One of the most important topics related to productivity is procrastination. Because everything that will follow for you as an entrepreneur will not matter if you don’t implement action steps and to-do lists you need to perform. You need to beat procrastination.
Procrastination is one of the biggest challenges for everyone, and it is important to learn how not to procrastinate.
What is procrastination?
You know that you need to work on your projects. This is on one side of you, but there is also another that tells you “it’s ok not to start working on that particular project.” In such a way, you procrastinate when you choose your other side that tells you that you don’t need to start working on a project.
Procrastination comes from the Latin word pro, meaning for and eras, meaning tomorrow.
It is one of the most common problems we have when we work on something important or significant for us or our business. We know what we should be doing, but we put it off. We play games, go to time-wasting websites such as Facebook/Twitter/News and other social sites, check our email and other inboxes. Everything but the tasks that are important for us and our business that we know we should be doing.
Why you procrastinate?
Dr. Orrison Swett Marden (1850-1924), an American spiritual author gives some interesting comparison between humans and lobster:
A lobster when left high and dry among the rocks, has not instinct and energy enough to work his way back to the sea, but waits for the sea to come to him. If it does not come, he remains where he is and dies, although the slightest effort would enable him to reach the waves, which are perhaps within a yard of him. The world is full of human lobsters: men stranded on the rocks of indecision and procrastination, who, instead of putting forth their own energies, are waiting for some grand billow of good fortune to set them afloat.
Why do we do this? Because of the uncomfortable estate that comes when we work on important things. Importance brings difficulty, unknowns, uncertainty, unfamiliarity. It is everything that moves us outside our comfort zone. So, it is better to stay in comfort zone instead of in something uncertain.
According to Terence T. Burton in his book Out of the Present Crisis, procrastination and complacency are the largest wastes because they multiply existing waste, delay dealing with the inevitable, increase the size and complexity of problems, and negatively affect the organization. It seems that procrastination becomes one of the biggest enemies to the humans and future development.
Why? I agree that procrastination multiplies waste in the company. You cannot make something important in your business; for example, to decrease waste of time, money, and energy, without doing something about that. So, with not doing things you increase the waste of time, money, and energy in your company. Simply, even though procrastination is enjoyable, it does not help you get the work done.
John Flaherty, professor of management at Pace University some years ago wrote a book titled Peter Drucker: Shaping the Managerial Mind where he discusses procrastination. The book is excellent, and I highly recommend it. Here are some interesting points of view:
Looking at procrastination from this point of view, Drucker saw it as the greatest thief of time and the most obvious impediment to achieving results. Drucker said, it was crucial to address procrastination, the normal human propensity to postpone to tomorrow what should be done today, to talk about intentions rather than work toward results, and to delay actions until ideal conditions prevail. All these factors contributed to lost opportunities, exacerbated emotions, produced psychological fears, and generated unnecessary pressures. Equating procrastination with the fine art of staying apace of yesterday, he observed that postponement resulted in physical fatigue and psychological anguish that made the job seem increasingly difficult the more it was put off. His recipe for avoiding these pitfalls of procrastination in the first place invoked an alliterative triad of steps: definition, delegation, and deadline. The executive needed to define the problem or the task, delegate accountability to a specific person along with responsibility for the specific thing to be accomplished, and establish a firm deadline for completion. The definition ensured a sense of purpose, the delegation identified who was going to do the actual work, and the deadline substituted action for inertia. To offset the perils of procrastination, Drucker’s greatest single antidote was “to start.” Then, by doing a little bit on a regular and consistent basis, even the biggest project would diminish in size.
Gain Pleasure and Avoid Pain
Simply, we are doing things to gain pleasure (payoffs of action) or to avoid pain (cost of work). But, all action will have some costs such as invested time, money and efforts. In this situation, we have a conflict between costs and payoffs. Because costs are visible immediately when we first perceive a conflict we react based on how costly we perceive it to be. We do that by weighing the anticipated cost and benefits of taking action. In most cases, the cost of work is far greater than current suffering from the status quo (not taking any steps).
So, we need to eliminate the pleasure of not doing and increase avoiding pain when we start doing something. We need motivation.
So, again why you procrastinate?
You procrastinate because you think you aren’t motivated, and because of your thinking about the lack of motivation, you merely postpone things that we need to do now.
Quantification of Motivation
Motivation is hard to quantify. Can you tell me how much motivation you have? Do you have some metrics to measure your motivation?
