Every business owner I know has the same amount of time: the same number of minutes in an hour, hours in a day and days in a year. So, how is it that some people can find the time to work on their goals, while others can’t?
Quite simply, it’s not because people can’t find the time; it’s because they don’t find the time and it all comes down to procrastination. That’s the habit of actively delaying important and meaningful tasks – such as putting off a challenging activity that would bring you closer to achieving your goals – and instead spending time on less urgent, easier and more enjoyable things.
“Procrastination is the thief of time.” – Charles Dickens, ‘David Copperfield’
Procrastination is a rotten habit that will undoubtedly prevent you from achieving greater success in both business and life. It’s a trap that the majority of people fall into now and then and it’s sobering to realise the extent to which it can result in you missing out on achieving your goals.
When procrastination is left to fester for long periods of time, unchecked, and there’s no desire to control or manage it, it can have serious and permanent consequences. I’ve seen procrastination lead to demotivation, disillusionment and even business failure for some business owners.
I’ve never heard of anyone procrastinate their way to the top. What I have heard on many occasions, though, is business owners complaining about their situation, saying that they’re not satisfied with being average and will never settle for less than they believe they can have. But still these business owners refuse to take action and do something about it. When I say ‘action’, I don’t mean hypothesizing about what can be done, reading books or attending courses. I mean taking real action that brings about real-world change to your situation or circumstance.
All the best business owners I know – the ones that I would class in the top 20% in terms of success – know how to take action; they don’t procrastinate. They have systems and strategies in place to help them stay focused and committed. They always keep their eye on the prize. More importantly, they know how to remain in a state of momentum, taking consistent and persistent action towards reaching their goals.
The fact that you’re reading this blog post probably means you already recognise that you’re prone to procrastination and want to learn how to start taking action instead. Good!
So, here are the systems and strategies I personally use to successfully halt procrastination in its tracks whenever it tries to rear its ugly head. These six actions can be adopted by any business owner looking to manage and overcome procrastination, so read on and start improving your productivity and success right away.
1. Know your goals
Before you can be successful at anything, you must be clear on your goals. You need to know exactly where you are heading and have a plan of what needs to happen to get you there. Importantly, those goals must have a deadline attached to them, otherwise it’s all too easy to let working on them drift.
I use two tools to keep me focused and on track with my goals: (1) a visual goals board and (2) an affirmations/goals table. I look at these every morning before doing anything else – and sometimes again during the day, especially when I feel procrastination creeping in. It helps me reframe in terms of relevance and value by reminding me of the long-term benefits of completing the task and the rewards it will bring.
If you do the same, it will help you knock on the head all those worn-out excuses about why today, right now, is not the right time to do something. I’m too tired. I’m stressed. I’m not in the right mood. It’s too difficult. I don’t have the time. It’s so easy to come up with a list of reasons not to get on with what you should be doing.
More often than not, these are simply excuses for avoiding hard work that may have emotional or financial discomfort attached to it. It’s usually fear. Fear of making the wrong decision. Fear of financial loss. Fear of upsetting someone or rocking the boat.
You need to be bold and address whatever it is that’s holding you back, because putting it off will ultimately leave you with nothing but untapped potential and unfulfilled dreams.
2. Work from a prioritised ‘to do’ list
Poor decision making is another major cause of procrastination. If you can’t decide what to do next because you have a long list of things to choose from, you’re likely to put off taking any action at all.
I use the very simple, yet immensely powerful ‘Vital First Principle’ (see my blog post: How my Vital First Principle can help accelerate your success) to help me find and focus on the activity I need to do next; the one thing that will have more impact on me achieving my goal than any other. It’s easy to use, pretty much does the hard work for me and, best of all, enables me to quickly identify and prioritise the important activity I should focus on, as well as highlighting the least important things I can afford to ignore for now.
I’ve seen so-called time management experts peddle the view that you should look for the task that you find least pleasant and get that out of the way first. Their argument is that this will then give you the rest of the day to concentrate on work you find more enjoyable. Because it’s more enjoyable, you’re more likely to get on with it. This is one of the worst procrastination tips I’ve heard! It’s exactly what makes people procrastinate in the first place. Organising your work in terms of what’s ‘least pleasant’ and ‘more enjoyable’ takes no account of the impact that each activity will have on your goals. It offers no sense of task priority, importance, value or reward.
So, if you haven’t done so already, read my ‘Vital First Principle’ blog (How my Vital First Principle can help accelerate your success) and find out how you can quickly and easily organise and prioritise your tasks so that you’re always working in the most productive and effective way.
3. Break down the task into bite-sized chunks
Quite often, procrastination will stem from feeling overwhelmed by the task facing you. Larger, more time-consuming tasks might seem insurmountable and it’s easy to be almost paralysed by the thought of tackling them.
When I’m faced with such a feeling, I take a few minutes to think things through and break down the task into smaller, more manageable parts. I write down all the necessary actionable steps required to complete the task and then prioritise which step to work on first. I even add smaller sub-steps if I have to. By doing this, the task immediately appears less daunting and intimidating and I have a clear plan that helps me stay organised and in control.
