If you often find yourself sidelined by procrastination, don't be discouraged and feel like you are some sort of exception to the rule.
You are by no means alone in your actions (or your feelings). Procrastination is very common, and if it isn’t the particular ailment that causes you some issues in your work environment, then it is likely causing others on your team some issues.
With that common frequency, it is helpful to understand how to combat procrastination, right?
Have you examined yourself and found that you are not the procrastinating type? If that is the case, it is likely that procrastinators tend to annoy you, especially if and when they are on your team.
You may find it difficult to understand how it is that they procrastinate, and find it challenging to empathize with their procrastinating behavior.
You may even feel the urge to raise your voice and say something to the effect of “just get it done already!” Fortunately, there are techniques that are more effective, whether you are the procrastinator, or it is a team member.
According to the website, MyTimeManagement, there are statistics that support the statement that 20 percent of the population suffer from procrastination. There is no proof that this number has any hope of going down anytime soon (but rather, it seems to be rising).
These statistics make sense when realizing that putting off necessary activities is one of the most common causes of project failure. Fortunately, as a business owner, several strategies can keep you, and your team, on track.
Here is a list of what we are calling “Strategy Tips” to help move your business to a procrastination-free environment. Or, at least closer in that direction. We are not making this into a checklist that you have to follow in a specific order.
The idea is that these tips are like little strategy plans (tips) in and of themselves. The strategy tip approach offers you two advantages: 1) You can do them in any order; and 2) You can repeat them (re-iterate) in any order, even if you repeat one strategy before going on to another strategy.
If you are the one who is struggling with the procrastination behavior, then this plan of action (or more aptly put, a list of strategy tips) may be just the assistance that you need to overcome the procrastination habits. If we said, “You have to do it this way,” there would be a couple of potential outcomes.
The most notable potential outcome is that it might not be as “fun” and may cause a “block” that triggers the procrastination, which wouldn’t serve any purpose at all.
The strategies and tips that we present came, for the most part, from tried and true practice and success. You could call it “in the trenches” testing. That said, we can’t take all the credit, as we also reviewed some excellent articles on the same topic (procrastination). It was helpful to see that we were on the same page as other experts in the same arena, especially in the areas that involved some more radical approaches to overcoming procrastination.
So, with that, let’s start with an article that is impressive in the way that it digs into the topic of procrastination. Corporate Business Solutions points out the concerns over delaying the execution of critical tasks in a business environment. It also helps to explain the reasoning behind cases of procrastination.
Sometimes there are reasons, and even valid reasons, for the procrastination. This one is worth the read to get you started on this topic and some ideas on overcoming procrastination. After reading that article, the strategy tips will make a little bit more sense.
Strategic Tip 1: Determine the Cause
When it comes to determining what causes procrastination in different people, there could be many causes. These could include hereditary aspects and the nature versus nurture discussion. But, it could also include more simplified explanations.
For example, according to About.com, more times than not, procrastination is a case of having too much to do and not knowing where to start. That feeling of being overwhelmed is common and can stop someone from moving forward because they are not sure which direction they should be moving.
Many times, when examining what causes the procrastination, it is one of these three things that causes us to avoid doing a particular task, which is, in essence, procrastination:
- The task at hand lacks an element of “fun.” It is an unpleasant task.
- We do not feel that we have the knowledge level that is appropriate for the particular task. Instead, you may feel like you need to avoid the task because you are not sure how you want or should approach the particular task.
- If you feel you are unable to focus appropriately on the task, you may feel a sense of avoiding it instead. You're getting sidetracked by other things vying for your attention and it is easier to practice avoidance than practicing or implementing a focused strategic approach.
Once you can ascertain what is causing the block and understand the cause of this stalling behavior, you can employ other strategies to forge ahead in getting it done.
Strategic Tip 2: Break Down the Task/Project into Sequential Steps
Another helpful strategy when tackling the issue of procrastination is to break the project or the task into smaller pieces. It is as if you are creating bite-size tasks that are easier to understand and picture yourself accomplishing.
One method is to compile a list from a step-by-step approach point of view, by looking at the big picture, the large project and see where you can break it down into smaller pieces as if you were cutting a pie into smaller pie pieces.
Continue to use this process to break it down further until you have a list from which you can start to sketch out a step-by-step instructional list for yourself. It doesn’t need to be fancy or highly proficient, as long as it helps you to break out the smaller task items from the larger project view. What has been described is a process within project management, but it is effective in overcoming procrastination, as well.
