Given the results of procrastination – hurried work, mistakes, stress, missed deadlines and failed business strategies – it’s a wonder why anyone would put off what can be done right away. And yet who doesn’t let projects slide – especially the ones we don’t like doing?
In the work I do as a business strategy consultant, the number one bottleneck is not getting things done. The best laid plans won’t work without execution.
Let’s face it, procrastination is seductive. It reminds us of the joy we got as kids if we skipped school or got out of doing homework or chores. A lot of my clients are very smart people, and even the most successful of them struggle with this.
It’s as if we’re faced with “the marshmallow test:” hmmm, eat it now, or wait? I’m referring to a psychological experiment they did on little kids. The ones who were able to delay gratification were given additional marshmallows, but most of the preschoolers preferred to eat what was available right away. Years later, they found that the few who were able to delay gratification ended up being more successful as teenagers.
When faced with a choice as to how to spend our time, we want to engage in the most enjoyable activities first. This is especially true for entrepreneurs but even seasoned executives struggle with this. We do what we’re good at first. We put off what we’re not sure of.
Even when we know there are payoffs down the road, we focus on the more immediate pleasures and choose to procrastinate.
If you find yourself procrastinating on a task, try thinking of it in very specific and concrete terms to encourage yourself to complete it sooner.
One way of doing this is to break it down into parts. For example, if it’s a writing project, you could list the following steps:
- Make a decision (topic, main points, keywords, goal)
- Write an outline or jot down bullet points
- Get input, do research
- Write a first draft
- Review with others
- Edit or turn over to an editor
Breaking a project into steps makes you aware of the time required and will usually spur you to get started.
It’s important to not let your mind wander by trying to analyze why you’re stuck and why you’re putting it off. If you find yourself experiencing anxiety, do your best to ignore these negative and debilitating thoughts. Instead, focus on breaking the project up into small, manageable parts. The quickest way to get over negativity and anxiety is to do it – even taking action on the smallest step inspires positive results.
This helps get the ball rolling and reduces the size of the task (and the accompanying emotional baggage) so it immediately becomes more doable. Start with something small and then move on to the next step.
This may seem simplistic and it is, but don’t overlook the fact that it works! What are some of your favorite tips for overcoming procrastination?