4. Make the time
“I don’t have the time”, is the number one excuse I hear from people when they don’t want to feel guilty about not doing something and, for me, it’s the worst excuse of all. What it really means is that they can’t be bothered and the task in question simply isn’t a priority for them. In truth, they’re willing to put things like binge-watching Netflix, sleeping in, staying up late surfing the internet and wasting hours every day on social media ahead of far more important things, like working on growing their business.
The successful business owners I know certainly didn’t get to the top by telling themselves this lame excuse. Instead, they found the time. They set aside the less important things to make room for the more important ones. Successful people know that if they waste time, they will pay the price.
There are two main ways to make time to work on your tasks:
- Firstly, greatly reduce the time you spend or stop doing all together those things that don’t help you reach your goals. Get rid of tasks that add zero value.
- Secondly, set aside blocks of time to work on each task – between 2 and 4 hours doing nothing else but focusing and working on that one thing. This means no multi-tasking, no interruptions and no distractions. Diarise and guard that chunk of time and don’t let anyone or anything move or rearrange it. Commit to it.
Fifteen minutes or half an hour here and there throughout the day or week will not work at all; it’ll take you twice as long and the work that you do manage to accomplish will be of a poorer standard. It has to be a continuous chunk of time that is no less than two hours and no more than four at a time. By doing this, you will be working at what I call ‘peak flow’, where your attention, focus and output will be at its highest.
And you really shouldn’t struggle with 2 to 4-hour chunks. You’re not a teenager with uncontrollable hormones firing your attention in 20 different directions; you’re an adult working on serious changes to your business, so give yourself and the task the time and respect it deserves.
5. Maintain a working environment that promotes productivity
The environment you work in needs to encourage the state of ‘peak flow’. Never let your physical environment hold you back. To work at your most productive level, you must do the following:
- Have a clean, tidy and organised workspace. You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘tidy desk; tidy mind’, and it’s absolutely true. An organised workspace is conducive to an organised mind. You will feel in control and it will help you stay focused and motivated. So:
- Get rid of clutter, remove anything from sight that serves no purpose for the task you’re working on and keep only the basics to hand (e.g. like pen, pad, computer, water and coffee).
- Put away photos and ornaments that will only serve to distract you. Memories are great, but not when you’re trying to focus and produce your best work.
- Consider putting up your visual goals board to remind you of what you’re aiming for – it will help keep you motivated and on track.
- At the end of your session, completely clear everything away. The only thing that should be left on your desk is your computer.
- Eliminate all distractions. Find a quiet place to work where you won’t get disturbed or interrupted during the 2-4 hours you’re dedicating to the task.
- Choose a place away from people and pets.
- If you’re facing a window with a busy view, close the blinds.
- Disable automatic notifications on your phone and computer – better still, turn your phone off if you don’t need it for the task – and close all windows/tabs on your computer other than the ones you need.
- Don’t be tempted to look at your email or social media accounts.
- Finally, turn off the radio or television. Listen to some music if you need background noise.
6. Stop overthinking things
Everyone overthinks but some people do it a lot more often than others. When you think too much about something, you become trapped in a loop of inaction and end up procrastinating. ‘Analysis paralysis’ (as this is often called) is real and will cause you to dwell, waste time and delay taking any action.
I find it’s possible to avoid analysis paralysis by following two rules:
1. Apply a ‘one-touch’ rule to decision making. The idea is simple: only touch upon a task or decision once. Once you’ve touched it, completely finish it before doing anything else and then don’t keep revisiting it. Make a decision and move on. You’ll be amazed at how much time and stress this simple method saves.
When faced with a business decision, set yourself 10 minutes to focus on it. Hypothesise, worry and mull over all the possible consequences and options you can think of. At the end of the 10 minutes, write down the decision you’ve made and the action you’re going to take to make it happen. Then, start taking that action and don’t allow yourself to revisit that decision.
2. Don’t always aim for perfection. Perfection is an unattainable illusion. By striving for perfection, you’ll set yourself standards that are so unrealistic that they become impossible to reach. You will then get demotivated and never start work on them.
So, accept that no-one is perfect. Simply promise yourself that you will give it your best effort and make sure every task is completed; it’s nothing at all if it’s not finished.
Just get started!
Sometimes we can overestimate the difficulty and unpleasantness of a task. When this happens to me, I apply the 10-minute rule: I start the task and force myself to spend at least 10 minutes on it, no matter what. At the end of the 10 minutes, I always find that it’s more interesting and not as bad as I thought.
At the same time, I find it useful to reframe the task by looking at its value and thinking about how it will help me reach my bigger goals. If that still doesn’t do the trick, I try to hold at the front of my mind all the negative consequences of not doing the task – and that’s generally quite enough to motivate me!
It all boils down to taking consistent and persistent action towards reaching your goals. Action is your pathway to success. And the sooner you understand this, the sooner you can start your journey.