Procrastination can come from a number of places, but it is often the result of having too much to do and not knowing where to start, having unrealistic expectations about getting things done, or having a task list that seems to be packed with things you simply don’t want to do. And let's face it -- all three of these things are very common in the lives of small business owners.
The hardest thing about procrastination is that not only can it derail your progress in reaching your goals, but it can also develop into a cycle that preys on emotional insecurities and lack of motivation. You may see ongoing procrastination turn into anxiety, missed deadlines and lost business, decreased self-confidence, burnout, and even overwhelming feelings of unhappiness in your life and business.
Here are a few tips to help you avoid these procrastination traps and stay on top of your list, even when you don't want to.
Figure Out the Cause
Not all procrastination is the same, and most of the time, each episode stems from a real, tangible cause. Consider why you may be procrastinating in order to face it head on.
For example, if you've been putting something off because it requires distraction-free time and you feel like you can't focus, try working on the task first thing in the morning before other commitments take over your day. Or, if it's a task you simply dislike doing, try breaking it down into mini-tasks so you can tackle it a little at a time.
Know Your Distractions
Distractions often fuel procrastination. They can also give us a way to justify our lack of progress and make excuses when things don't get done.
Be aware when you find yourself starting to get distracted or looking for something to distract you away from the task at hand. Motivate yourself by planning to give yourself time to unwind and be distracted once XYZ is complete.
Say No to Email
Email can be a major time drain and one of the biggest forms of distraction that can lead to procrastination, especially for small business owners who are bombarded with it constantly. Create a system to manage your email so you can stay on top of it and not let it distract you from your most important priorities.
Give Up on Perfection
If you are a perfectionist, then you may have a fear of not doing the best job possible, and this can lead to procrastination. To overcome this, envision the ideal realistic result before you start the work. For big projects, it can be helpful to have a partner or colleague help create the goal in order to make sure it's actually realistic and not perfection-driven. Then focus on reaching that outcome, even if it's not perfect.
Create a Better Schedule
Another cause of procrastination is time management challenges, and feeling like you will never have enough time to get the job done. If this happens, you may find yourself constantly putting something off as you wait for the perfect amount of time to get started.
This kind of inaction can snowball and make it harder and harder to get to work the longer you wait. Instead of waiting for the optimal amount of time for a project, break it down into smaller pieces that you can start any time, and try padding your schedule when you plan other work so you have some buffer time between other engagements to focus on these smaller tasks.
Develop a Sense of Urgency
Some of us work best when we're under pressure. If this is the case for you, create deadlines and milestones to drive progress and keep you moving forward. Make sure you acknowledge your success each time you reach one of your markers in order to stay motivated.
Allow Yourself Time to Goof Off
All work, all the time isn't an effective mode for anyone. We all need to take breaks to avoid burnout and remain productive. One of the best ways to battle procrastination is to allow yourself time off. You may also find that rewarding yourself with time away from work is an effective way to get motivated to get something done.
Of course, procrastination isn't all bad. John Perry, a professor of philosophy at Stanford University, coined the term “structured procrastination” to explain how we can use a common character flaw among procrastinators (self-deception) to counteract the impact of procrastination. So, if these tips don't work and you're still ready to procrastinate, don't worry, you may be able to turn it into a positive thing in your business.