Ahhhh, procrastination. It’s like a credit card - it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill. Just as credit is borrowed money, procrastination is borrowed time. And we know all too well that we cannot always get that time back. The good news is that you are not alone in your procrastination indulgence! Everyone has committed this proverbial crime at some point in their lives. As small business owners ourselves we know EXACTLY how it feels to put off a task (or seven!). And we know the excuses .. “I have way too much on today, I want to wait for the right time, I am not feeling ready yet, I am too tired”...any of these sound familiar? We’ve used these reasons more times than we care to remember!
First thing’s first. Do NOT be hard on yourself! It is completely normal - not to mention human - to put off a boring, daunting or complex task, simply because we don’t feel up to it. Yet we start to enter danger territory when procrastination becomes the default approach, rather than the exception.
Yet it IS possible to break the procrastination habit! We have put together a list of practical tips to help you manage and overcome the temptation to delay, and motivate you to power through your to-do list!
1. List Your top three tasks
One of the contributing factors to procrastination is feeling overwhelmed by a mountain of tasks, to the point where we simply don’t know where to start. So we don’t start at all! To combat this, take a moment to write down your three most important duties - and we mean ONLY three, no more! Avoid listing tasks that are easy peasy, or that you can do with your eyes closed. In fact, it is generally best to start with those more daunting, ugly jobs that you have been putting off for a while. Write them down, allow yourself to even feel the dread! Then move onto this next step..
2. Break down your tasks into baby steps
This is again a strategy to combat that dreaded ‘overwhelmed’ feeling. Split your ‘big scary’ task into baby steps. Need to revisit your brand look and feel? Start by writing down everything you like and don’t like about your current brand, and what you want it to look like. Putting off filing your tax return? Begin with gathering together all of your receipts and tax documents. Make each ‘baby step’ last no longer than 15 - 45 minutes of your time. Before you know it you’ll be ticking off each of these steps and that big scary task will be done and dusted!
3. Set a deadline
Giving yourself a deadline is an excellent way to ensure a job actually gets done! The tougher part is sticking to it, especially if you have made the deadline yourself. There are a couple of hacks to help abide by your own time limits. One is the ‘carrot-and-stick’ method - otherwise known as rewarding oneself. Another is finding an accountability partner who can hold you to your promises! More info on these two points later in this post..
4. Work at your peak time
Are you more focused in the morning? Or do you get your burst of energy in the afternoon? Take a moment to identify when you feel your most productive and schedule your task-tackling for that specific time of day.
5. Minimise distractions
Put your phone on silent, turn off the TV or radio, padlock the fridge… do whatever you need to do to ensure your task has your full focus. Don’t get tempted by that red velvet cake in the fridge or perusing that shoe sale online! You can get to those fun things later..
6. Work in 20 minute increments
Before embarking on your task, set yourself an alarm for 20 minutes. We personally find that this technique not only helps us get started, we feel more in control of our time. And invariably what happens is that we reach our 20 minute limit without even realising it… and we don’t want to stop!
7. Reward yourself!
This is the fun part! Whether it is treating yourself to that delicious piece of red velvet cake, shouting yourself that new pair of shoes you’ve had your eye on, or allowing yourself to watch your favourite TV show, make sure that you allocate a reward to your finished task. You must mark the occasion! If possible, decide upon your reward before you commence your job for extra motivation!
And here are a couple of additional strategies that we find super helpful in addressing procrastination over the long term..
8. Seek out an accountability partner
A problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes. Having a colleague, business partner or a trusted friend that you publicly commit your to-do list to is highly effective for goal-setting and achievement. And we particularly like this strategy as it involves social contact! And you can return the favour to your partner, too!
9. Improve your self-talk
How often do you find yourself saying phrases ‘I have to do x’, or ‘ I should do y’.? These seemingly harmless words actually can enforce a feeling of not being good enough, or not doing what we are supposed to. This, in turn, emphasises a feeling of failure. And that is sooooo not helpful! We are all capable of immense success, and we must be our own biggest supporters! Where possible, try to catch yourself in the act and replace the ‘I have tos’ and ‘I shoulds’ with “I choose to do my tax return because I will feel better and in control of my finances!”, or “I want to rebrand my business because I deserve a fabulous new look and feel that I feel proud of!”
10. Release the need to be perfect!
Did you know that procrastination is often a symptom of perfectionism? A lot of the time we put off tasks out of fear of not doing a good enough job, or ‘failing’ at them (see our earlier point). And invariably this comes from an unrealistic expectation that we need to perform a task absolutely 100% perfectly. Which, like it or not, is not sustainable, nor realistic! Whilst we don’t condone doing sloppy work, it’s important to recognise when a task has been done ‘well enough’. Understand the difference between excellence and perfection. Excellence equals doing the right thing, whereas perfection focuses on doing the thing right. Release the desire to perform your task perfectly. Relieve yourself of the pressure! Trust in your abilities that you CAN do a good enough job!