallorca, you can find Bierria, a noisy, chaotic bar run by Alonso. It’s in the back streets behind the church in the square. You’ll recognise it because the locals sit on plastic chairs outside, drinking, smoking and generally passing the time. Having resisted any call to make a fast tourist buck, it’s authentic in every way. Estrella beer at the pumps and plates of tapas spread across the bar. No one adds up your order, just tell them what you had when you want to leave. A tourist-free zone, locals hang out in groups, talking loudly in Mallorcan over the din of rock music that competes with shouty TV football. Iron Maiden versus Real Madrid.
Always welcoming, Alonso offered me his latest shot concoction. I said I’d try it later. He leant across the bar, stuck it in my face and said, “What is wrong with now?” Several defensive answers came quickly to mind. Like most of us, I’m good at procrastinating and finding instant reasons for not doing things immediately. But Alonso doesn’t back down readily and drinking it was the easier option. So that’s what I did.
I sat there enjoying the moment reflecting on that brief encounter. As on many occasions, a random event can trigger deeper thoughts. How many times every day do we put things off, delay decisions, defer difficult stuff? Too busy. Not a priority. That kind of thing. But on this occasion, Alonso’s brutal sales technique had overridden my usual excuses.
So, to paraphrase Alonso: WHAT is wrong with now?
It’s a great question that needs to be asked more often than it is. In fact, I’ve adopted it along with one or two other shortcuts to getting things done. Every day, there are many “things” that hold us back. Yet all of us can do more and enjoy the satisfaction of results by simply deciding to embrace “now.”
Because, to answer Alonso’s question, probably not much. There’s mostly nothing wrong with “now.”
When we were small, we had no concept of time. Everything revolved around immediacy. You can’t negotiate time with a 3-year-old because they only understand the present. There is no concept of the future. Everything is now. But as we grow, we become highly skilled in delaying what needs to be done, in the moment.
We need an antidote to postponement. To cut through and make more sense of the chaotic, over supplied, messy world we occupy. The consequences of not acting can be catastrophic. From ignoring personal health symptoms until it’s too late to not fixing your company until someone else turns up to do it for you.
The business world is littered with companies whose decline and failure was driven by procrastination and the wrong approach to setting priorities. An increasing reliance on strategy papers, awaydays, research analysis and many other planning tools has led to a culture of seizing the future not seizing the day. But it is only by acting now that success will often transpire. We cannot control the future—it does not yet exist.
Cognitive bias leads us to the things we enjoy the most and unhelpfully guides us to procrastinate and delay the least palatable actions. Yet it is often the latter that require immediate attention and can deliver the most positive outcomes.
Effective business leaders must know when to act. Decisions need to be taken. Some are time critical and should be made now. Others can be made later, or maybe not at all. But how to decide?
Alonso understood. Before we put something off, we should ask the only question that matters: “What is wrong with now?”