Start asking yourself these questions:
- Why do I want to do this? The answers related to this issue will show you all possible gains that you will get if you accomplish this project or task. For example, if your project that you procrastinate to start is designing innovation system in your company, some of the possible gains, or whys can be better innovation in products, processes, and business models, improved customer satisfaction, becoming the market leader, decreasing operating costs and so on.
- Why do I don’t want to do this? So, when you know your possible gains, you can continue with the pains, or why you don’t want to start working on your project. For example, if your project that you procrastinate to start is designing innovation system in your company, some of the possible pains, or whys can be: 1) you already work on several different projects; 2) implementation will require additional time; 3) you can’t be 100% sure that you will succeed with the gains and so on.
Techniques to Beat Procrastination
Let’s see some techniques that you can use to beat the procrastination.
This method as the name indicates about practicing not to procrastinate. It comes from Leo Babauta (you can read more in his book 52 changes) who recommends practicing this un-procrastination technique for just 10-15 minutes a day.
He also developed the to-do list that you can implement for this technique:
- Set aside time every day for un-procrastination. Start with 5 minutes on Days 1 and 2, and 10 minutes on Days 3–7. Set it at a particular time — say 9 a.m.
- Before your start time, have an important task picked out. Just one task. You only need to do the first 5 (or 10) minutes of it.
- Clear distractions. Turn off the Internet, close all programs not needed, plug in some headphones and music if needed. Do all this before your start time.
- When the start time comes, focus on just getting started. Nothing else in the world matters more than getting started at that point.
- When you notice the urge to switch to something more comfortable, pause. Don’t act, just watch. It’s OK to have the urge, but what’s important is learning that the urge doesn’t control you. You can just watch it, even if that’s a bit uncomfortable. Look at the urge, breath, and then return to your important task.
- Repeat the above step as many times as necessary.
- Enjoy the process. When we fear something, we put it off — but instead, if we can learn to enjoy it, it won’t be as hard or dreadful. Put yourself at the moment, and enjoy the task. Let go of the dread, and focus on the pleasantness, fun-ness, joy of the doing.
2. Breaking it down
Break down larger projects or tasks in smaller parts so you can visualize the projects even you are already in this start-up stage.
- Think about what you want to achieve. What do you want to achieve with this particular project or task? It is important for the beginning to know possible achievements that will represent the gain side of your project.
- Divide the task or project in 3 to 6 steps. You don’t want to have fifty or hundred steps that will immediately bring procrastination as a solution to your brain. It is important to understand at the very beginning that you can do that, and it will not take too much time or too much effort. In such a way, you will decrease the pain part of doing this projects or task.
- Make sure the first step is actionable and takes no more than one hour. Many projects will stay in the planning stages only because you will not start them, and as the owner of the project, you can’t see the progress that you made implementing it. In such a way the pain side becomes more active and stronger than the gain side even you have identified all the gains, but you still cannot feel them. If you want to eliminate this barrier or procrastination forces, you will need to make your first step actionable. Try using the sentence of the first step to start with the verb do, write, call, email, take, or something that you can immediately start and something that will not require more than half hour to one hour to do. You simply want to make sure that starting the project is as much as possible easier for you.
You don’t need to know all steps in details to use this technique.
- Think about what you want to achieve
- Divide the task or project in 3 to 6 steps
- Make sure the first step is actionable and takes no more than one hour
- Start working on the first task
- Allocate other tasks on your to-do list.
3. The envision film
Thanh Pam from Asian Efficiency recommends the envision film as a technique to beat the procrastination.
With this technique, you will use the power of visualization to overcome procrastination. Simply, you imagine a role in playing a film of how you are working and how you see yourself completing this task in an ideal scenario and what you will achieve or get when you have done this task or project.
Often, we procrastinate because we don’t know what the results from our work will look like and what we gain for our efforts. In such a situation, it is not strange to not start doing such things.
Imagination is an important motivating force for all of us. If you can not imagine yourself doing the task, you can not expect to be motivated to start doing it. Such a visualization will show you all possible constraint on your execution so you can know possible solutions.
The basic idea is that you want to see yourself succeeding in a realistic situation.
- Find a quiet place. Park, home, office, anywhere peaceful or somewhere you will not be disturbed.
- Close your eyes. You can better imagine and visualize yourself when you close your eyes.
- Relax for a minute. Try to relax for one minute. Don’t think about anything.
- Visualize yourself. Imagine yourself working on the task imagining each possible steps.
- See the final achievements. It is important to visualize the result that will motivate you to start and do the work.
- Open your eyes and start working. Now, you can start working on your tasks.
