So what is procrastination? If you Google this, the first result is “the action of delaying or postponing something.” Sounds fairly innocuous, doesn’t it. So why does everyone make such a song and dance about it? I prefer the Cambridge Dictionary description: “to keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring“. Now that’s more like it. Procrastination isn’t new to most people. We’ve all done it at some point. Left the washing up till the following morning, put off calling back the in-laws, snoozed the alarm 3 times before finally dragging ourselves out of bed and to the gym. So why does it cause so much pain for some people? Why is it holding them back? Is there a cure for terminal procrastination?
Why do we procrastinate?
Before we look at how to cure terminal procrastination, we first have to look at why we do it to begin with.
We might procrastinate for a number of different reasons, including (but not limited to):
- Not having clearly defined goals
- Not having an action plan or structure
- We don’t have the resources to get the job done
- Trying to tackle too much at once
- Failing to prioritise the key things on our “to do” list
- We’re afraid we’re going to fail
- We hate the job we’re facing
- We don’t have the necessary skills required
So is there a cure for terminal procrastination?
Let’s break these down.
Not having clearly defined goals. If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how do you know how to get there? If you’re in business, you should definitely be clear on what your long-term goal or vision is (if not, you should probably give up now!). But you should also be clear on what your short- and medium-term goals are. Only when you break these down into bite-size chunks can you develop your plan of action (note the word action!!)
Not having an action plan or structure. As I just mentioned, without clearly defined goals, your action plan doesn’t exist. Work backwards – what do I want to achieve this year? What do I need to do on a monthly / weekly basis to make that happen? Then look at your daily schedule. How many people do I need to speak to? How many proposals do I have to submit? Have a plan – a long-term goal, and break it down into bite-size chunks (daily, weekly, monthly). And don’t make your list of tasks first thing in the mornig. You’ll get to lunchtime and have achieved nothing. Do it the night before. In fact, do your broad plan of what you want to achieve during that week on Sunday night, and then each evening reassess and reset if necessary for the next day. If you don’t know what you’re meant to be doing, you’ll do nothing.
Not having the resources to get the job done. Now, it’s all very well making up the fancy, detailed action plan, but what about resourcing it? Do I have the materials or equipment? The people? The time? The finances? And what about the emotional resource required too? Some tasks can be draining and stressful – it’s vital to factor in rest breaks too! Understanding all of this BEFORE getting started can save a lot of heartache and wasted time and energy further down the line. And you’ll be ready to get into action.
Trying to tackle too much at once. Overwhelm can be one of the greatest causes of procrastination. Feeling like the job is just too big can be a strong influence in putting it off. And inevitably the longer we put it off, the bigger the task seems, the more urgent it becomes, the greater the feeling of overwhelm. And so the cycle continues. Go back to the 2nd point and break it down into manageable, bite-size chunks. We all know how to eat an elephant, right?!
Failure to prioritise the key tasks. This sense of overwhelm can also come from a very long “to do” list. If we are in the habit of using this list as a brain dump for everything we think we need to do, we’ll end up doing nothing. And we’ll always go for the easy “tick” first! If you seem to be busy doing lots of things that aren’t moving you or your business forwards, then you’re proctastinating and it’s time to review the list. Admittedly, there’s stuff that may not be directly related to your goal that you just have to do. But you need to prioritise it. What’s critical? What could sound the death knell for your business if you don’t do it?
And don’t forget to include things like family time here. You don’t want a successful business but a failed marriage because you forgot to prioritise time off! These are the things that have to be done first before moving on to anything else. Often these are tasks we find uncomfortable or challenging, and therefore prone to being ignored, but if you want your venture to succeed, they have to be done. And remember, it may not have to be you who does it (see the final point below).
The fear of failure. Mindset is a powerful thing. In business, in life, in work. It’s definitely a factor in determining whether or not you procrastinate over something. For example, how do you like to communicate with people? For me, I prefer to be face-to-face (unless I already know them well). I’m not great on the phone and I want to hang up as soon as physically possible (without being rude!). So when I know I have to call people “cold”, I’m immediately in a foul mood, staring at the phone, hoping it will spontaneously combust – not exactly conducive to a productive business conversation. So before I start making any calls I make sure I’ve done something positive, that makes me happy. I meditate daily, and visualising a great call (and the coffee that’s waiting for me once I’ve done it) also helps.
We hate what we’re doing. If you don’t love what you do, it’s going to make it that much harder to do it. If you are trying to take on tasks or activities that make you utterly miserable, it’s unlikely that you’ll succeed (at the very best you won’t do justice to it, at worst you could severly damage your business). You either need to find a way of doing it differently that makes it less painful (reading “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Dr Susan Jeffers might help), or outsource it to someone else. By finding a way to deal with it yourself, you’ll boost your self-belief levels to move on to the next difficult job! You’ve also just positively influenced your mindset!!
Lacking the necessary skills. It’s a common scenario, especially for the small busines owner. Trying to wear too many hats and BE the entire business – operations, sales, marketing, accountant, PA. Invariably you’re trying to do things that you’re simply not skilled at. Hours creating a website when you have no experience in web design. Burning the candle at both ends sorting your taxes. Overwhelmed by social media trying to figure out if Hootsuite is better than TweetDeck. Many business owners think they’re saving money by doing it all – but calculating the potential cost of this in lost business revenue could tell a different story. If you’re overwhelmed with jobs that you’re just not cut out for, maybe it’s time to either get some training or outsource it to the experts, and free up your valuable time to go grow your business.
There are so many outsourcing options, for admin support, social media management, copywriting, web design, finance – that don’t have to cost the earth. Sites like Upwork, Fiverr and Guru all offer extremely useful pools of freelancers with a wide variety of skill sets. Think smart and get selfish with your time. Focus on what’s going to move you closer to your goals.
Ultimately, we should all ask ourselves: Am I putting off doing the things that are important? Am I sacrificing critical time doing meaningless tasks? And is what I’m doing keeping me from reaching my goals? If the answer to any of these is YES, then it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate.
If you think you’re a serial procrastinator, it’s not the end of the world. There may not be a one-size-fits-all cure for terminal procrastination, but once you’ve found the cause there are certainly ways to tackle it that will go a long way to alleviating the symptoms.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this or any other articles, we’d be so happy if you shared the love with your friends on social media. Thanks, Debbie and Jonathan @ Digital Life…unlimited