“So are we going to talk about procrastination”, I asked. The man smiled. He was a middle-aged gentleman with a warm demeanor and a perceptive look. “We won’t be on the topic if we don’t procrastinate,” he answered and laughed.
This was my first psychology conference and the man I was talking to was one of the leading experts on procrastination in the country. We did end up talking about procrastination and by the time we were finished, he was impressed with my grasp on the subject.
I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying this so you know I understand the problem of procrastination deeply enough that even one of the leading experts in the country acknowledged it.
I should understand it. After all, I’ve not only studied the beast, but I’ve grappled with it my whole life. And if you’re reading this, so have you.
However, I’ve started thinking about procrastination in terms of business only recently. It’s not immediately apparent how procrastination is killing your business. It’s not a gunshot wound – it’s death by a thousand cuts.
What are the causes of procrastination in business?
Whether it’s in business or life, procrastination springs from the same seeds. However, since the stakes are so high in business, procrastination tends to run on steroids. This is not great news if you’re trying to feed a family and take care of your employees.
So what causes procrastination? There are four main groups of reasons:
- Psychological causes – these mostly include fear, anxiety, and perfectionism. If you’re afraid of failure, afraid of success, anxious about the outcome of a task, or feel the pressure to achieve perfection, then you’re probably going to procrastinate. Why wouldn’t you? It feels like the whole world is looking at you from the stands and dying to see you fail. So you put it off until you can put it off no longer.
- Behavioral causes – round up the usual suspects! When it comes to behavioral causes, there are no bigger culprits than poor time management, lack of organization, and craptacular prioritization. If you don’t know where to start or get overwhelmed, it’s much easier to simply put things off for the future. After all, future you will be older, and therefore wiser. Right?
- Environmental causes – it’s impossible to get any work done while everyone around is running their mouths or your phone is buzzing with notifications every two seconds. That’s why I prefer to work at home and at night – how am I supposed to write if someone interrupts me every two minutes?
- Biological causes – now, biological causes are the real curse, because oftentimes there’s not much you can do about them. Neurological factors are almost impossible to treat effectively long-term. If you think you might have a medical condition causing your procrastination, please, consult with a health professional. Just make sure you consult an actual expert.
One thing is clear – there’s no shortage of causes for procrastination. It’s usually at this point when people say, “Okay, this all sounds bad, but how does it affect my business?” I love answering my own questions, don’t I?
How is procrastination killing your business?
Procrastination is a large boa that’s wrapped itself around your business and is slowly suffocating it. This metaphor may seem a bit extreme, until you realize how many mistakes, missed opportunities, reduced productivity, and more are directly caused by procrastination.
If you don’t believe me, think about the last time you missed a deadline because you were putting it off until the last moment. Think about the last time you had to rush the order because you didn’t feel like fulfilling it. Think about the last time your competitor beat you to market because you had to get your product just right.
All of this is the direct result of procrastination. Here are a few more of the thousand cuts:
- Reduced productivity – as the leader of your organization, you’re there to set an example. If you’re procrastinating, you can bet your ass your employees are doing it, too.
- Increased stress – the brain is a funny thing. When you have something to do, your brain blocks off mental resources for the task and you can’t use them for anything else until the task is complete. That’s why you can’t shake the feeling you should be doing something else while you’re procrastinating. And why it’s causing you undue stress.
- Financial losses – missed deadlines, faulty orders, and crappy products tend to accumulate over time. A loss here and there is not a problem, but if it becomes a regularity, you’re going to feel it in your financial report.
- Damage to your brand – you’ve worked tirelessly to create a brand you can be proud of. Now you’re beginning to tarnish it one mistake at a time.
- Missed opportunities – this one is pretty self-explanatory. While you’re busy procrastinating, opportunities are slipping like sand through your fingers. And they’re not coming back.
Another problem with procrastination is that it isn’t always obvious. Remember when I said crappy prioritization can cause procrastination (actually, I used the word “craptacular”)? That’s the most insidious form of procrastination because it doesn’t look like procrastination at all.