Once you have completed this exercise, you can go through the list and highlight those that are the most unpleasant. Maybe you want to highlight the ones that are the most difficult. Similar to identifying the cause in Strategy Tip 1, this is an opportunity to highlight (whether on the printed/written version or the digital version) the tasks according to type or hang-up.
When you have completed that categorization step, you can decide which grouping you want to tackle first and even which one task of that grouping you want to focus on for that day (or period). Hey, you have started.
Strategic Tip 3: Schedule Due Dates and Getting Organized
Some helpful tools that may help you get organized (putting due dates on tasks) are Google Calendar and Trello (both free). Some other tools that may cost a little money, but help you get organized are referenced below, in the following paragraphs.
If focusing remains difficult, consider tracking exactly how you spend your time. By tracking your time, this may help you understand where you have wasted time. Understanding the difference between well-utilized time usage and wasted time allows you to re-focus in a different way. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your free time, but maybe it is an opportunity to get more organized with your time.
An excellent tool for tracking your “passive time” is the use of Chrometa, a web-based timekeeping service that monitors computer and phone activity. As you work, the program records the amount of time spent on each task. It "captures" your actions on Mac, PC, Android, and iPhone devices.
Another option for software that will help you keep time is Klok, available for Windows, Mac, and more. There is a free version of Klok that will help you get used to the basic features, but many of the desired features are not available in the free version, and fortunately, Klok offers an upgraded version at a reasonable price.
Klok is your basic time clock type software but comes in handy with reviewing how you spend your time. Also, there is something about knowing that you are “clocked-in” on a specific task that helps you stay focused on that task and, amazingly, sometimes get it done! To access the free version of the software, you need to click on the tab “Version Comparison” from this Klok web page.
Strategic Tip 4: Prepare to Begin Pulling All the Pieces Out for the Task
Think of the project as a sort of recipe. Have you ever watched television shows, like those about cooking, where everything you need is laid out on the counter (and sometimes even the dishes and the utensils)? In the same way, think of pulling everything together that you need for your project/task.
By organizing yourself in this manner, you will likely find that it will work better for the task than a project, but don’t be afraid to use sticky notes to represent items that are not physically possible to have “on the counter” (using our recipe scenario).
In an article about time management, briantracy.com, recommends the technique of starting small, when dealing with your procrastination issues. This can relate to the small tasks versus the large project or the entire approach to procrastination and understanding that it is a process rather than a potential overnight success.
If we were to put that in recipe terms, we would be starting with the recipe that only has five or so ingredients and doesn’t require an hour of baking (or constant flipping in the frying pan). Then, as our confidence grows, we would move on toward the recipes that require more complication and more ingredients.
Strategic Tip 5: Maintain Your Focus
For the purpose of overcoming procrastination, the ability to focus is essential, and we need to bear that in mind if we are aiming to be successful. Keeping focused is a requirement if we want, to move forward in our endeavor.
One of the first steps is to turn off the cell phone (tablets, etc.) and let the landline go to voicemail. If you do this regularly enough, especially during certain/specific timeframes, your friends, family, and even clients will learn that there are limits to your availability.
What we have found is that people become more irritated if you are known to answer your phone or email within two minutes and then all of a sudden stop doing answering your phone in that timely manner. So, by having periods of time where you are unavailable, you are creating realistic habits for your benefit in staying focused, but also for your community, so that they understand that you have boundaries, just as they do, themselves.
Work in an environment where you are less accessible. For example, if you work in the living room of your home, there may be a thoroughfare of traffic constantly moving around you. Alternatively, work in an office and close the door, so that you have your “focus privacy,” as needed.
By making yourself a little less accessible, you will find that it will be easier to focus, and you will be able to be more efficient, effective, and get work done. It isn't a bad idea to add headphones to that list, which is where those headphones and relaxing music come in handy, as well.
If you are working on a computer, eliminate potential distractions by closing your email inbox and any browser windows you don't need. I made it a habit spending social media time for an hour in the morning. At first, it was difficult to limit me and minimize the time.
As I became more focused on the social media activities, I found that I was able to get more of these activities done in less time. Don't forget to turn off the notifications that will otherwise interrupt you during the day and negate the benefit. You may find that you look forward to that hour per day and find that you get more done in less time.
Strategic Tip 6: Encourage, Motivate and Coach Yourself
Use positive self-talk to keep motivated. For starters, motivational quotes may be found at this site: 5hugsaday.com. Aim to find a quote that motivates you for today, and possibly using it throughout the week, if it is a really effective quote. Start a habit of incorporating a motivating quote, or story, or conversation, or whatever it is that you find that motivates you the most, and work that into your schedule.