4. Momentum and inertia
This technique is beneficial to beat procrastination when you feel that you are procrastinating to start doing some critical tasks. The root of the method is the concept of building momentum on starting doing something you need to do and then use inertia to finish what you have already started. In such a way, you are overcoming your initial resistance, and the rest will be much easier.
The basic premise for momentum is to motivate yourself to start doing some task, and in this way, one of the biggest motivators is when you set that starting something will not require too much time. What will motivate you to start doing something? Is it a task that implementation will need several hours, or a task that will need several minutes?
Just start it, start small and try to build momentum that will push you to continue until you don’t finish your task or project. Start working on something for a couple of minutes. This is something that will build momentum for yourself and push you toward starting doing things. But, you know, you will never stop an unfinished task even you spend the allocated several minutes to start doing the job. You have already spent several minutes to do something, and now, because of this expenditure (time and efforts) from your side, you will push yourself to finish what you have started finally.
For example, this post was in my mind last several weeks. But, one Sunday morning I say to myself let start writing the concept about eliminating procrastination in the next 15 minutes. In the end, I have spent two hours writing this article more than 3000 words long. You see. I build the momentum saying that I will spend only 15 minutes to write the concepts about procrastination, and I have used inertia to continue after I write the first draft of this article.
- Build momentum. Build momentum by telling to yourself that you will work for several minutes on something important for you.
- Start working on the task. You can start working on your task for several minutes.
- Use inertia. Use inertia to do all the work until you finish the task.
5. Timeboxing technique
Timeboxing is a different method because it encourages you to focus on time instead of tasks. To use this method, you will need to allocate a certain number of hours or days, called a “time box,” to each activity. You then use this time to complete the task.
- How long the project or task should take? Estimate how long the project or task should take to complete, and allocate a set amount of time.
- Choose the length of time that works best for you. The Pomodoro® Technique is for time boxing that involves working in segments of time, usually 25 minutes.
- Setup timer to ring after 25 minutes and start working. This is the time that you will eliminate all possible distractions and work on your project or tasks. Only work on one thing nothing else in scheduled time for 25 minutes if you use Pomodoro® Technique.
- When the timer starts ringing, take a five-minute break. This five-minute break allows you to return to your work with more energy and enthusiasm.
- Reset the timer. Reset the timer for the next 25 minutes and continue to work on your project or task.
- Take a 30 minutes break. For every four cycles take a 30 minutes break.
6. Systemize things
Many people procrastinate and waste their time “thinking” about project and tasks, and simply how to start doing things. And what I mean by that is that they are staying aside wondering what they will do as a first, second…
Most productive people have their system of doing different tasks, which maximize the time they spent doing things and are minimizing time trying to figure out their next step.
All systems consist of 3 main things: input, output, and process. The input is your time and energy, and the output is ideally a what you want to achieve. But, if you want to create a system, you need to focus on the creation of a reliable process.
A system is a set of instructions that explain how you do certain things. One of the ideas behind Entrepreneurship in a Box is that to each idea or something that we will cover here to give you prepared process that will help you do the right things on the right way.
On the highest level in your company, you have politics. As you already know your business has many different processes that contain many different subprocesses. On the sub process level, you will have procedures.
The procedure is a set of written instructions that define all necessary steps required to perform of activities inside the process. You need to remember that the process determines what will need to be done, while procedures define how you will do something. Instructions, on the other hand, will describe how you can implement the particular activity. For example, if your process is related to email marketing, and one of the tasks is sending broadcast emails to the subscribers you will have the following:
- Process: Marketing
- Subprocess: Email marketing | Procedure: Steps how to setup email broadcast in your autoresponder.
- Activity: Send weekly broadcast | Instructions: Steps to design and publish broadcast inside autoresponder.
I want to add one more thing related to this technique because it is essential. Do not procrastinate with the implementation of the project based on this method if you want to beat procrastination. Probably this will take a significant amount of your time, but believe me, at the end the outcomes are great for you and your business as overall.
- Create a list of the most important processes for your business. What are most important processes in your company?
- Create a list with all subprocesses in those processes. What are their sub processes?
- Create a list of all activities in each of these subprocesses. What actions are required for each of that processes/sub processes?
- Procedures. Design all necessary steps you need to do to make processes (sub processes) to work.
- Instructions. Design all necessary steps you need to do to implement activities in your procedures.
- Accessibility. Make your procedures and instructions organized and easily accessible when you need them. Tip: Use Evernote to develop your systems.