What does it look like? It looks like tinkering with your website to perfection instead of cold calling or emailing potential clients and partners. It looks like toying around with your logo while your sales are plummeting. It looks like buys work.
This is a mistake many business owners make because they don’t realize a simple truth – just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re productive. If you’re not setting proper goals and executing them, you’re not going to grow your business. It’s that simple.
Overcoming procrastination in business and in life
The question of the hour: “If procrastination is so insidious and complex, what can we do about it?” This is a good news/bad news kind of situation.
Unfortunately, there are no simple answers or simple fixes when it comes to procrastination. To most who subscribe to this philosophy, putting things off has been a life-long habit (regardless of the reasons behind it). You can’t kick such a habit in a day.
The good news is there are solutions to this problem, but they require you to be proactive, which is tough if you’re a chronic procrastinator.
Identify the cause
First things first, you need to identify the cause of your procrastination. Are you a perfectionist? Perfectionism is actually fear of failure and anxiety masquerading as meticulousness.
“It’s not perfect, yet,” is the perfect (no pun intended) excuse for putting things off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put off publishing an article for days or weeks because “maybe I’m missing something“.
Are you afraid you’re going to fail? If that’s your default, there’s probably a deeper reason for it. Perhaps you were punished when you failed as a child or you got embarrassed that one time in 8th grade and now failure taunts you at every possibility. You can’t fail if you don’t do anything. The problem is, you can’t succeed, either.
Organization, poor time management, whatever it is, you get the idea. You need to identify it before you can address it. The remaining question is “How?”
In order to identify the cause, you must first be mindful of the fact that you’re procrastinating. In most cases, procrastination feels like some kind of resistance in our minds. Like we’re avoiding something we know we should be doing.
Once you catch yourself avoiding a task, it’s a lot easier to identify the reasons why. Let me give you an example. I tend to procrastinate when it comes to cold emailing.
Even though I know I’m offering great value in my emails, it still feels like I’m bothering people. And they can’t say “no” to you if you don’t send them anything, right? So I oftentimes catch myself avoiding cold emails.
Now that the task I avoid is clear, I can analyze the reasons. Would I procrastinate if every email sent landed me a client? No. Would I procrastinate if I was always getting praised for my emails? No.
So there’s a fear of failure, fear of rejection, and a bit of anxiety thrown in for good measure. The causes are becoming clear the deeper you dig.
Sit down and think about all the things you know you should be doing to keep your business moving forward, yet you’re putting them off. Then analyze the reasons why. If you can’t do it on your own, ask for help. You can hire a business consultant or even a therapist.
Address underlying psychological factors
Your business is your kingdom and you’re its ruler. When the ruler has problems, the kingdom has problems. So make sure to address the deeper psychological causes at the root of your procrastination.
I wasn’t kidding about hiring a therapist. Plenty of successful people have gone through therapy to cope with their issues and they’ve come out happier, healthier, and more motivated on the other side. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need help sometimes. We all do.
Tackling these problems will help to improve your life, not just your business. But if you need to, look at it as a business investment (I know most business people are always looking for an ROI).
Practical tips to address behavioral causes
Sometimes, the easiest way to deal with procrastination is to make a plan and then execute the plan. While in most cases there are deeper reasons for avoidance and putting things off, the simple truth is that today, we’re constantly bombarded with stimuli that make it difficult to focus on our tasks.
Use To-Do lists
Enter To-Do lists. Look, I know what you’re thinking. I used to think the same thing – TDLs are lame. You don’t want your life revolving around a small piece of paper that constantly tells you what you’re supposed to be doing. You’re the boss, dammit! But you know what? They work.
However, I totally changed my position once I started using To-Do lists properly. Before, I used to pencil down every little thing I had to do to the point of micromanagement. Now, I simply pencil down three to five important tasks I want to get done during the day. It’s that simple.
I’m not saying my method is the best. I’m saying it works for me. If you’ve learned another “productivity hack” or you know another method to use TDLs, by all means, use whatever feels natural to you.