Another exercise that will help you to realize the success and convert that into motivation, as well as subconscious motivation, is to list the successes and the positive outcomes that will result from completing the tasks well and on time. Some benefits that are realized may include less pressure; clearer thinking; improved performance; and more overall contentment.
If you are a “sticky-person,” write these out and stick them on your desk, your wall, or your computer monitor. Using these "stickies" (assuming you are a "sticky-using-person"), will help to encourage you as you start your day. If you work with people who are offended by stickies, purchase some inexpensive frames and print out some quotes, etc. that can be framed and placed in your office as decoration and motivation.
Strategic Tip 7: Reward Yourself
In order to encourage yourself, and balance life so that you can steadily reach your goals and objectives, schedule short-term breaks and rewards to reinforce progress. Once you've finished a task, pat yourself on the back in the form of a pleasurable activity. When you return to working, you'll feel refreshed and ready to continue.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have found that when we try to work, work, work, and work some more, that our brains get tired and less functional. In other words, not only are the rewards and breaks fun and a good way to motivate ourselves, but the lack of them can deplete your effectiveness and create less ROI (return on investment) on your time and energy spent on a project. It will also contribute to that feeling of not wanting to do that task the next time and end up on your “root cause” list (see Strategy Tip #1).
Strategic Tip 8: Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Identifying your expertise level and your strengths and weaknesses may take a little work and actually be another step in the process, but once you have done that, it allows for the continuation of the delegation process.
Along with this, you'll need to accept that employees are not the same and have their own creative and unique ways to approach the tasks for which they are delegated to accomplish. They will do it differently from the way that you do it (and likely the way that you expect it) and possibly differently from the way others do it.
Our objective in overcoming procrastination is to ensure that we complete the task (or project). The process of completing it to our standards is an evolutionary process over time, and there is room for growth and training for improvement. The key is that we have accomplished the task and that we have practiced delegation in the process, recognizing our strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of our team and team members.
There are also ways to develop training guides and guidelines for the tasks, with each iteration of a particular process, project, or task. Over time, the delegation and the task process will improve. As a business owner, you can delegate work that is outside of your expertise level.
Strategic Tip 9: Periodically Check in with Yourself
One of your objectives is to ensure that you are on target, and that includes asking yourself the right question(s) to ensure that you are addressing procrastination as the issue that is deserving of attention in this case. Here are some examples of questions that you could ask yourself, or teach your teammates to ask themselves:
- Am I using my time in the best way I could use it right now?
- Am I the best person for this task?
- Am I using this activity to avoid working on something more important?
Even for those who are experienced and feel as if they have mastered procrastination (or never had a problem with procrastination in the first place) may find that these three questions are helpful to ensure that the team is on track and not slipping in the area of procrastination.
Another helpful way to handle the answer to the question(s) is to schedule time. So, for example, if you find that you are doing something that is very valid but maybe not needed at that exact moment, that might be an opportunity to block out some time on your calendar to address it on another day. That isn’t procrastination, in that case, it is managing your time wisely.
Strategic Tip 10: Do a Task at the Last Minute
Doing a task at the last minute does not mean that we wait and procrastinate and do one of the project tasks at the last minute. Instead, it has more to do with fitting a task in between two other (possibly unrelated) tasks.
This technique of sandwiching the important project tasks between two other tasks really works! It is a technique that I use quite often, very effectively. Also, Intuit recommends completing a task at the last minute, too. It sounds strange, and if it were not for the fact that I have used it effectively many times, it might not have made this list for procrastination strategy tips.
Here is an example of how this strategy would play out in real life. Let’s say you have an appointment in the morning and you have about an hour and 10 minutes before you have to leave for the appointment. Sometimes it is like treating yourself to a mini-challenge, to see if you can do it, to sit down and complete the task before you leave for the appointment.
The key is to ensure that everything is ready to walk out the door for the appointment (i.e. the keys are out, the coat is ready, the purse or briefcase is ready) and then sit down (or whatever is needed for that project) and just work away and see if you can meet your challenge! Some of my best work has been accomplished with this technique.
Armed with some of the strategic tips that are included in this article, you are on your way to help eradicate procrastination from your business. Keep in mind that it doesn’t and it won’t happen overnight or instantaneous in any way.
However, as with most things, with a little diligent, consistent effort, improvement will be seen, and there will be less procrastination coming from you or your teammates.