Do you often find yourself procrastinating, instead of getting important things done?
If so, you’re not alone. In a survey I sent out recently to find out more about my clients’ challenges and struggles, ‘procrastination’ came in as one of the top responses when I asked the question “What do you feel is the biggest obstacle holding you back from making breakthroughs in the areas you desire?”
‘Fear’ was the number one response (which will be the subject of a follow-up article that I’m currently procrastinating over), followed closely by ‘Procrastination’.
I felt compelled to write about procrastination because I know it’s a big challenge for many business owners. And I struggle with it too.
There are certain important things I know I ‘should’ be doing in order to grow my business or to keep on top of things at home, and I often find it really hard to just get on and do them. And it got me wondering – Why? And what can I do about it? Because it frustrates me when I catch myself doing it and I’m aware that it’s a form of self-sabotage.
I was heartened to find out that I’m only a ‘mild procrastinator’ when I did the Mind Tools ‘Are You A Procrastinator?’ test. But I was told “You need to understand better why you procrastinate – there are several reasons for it, and more than one may apply to you. And you need to learn the steps you can take to stop doing it.”
Exactly. So what exactly are those reasons and what can I do about them?
Firstly, it was nice to know that procrastination is not the same as laziness.
As the Mind Tools article on Procrastination says:
“Procrastination is an active process – you choose to do something else instead of the task that you know you should be doing. In contrast, laziness suggests apathy, inactivity and an unwillingness to act. Procrastination usually involves ignoring an unpleasant, but likely more important task, in favor of one that is more enjoyable or easier.”
I find that a great description. I know I’m not lazy because I’m very willing to act. But I definitely have been known to ignore the unpleasant, but more important tasks, in favour of ones that are more enjoyable or easier.
To overcome this pattern of behaviour, Mind Tools suggests that the first thing we need to do is:
Recognise That You’re Procrastinating.
As with everything in life, the first step in being able to ‘fix’ something is to notice that you’re actually doing it. Find out where you are on the procrastination scale – Are you a true procrastinator, a mild procrastinator, or not a procrastinator at all (congratulations – lucky you!)?
And once you know where you fit on the scale, you can start to figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing and how to change it. There are many reasons for why you might procrastinate. Here’s a list of the most common ones.
6 Reasons You’re Procrastinating and What You Can Do About Them
1. You’re Not Organised Enough.
As a business owner, it’s up to you to enforce structure in your day. It was different back in my old corporate career when there were certain non-negotiable obligations like routine meetings, deadlines, or admin tasks that had to be done. But when you work for yourself, that’s much more fluid. If you don’t feel like doing something, you don’t have to do it.
But the guilt and shame that you feel as a consequence of not doing what you know you have to do can be detrimental and (as you know) can lead to a downward spiral of negativity and inertia, which can be very hard to pull yourself out of.
This is why it’s so essential to get organised. You need to create a schedule that forces you to do certain things on certain days, and then make them non-negotiable. For example, commit to getting your email newsletters out every Friday at 2 PM. Or schedule three hours every Tuesday morning to prepare your social media posts for the next 2 weeks. I can’t tell you how much this has helped me get on top of things in my own business. Suddenly I don’t have time to procrastinate anymore!
My favourite tool for getting organised in my business is Trello. It’s been a game-changer for me and my business. I highly recommend using Trello to create structure and discipline in your business.
Consistency, routine, and effective prioritising of your tasks are essential in overcoming procrastination.
Accountability can help you get things done too. Ask someone to check up on you and regularly remind you of what you promised you would do. Get coaching, or join a Mastermind group. Accountability is why coaching relationships are so effective. Coaches help you understand what’s important for you and they hold you accountable to the things you say you’re going to do. And we all need that! As a business coach myself, I still need my own coach to help me stay accountable and on-track.
2. Poor Decision-Making and Lack of Clear Priorities.
Have you ever had those days when there’s so much to do that you just get started on something, and then you end up drifting through the day being super ‘busy’, but at the end of the day you ask yourself “What did I actually do today?”
