Procrastination can be a problem for all but the most organised of us, and despite great strength of vision, there are often projects or tasks that we just won’t undertake in as timely a fashion as we should. Typically, the longer we defer a task, the more daunting the prospect of eventually undertaking it becomes.
We procrastinate for all different reasons. Arguably, the more control we have over our own projects as freelancers, self-employed people or business leaders, the harder it can be to muster the discipline to ‘knuckle down’.
Types of Procrastination
No stranger to procrastination, I’ve chosen seven scenarios with which I am well acquainted!
1. Lazy Procrastination
I’m putting it off because… I’m content in what I’m currently doing (which may be nothing), and despite a growing spectre of the work to be done looming before me, I just don’t feel like changing my mindset. I acknowledge that I may in fact be feeling worse now than I would be if I was working on the project … but I just don’t want to do it!
2. No-Plan Procrastination
I’m putting it off because… having no plan in place and no idea of the project’s scale (or possibly even its scope), I will have no sense of when or if it can be completed. Starting into something where there is no end in sight is off-putting.
3. Multi-Project Procrastination
I’m putting it off because… there is a multitude of projects that require my attention. I know I won’t be able to complete all of them. I don’t even know where I should start. In this case there is neither a beginning nor an end in sight.
4. Perfection Procrastination
I’m putting it off because… being a perfectionist often brings with it an uncertainty about how long the project will take to complete and an unease with ‘letting it go’. Again this ‘never-endingness’ makes tackling a project unattractive.
5. Denial Procrastination
I’m putting it off because… the problem will go away if I continue ignore it. (Though I know it won’t!)
6. Pressure Procrastination
I’m putting it off because… I work best under pressure so I will leave everything to the last minute. Past experience has shown me that it may work well …or the project may turn out to be a complete disaster.
7. Tiredness Procrastination
I’m putting it off because… I’m too tired to do anything.
Dealing with Procrastination – putting procrastination on the long finger*
Admit you are procrastinating!
If you believe you are procrastinating, then let this acknowledgement be the trigger to do something about it rather that just wallowing in the increasing misery it causes.
Dealing with ‘Lazy Procrastination’
Find a transition task!
(i) Take just five minutes to outline and write down some of the benefits of tackling the project now and of completing it successfully.
(ii) Take another five minutes to outline and examine some of the reasons why you don’t want to start the project now. Question these reasons.
(iii) Take ten minutes to generate an overview of the project that will inform your planning. Think about planning the project in a way that enables you break it into smaller more ‘digestible’ chunks. More time spent planning often means less time spent doing. It may also enable you find some innovative ways to make the project more interesting or appealing. This exercise may simply provide the impetus to get stuck into the project immediately or, if doesn’t, you’re at least twenty minutes closer to finishing the project that you were before.
Dealing with ‘No-Plan Procrastination’
If you are putting off a project because it seems like it will take forever to complete, scope it as an initial exercise, and then plan it with a view to breaking it down into a set of independent achievable tasks.
Then take some time out to think about how it can be completed more efficiently and if there are any ways of delegating some of the associated tasks. Never start something without a plan for completing it. Use a kanban board and some sticky notes as a visual aid.
Dealing with ‘Multi-Project Procrastination’
Ask yourself if there really are enough hours left in the day, the week, your lifetime to complete all the work you have ambitiously—or deludedly—set out to do. If you find that there are not, then a simple and useful model for prioritising, delegating and even reducing your workload is the Eisenhower Matrix (later adapted by Steven Covey in his “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”). It helps you to decide between important and urgent projects and suggests those that might be delegated or abandoned. This exercise can be quite motivational… and liberating!
Dealing with ‘Perfection Procrastination’
People who are passionate about what they create often have great difficulty in ‘letting go’ their work until they feel it is perfect. ‘Satisfactory’ or ‘acceptable’ is not good enough.
You may be an artist but you are also a business owner and you have to sell! More businesses fail as a result of not selling than from selling products that don’t initially achieve the developers idea of perfection.
This is not about releasing poor quality or unsafe products, but it may be possible to release smaller or scaled back versions of your product in stages to smaller audiences.
This type of development is central to the Lean approach in that it offers a framework that satisfies the need to release acceptable products (albeit to a smaller market) while at the same time enabling the entrepreneur to develop and improve product quality constantly.
“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing” Harriet B. Braiker
Dealing with ‘Denial Procrastination’
Reality can be tough, and while great leaders may typically ‘tell it like it is’, there are always instances when it is much easier to put off difficult tasks or decisions interminably than deal with them head-on.
Denial is easier to identify in others than in oneself. A good leader will encourage and foster strong and open communication with his/her team, so that members are not shy in coming forth with opinions on what they see and what they believe is best or necessary for the benefit of the organisation.
A freelancer, independent consultant or lone entrepreneur will benefit in this instance from having a mentor or associate who can act as a ‘sounding board’ for providing objective feedback.
Dealing with ‘Pressure Procrastination’
If we believe we work best under pressure, this can easily become our normal way of working. As entrepreneurs and leaders we need to be able to cope well with and manage crises but should not have to be doing so constantly. Being under constant pressure reduces our ability to ‘take stock’, think clearly and scale the business.
Brett Hilder in his book Essential Time Management suggests re-framing by choosing to be ‘ahead of the game’ rather than ‘excelling under pressure’. The ‘game’ analogy invokes play and performance, competitiveness and targets. Most importantly, it is about being in control rather than being controlled, about competition and preparedness, stamina and goals. Games or sports allow us to perform, create and excel while still keeping a clear head. We can strategise more effectively when playing a game (and competing) than when dealing with a crisis.
Crises are unplanned and dealing with them requires extra effort that leaves us exhausted. We are in a race against time. In a game we pace ourselves so that we have the energy, enthusiasm and preparedness not just to complete the project but to play again the following day/week etc. Frequent crises act as demotivators, impacting negatively on morale and fuelling disinterest in future projects.
Dealing with ‘Tiredness Procrastination’
Tiredness is often the most difficult issue to overcome as both our minds and bodies are telling us that we do not want to or should not do undertake a particular task. Take five minutes to scope and look at what has to be done. If you do not get your ‘second wind’, sleep on it. Take a nap or go to bed and get up early next day when, following a good rest, you are likely to work much more effectively.
By procrastinating we are letting go control over tasks. The longer they are unattended the more likely they are take on a weight that is greater than their size merits. Those tasks begin to control us from afar.
There will always be stuff to do and we will always procrastinate to some degree. However there are only so many hours in the day and, in stressing over a mounting pile of undone (and possibly un-doable) work, we are cheating ourselves out of quality time with family and friends and enjoyment of life.
‘Procrastination is the thief of time’ Edward Young
So we need to focus on achieving and maintaining a balance and identifying the ‘tipping point’ when we know we are losing control.
Investing a little time in:
- learning how to prioritise, plan and delegate;
- thinking about the management of the tasks rather than the task themselves or
- re-framing so you can be ‘ahead of your game’
will pay dividends in the long run!
*To put something ‘on the long finger’ ar an méar fhada is an Irish expression for procrastinating or putting something off indefinitely. It may come from a tradition of wearing an engagement ring on the second (longest) finger!