Procrastination isn’t always a bad thing…but it can be! Putting things off until later is sometimes essential in business, but only as long as the tasks you are putting on the back burner can be done later…without negative ‘side-effects’.
If you’re prone to procrastination, those negative side-effects are often a business pain point. The tasks you’ve put on the back-burner are tasks that you consciously or sub-consciously want to avoid because they cause you discomfort. Procrastination can be a sign of resistance to completing a particular task/goal in your business.
If you take the time to look at a task or decision objectively and you’re honest with yourself, you know when something can be put off until later…and when you should crack on and get it done right now. The problem with procrastination occurs when you frequently look for excuses to justify doing what you know is probably the wrong thing.
The following 7-step system will help you escape procrastination and productivity-sapping behaviours.
7 Steps for Taking Action Instead of Putting Things Off
1: Embrace Your Values (+ Your Why?)
You have to know what your ‘why?’ and what your core values are.
What beliefs or values do you have that you will defend in the face of serious challenges?
Where do see yourself in a year, in 5 years and in 10 years?
What things are most important to you? What does your ideal day look like?
Why are you in business?
What is your business vision?
Answering these questions will help you discover your true values; keep drilling down until you get to the crux of your values. You can also use meditation to ponder on the questions.
Once you have your list, think about your values and ‘why?’ all the time. Eat, breathe and sleep them. Write them down (more on that next) and keep them with you. When you know what drives you and you always have these powerful beliefs at the front of your mind, you correctly guide your behaviour. It’s easier to do what’s needed rather than put off responsibilities until some future date. These values define your goals, your actions and your decision-making process, helping you to notice when you are partaking in procrastination behaviours.
2: Write Down Your Goals
As you’re probably aware, neuroscience studies the human brain and nervous system. It’s the study of how memory works, what you can do to retain more knowledge, and how your brain and nervous system influence your behaviour. Thanks to experiments conducted to see whether writing down goals can improve the likelihood of achieving them, neuroscientists have discovered something remarkable:
People who vividly describe their goals are 1.2 – 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish them.
Hence this step is all about writing down your goals; grab a notebook or journal and get to work! Be creative and describe your goals in great detail, knowing that by doing so your chance of achieving your goal is much more likely than if you’d kept it in your head. This is important for beating chronic procrastination because it engages your brain and creates sub-conscious ‘nudges’ in the right direction. When you review your written goals and values on a regular basis, you leave less room for procrastination.
This explains the power of to-do lists. Going back to neuroscience, when you are regularly writing things down you are encoding your goals onto your brain’s hard drive and your brain views it as important; this is often referred to as creating new neural pathways. Since written communication is seen as a way to convey your beliefs (to yourself and others), this reinforces your values. Encoding has been shown to strengthen when you write something down, as opposed to just trying to remember it.
Create an extra layer of encoding by externally ‘storing’ your written goals. Keep them in your purse/wallet, near your workspace or on your refrigerator. Create a vision board full of relatable images to inspire and motivate you in a location you pass by often in your home. This tells your brain these things are important, and should be encoded in your long-term memory as well as for the short-term. All this encoding reminds you brain what your core beliefs and goals are when procrastination rears its head.
3: Stop & Ask Yourself “What Happens If I….?”
This step takes a little awareness and practice as you need to realise when you are starting to go off track and procrastinating. Next time this happens, stop and ask yourself these 2 questions when you are deciding whether or not something can be delayed.
What happens if I delay action?
What happens if I don’t procrastinate?
Be honest with yourself and don’t rush the answer. What happens if you do procrastinate in a certain situation, and what happens if you don’t?
Compare the two outcomes. Is this something that does not have any dire consequences if you put it off? Is there an upside or a downside to delaying action and what are they? Only you can answer these questions correctly. Once you have your answers you can decide whether putting things off until another time is sensible, or whether it could be at your detriment.
4: Put Together a Procrastination-Slaying Support Network
Human connection and having a sound support network means everything in life. It is the rare person indeed that can accomplish everything (s)he wants and obtain everything (s)he desires without a lot of help along the way. Whenever you are trying to change any type of negative, chronic behaviour, whether it be procrastination, drinking too much, or over-spending, a support network can make all the difference in the world.
Remember, you are not the only business owner who struggles with procrastination.
Many entrepreneurs find some reason or excuse to keep them from doing those scary, challenging or daunting things on their to-do list. When you think about any kind of task list at home or at work, a lot of the things you have to do are certainly not things you would like to do. Your business buddies are in the same boat; reach out and talk to them.