That’s a day without clear and focused priorities (and is slightly different from not being organised). If you can’t decide what to do, you just end up jumping on the first thing that feels good and suddenly you’ve spent six hours doing things that really are not a high priority and you know it.
The best question I’ve learned to ask at the start of each day is Gary Keller’s famous question that he describes in his #1 bestselling book The One Thing which is this:
What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
I recently put together a video explaining The One Thing and how you can apply it (you can watch the video here). Asking that question has been a true game-changer for me and when I get stuck, this is the question I turn to. I highly recommend trying it out.
3. It’s Boring.
This is an obvious one and possibly the most common. I’m constantly putting certain tasks off because, frankly, they’re boring. Why pay the outstanding invoices or get on top of your admin when you could do the fun website changes you’ve been wanting to do or make pretty social media images?
The best technique that’s helped me make myself do those boring tasks that need doing is this:
Focus on how good it’s going to feel when you’ve finally done those boring tasks and you can tick them off your to-do list. Keep tuning into the feeling of relief and satisfaction you will feel and use it to get you through the task.
Another thing you can do is promise yourself a reward. If you complete a boring but necessary task on time, reward yourself with a treat; maybe a slice of cake and coffee from your favourite coffee shop. Or if it’s a really big, important task, reward yourself with a massage or anything else that feels like an absolute treat – because you deserve it.
4. You’re Worried About Failing.
This type of procrastination is simply ‘fear’ disguised as procrastination. And the only way to overcome this one is to schedule the time to do the scary thing that needs to be done and push through the fear. As the famous saying goes “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”
All the things I’ve been really scared of doing (live videos, leading group calls etc) only became less scary when I finally plucked up enough courage to just do them. And through doing them they became much less scary and even enjoyable.
The more you do something you fear, the more comfortable and enjoyable it becomes.
There’s a certain adrenaline boost that you get when you overcome your fears that can become addictive with time, to the point where you actually really start getting hooked on doing the thing you once feared.
5. You’re Being a Perfectionist.
Perfectionists are often the best procrastinators. You’re so dedicated to getting something perfectly ‘right’ before you put it out there that you become paralysed with inaction. This was once a big trap of mine, and the only thing that helped me work through this was repeatedly saying the mantra:
Imperfect Action Beats Perfect Inaction.
If this sounds like you, print out this statement in big letters (make it pretty if you have to) and hang it above your desk somewhere where you can see it all the time. And make the commitment to yourself to choose imperfect action above perfect inaction at all times. Watch how this simple mantra changes your life!
6. You’re Worried About Succeeding.
You might even be worried about doing something really well because it means that you’ll suddenly be swamped with requests from other people and you’ll get overwhelmed.
Maybe you don’t want to be known as someone who gets things done because you’ll end up being their go-to person. In that case, you may just need to be up-front and set some clear boundaries with people. Let them know what you’re willing to do but let them know you have limited time because you have your own tasks to get on with. This may require having some uncomfortable conversations but the effects will be liberating.
As Marianne Williamson has said often:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Maybe you’re scared of how your life will change if you actually become successful, and so you keep yourself small so that you don’t have to get uncomfortable? If so, recognise that you’re doing that, and then try to shift your focus to all the positive things that will result from succeeding, for you and others.
I hope this list has given you some insight and helpful strategies to overcome your procrastination patterns. The top one for me remains staying organised in order to overcome my procrastination demons and something I’m working to improve each and every day.
And be sure not to beat up on yourself. Don’t let yourself get dragged into the spiral of shame and guilt that procrastination can draw you into. Be gentle with yourself and congratulate yourself for always doing your best and for actively seeking ways to improve. That in itself is worthy of a little celebrating.
Are you starting or growing your own business? Download your FREE copy of my FEMPRENEUR SUCCESS HANDBOOK to fast-track your business success! This value-packed guide contains everything I wish I knew back when I was starting my own business in 2011. Click here to download it now.
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In service to helping you live your brightest life,
Kate De Jong, Ph.D