To Procrastinate [verb]; delay or postpone action; put off doing something.
Psychologist Piers Steel, in a 2007 study published in the Psychology Bulletin, defines procrastination as “a self-regulatory failure leading to poor performance and reduced well-being.” He notes that 95% of people who procrastinate want to overcome this bad habit.
Procrastination affects us all in one way or another but it is important to note that the reason why we procrastinate varies across us all.
There is a misconception amongst business owners that the interest and passion they have for their work should be motivation enough to get things done and that, therefore, procrastination is simply a sign of laziness.
In my experience of working with business owners, this could not be further from the truth.
In fact, I have found, that it is actually perfectionism not laziness that is the most common cause of procrastination amongst business owners. They feel that if their work is not perfect, it will not be good enough to charge for or it will damage their professional reputation.
Others may procrastinate because they fear failure, or perhaps they fear success and keeping up with it when it happens. Some procrastinate because of a neurodivergence that predisposes them to it.
So, what can you do about it?
Below are my top 5 techniques for overcoming procrastination when you find yourself putting off the work you need to do.
Imagine you have a task that you NEED to do (Task A) and a task that you WANT to do (Task B).
You know you need to do Task A first as it is a higher priority, but you’re procrastinating for whatever reason.
You don’t start Task B because you know you should do Task A first.
You end up doing nothing because you can’t get started on Task A and you’ve told yourself you’re not allowed to do Task B.
This is where Productive procrastination comes in; just do Task B!!
You will get something ticked off your to do list at very least and it will likely motivate you to keep going and start Task A anyway.
Break it down
When you have nothing but huge tasks on your ‘To-Do List’ it can feel overwhelming; an unappealing mountain that you have to climb.
This feeling of overwhelm increases your stress levels and makes it harder and harder to get going, causing tighter deadlines and more stress. It is a vicious cycle!
So, take an afternoon and remove any pressure on yourself of being productive. Instead, re-write your to do list in DETAIL. If a task takes more than a few hours, it is likely that it has many sub-tasks within it so focus on writing out those sub-tasks, not just the main goal.
It is perfectly acceptable to write “write to do list” as your first task!
You can also add some “Ta Da” items (i.e. work you have done today that wasn’t on your original list as it shows you have been productive.)
Look for tasks that will take you 5-10 minutes tops and get them done.
Often we leave these tasks because we think we can fit them in later or we think we’re supposed to start with harder tasks to get us going. The “eat the frog” method (which I have covered in my Ultimate Procrastination Toolkit) really works for some, but others find it a really hard way to get going in the morning. This can be a much easier way of kick-starting your productivity and getting the dopamine hit of a tick in the box!
It is amazing how much you start to feel you are “on a roll” once you’ve ticked off 3-4 easy tasks.
In my experience, offices are noisy, distracting places full of people asking stupid questions 😉
BUT there is a lot to be said for working in solidarity with other people, in fact when you are in the office (or a co-working space) you will often use techniques like the Pomodoro technique without realising as quick chats with your colleagues and co-workers give you short breaks throughout the day.
There is also a psychological benefit to that feeling of being watched! Instead of a draconian boss watching your every move, consider it a real-time live accountability partner who stops you from the procrasti-scroll of doom!
We run co-working sessions in The Business Freedom Collective every Monday and they have revolutionised productivity for a lot of us, including me!
Utilise the Zeigarnik Effect
This is a psychological effect and it occurs when an activity has been interrupted; the Zeigarnik effect is that this interrupted activity is more readily recalled than one that has not been started.
You can use this against your procrastination by simply allowing yourself to start but not finish a task in one go.
I recommend working on a task for 20 minutes then stopping. This gives you enough time to get started but not overwhelmed. When you have stopped, your brain will then actively remind you about this unfinished task, increasing your internal motivation to get it completed!
What else can you do?
If you’ve tried these techniques and they haven’t quite hit the mark, or you need some other tools in your arsenal, I have a FREE online mini-course with 5 steps to stop procrastinating.
Get access to the mini-course here