Developing a solid support network of people who can remind you why you want to beat procrastination is a good way to keep you on the right track. Not only are they supporting you, but you can support them too. There’s a good chance you have already talked about your procrastinating ways to some of your closest friends, so the next logical step is to tell them you would like their help in overcoming your procrastinating tendencies while also offering your help to them.
5: Practice the 2-Minute Rule
James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits, a New York Times best-selling book on time management and enhancing productivity. James employs a 2-minute rule that has helped him stop procrastinating as much. It also allows him to get rid of bad habits and develop new, healthy habits at the same time. His 2-minute rule for more productivity, less time wasted and better results is very simple.
If he finds himself constantly putting off some task, responsibility or to-do list item because it seems too big or daunting, he does it for just 2 minutes. Before he realises what he is doing, he has devoted 30 minutes or an hour to the task. This works because many times just getting started is the biggest difficulty we face when we set about doing something. We think about the enormity of the task, and this overblown analysis means we never get started.
Here is how it works. Let’s say you have been putting off writing a blog post. You open up your planner and see that today you have scheduled 2 hours of blog writing. Don’t think, “I can never write for 2 hours – ugh.” Tell yourself instead that you are going to spend just 2 minutes writing a headline for your blog. You break any large task or responsibility down into a 2-minute session.
It is amazing how powerful this is for beating procrastination. You don’t think about tidying your whole office. That could be a task that may take an hour or two. Instead, you challenge yourself to tidy for 2 minutes. You don’t spend all day creating social media posts, you just spend 2 minutes writing down a few ideas in preparation.
You can see how this behaviour grows upon itself. A couple of minutes turns into 10 and 20 and 30 and so on. Once you get started, it’s very unlikely you are going to stop what you are doing and start procrastinating behaviour instead.
6: Talking About Habits…
Your values can help you reach your important goals when they drive your decision-making process. Achieving those goals is easier when you use your values to form good habits, and as mentioned above, James Clear uses a 2-minute process to avoid procrastinating and to develop strong habits. When your daily routines and habits become automatic and unshakeable, there is virtually no way you will procrastinate.
Some research shows it takes the average person about 21 days to develop a new habit. Other studies indicate doing something until it becomes an automatic habit may take between 30 or 66 days. Some people can embrace a new process quicker than others, but whatever your natural habit-forming tendencies, if you write your value-based, goal-pursuing habits down and include them in your day planner, you are more likely to stick to them.
Make sure every day of your week includes values-based habits, as well as some down-time to relax and rest. It can be tempting to go with the flow and abandon any kind of routine, but remember; too much free time that doesn’t support positive, rewarding habits means more of a chance to procrastinate. This is where it’s helpful to have a proper routine and structure to your working week. Many people create a schedule of tasks so they know what they are working on each day, in line with their goals and values.
7: Believe in YOU
Believe that you can escape the procrastination trap – these steps are proven to work. You should also believe in yourself; believe in your values, your habits and your ability to make this work – you can totally do this! As you begin to work through this process, you will procrastinate less and get more done. Your productivity, efficiency and time management skills will all improve.
As you realise you are procrastinating less and less, give yourself a pat on the back, because positive reinforcement can help you develop the belief that you can beat your chronic procrastination. It’s also a good idea to create a goal achievement reward of some kind to reinforce further. If you fail and fall back into old habits (and you will because you are only human), simply pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start again, right at the beginning with your values. When you do this, look in the mirror and say to yourself that you cherish your values and belief systems much more than procrastinating behaviour, and you can make positive things happen.
Bonus Tip! Tap Through Your To-do List
Tip 2 was all about writing down your goals and creating to-do lists. Following on from that, there is a great EFT tapping technique you can try, created by Emotional Freedom Technique Practitioner Gene Monterastelli, which is all about resistance to certain things on your to-do list. Rather than avoiding or procrastinating about those things, you go through each item on your to-do list slowly, and identify how much resistance is there by measuring your SUDS (subjective units of distress). Close your eyes and imagine yourself working on the task – what comes up for you? Rate the intensity of emotion on a scale of 1-10 and start tapping on the feeling and any worries that you have about completing the task until the intensity subsides. You can learn more on the embedded podcast below.
Remember that procrastination is all about having an awareness…and then making a choice. If you follow these steps, there is a better chance you will procrastinate less frequently and although you may still put things off from time to time (everyone does), procrastinating will not happen as a chronic, regular occurrence.
Also remember that people who put things off are really seeking reward. Procrastination can be about answering a sensory or emotional need. If you are afraid or reluctant of doing some of the things on your to-do list, ask yourself what gain there is to do something else instead? Be kind to yourself through compassionate inquiry.
Have you overcome chronic procrastination and if so, what helped you? Feel free to share your tips in the comments.