The important thing is to make sure you put in tasks you’re going to do. Many people make the mistake of putting goals into their TDLs and then wonder why it doesn’t work.
Identify three to five critical tasks you need to do to move your business forward, put them down and then do them. It’s that simple.
For bonus points, you can hand your list to your spouse, a friend, a mentor, a consultant, you name it – someone who can hold you accountable. Do that and see how much harder it becomes to procrastinate.
Do something “painful”
You’re smart so you’ve noticed the quotation marks around the word “painful” and you understand I don’t mean it literally. However, just in case someone not as smart stumbles upon this article, I do not mean it literally. You should not be doing something that causes you physical or psychological harm.
What I mean by “painful” is something safe that you really don’t want to do. Those activities are extremely efficient at taking you out of a rut.
For example, I use cold showers. I hate cold showers but they serve an important purpose in my fight against procrastination. For you, it might be something else, like working out or doing cardio. I work out regularly so that wouldn’t work for me but it might work for you.
Doing something unpleasant will make the activity you’re avoiding seem better in comparison. If you hate sales calls, doing five sales calls is preferable to standing five minutes in the cold shower or running for five kilometers.
Delegate when appropriate
There are times when the best way to get something done is to let someone else do it. Good business leaders know when it falls to them to do something, and when they should delegate it.
Unfortunately, many small business owners believe that “nothing gets done around here unless I do it.” This belief causes them to take on too much responsibility, which makes it difficult to prioritize properly.
As a result, they end up procrastinating the things they don’t want to do in favor of the things they do want to do. You get the rest of the picture.
If you’re having issues with certain tasks, find a way to delegate them. Hire more people, promote people within your organization, or simply delegate more responsibility to people you trust. It will do wonders for your business.
My phone buzzed two times as I’m writing this sentence (I should’ve left the damn thing in the other room). I’m wondering if there’s some new interesting video on my YouTube feed I can watch. And my Steam account is silently calling for me…
Distractions are everywhere but if you want to get something done, you need to avoid them like a coworker who doesn’t shower. Look, I get it – distractions are awesome. That’s why they pop up all the time to give you a small jolt of dopamine. But they’re also standing in the way of you doing something greater.
All those distractions are like fast food for your brain – feels good in the moment but it makes you feel like crap in the long run. Healthy food might not always be the popular choice, but it’s all in all the better one. And, hey – no one’s said you can’t indulge in a little distraction once you’ve done your job.
Prioritize your own tasks
I’m all about doing other people favors. I try to be generous with my time but some people take this to an extreme. I know people whose business is hemorrhaging money, yet they’re still spending half their time doing some off-shoot favor to their cousin with whom they speak once a year.
I get it. This is a great way to dodge your own tasks and get some validation in the process. After all, it’s not your fault you’re moving your business forward. You’re just too busy.
The advice here is the same as the one above – indulge in this all you want after you’ve done your job. Once you’ve freed up enough mental and time resources, knock yourself out. Go help your cousin. Go volunteer in a soup kitchen. That’s admirable. But don’t use it as an excuse for avoiding your own responsibilities.
In the end, procrastination is a real threat that can take a toll on both you and your business. We’re talking about missed deadlines, shoddy work, a slump in productivity, lost opportunities, financial woes, and even a tarnished reputation.
When you let procrastination take the wheel, it’s like playing with fire. Deadlines slip through your fingers, leaving a trail of disappointment and frustration. Productivity takes a nosedive, and those golden opportunities for growth pass you by like a fleeting dream.
But fear not, my good reader. There is a way out of this pit of procrastination. It takes discipline, self-awareness, and a commitment to tackle those tasks head-on. Get a grip on your time, set your goals, and prioritize like a coach aiming for a perfect game. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Sometimes a guiding hand can be the secret ingredient that keeps you on track.
By banishing procrastination from your business, you can reignite the flame of productivity, meet those deadlines, deliver top-notch work, and keep your brand shining brightly like a star in the night sky. So don’t wait and don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today.
Till next time.