One autumn, I met with my client Paul after the Thanksgiving break. We hadn’t seen each other for three weeks because of the holiday, and I was looking forward to seeing what kind of progress he’d made on his Key Strategic Indicators—the critical, quantifiable reference points he’d be using to track the health of his business and his progress toward his stated goals. Paul had committed to delivering a list of KSIs for our next meeting, but by the hour leading up to our call, nothing had been posted—not a good sign.
I asked about his progress and, after a big sigh, he said, “It's been on my calendar since the last time we met. I hadn’t forgotten about it—I’ve actually scribbled several ideas in my notebook over the last couple of days. I've been thinking about it a lot this last week, but I’ve been so busy.
“I had a couple of client issues that only I could handle, and I needed to see my chiropractor. We’re working on a major promotion for the holidays and there’s a problem with one of our suppliers. I have two dozen emails requiring action, bills to pay online, photos of my new grandson to sort and upload and a new blog article I want to post. Oh, and have you been watching the new season of Stranger Things?”
“So you say you’ve been too busy?”
“I have been busy; it's been kind of crazy here, but I know I should have been able to find the time to do this work I committed to. I just sort of flaked out.”
“You didn’t flake out, Paul," I said. "You procrastinated.” I waited for his response. Silence. Another long sigh.
“I know that’s true, and it really stresses me out, but I don’t know what to do about it.”
If you’ve ever complained that you never seem to have enough time, then you and Paul might be compatriots–conspiring against yourselves.
If you consistently put off the critical things that you’ve promised yourself or others you’d take care of, there’s something else going on here.
Fact is, we all have the same number of hours in every day. It's all about how we choose to use them.
Why do we procrastinate?
We procrastinate for myriad reasons. And even when we think we're being truly productive, there are often telltale signs that we're actually procrastinating.
- Do you keep busy doing low-priority tasks while the high-level creative or strategic work–the work that actually moves your business forward–remains undone?
- Are you checking and re-checking your emails without acting on them?
- Do certain items keep getting carried over on your To-Do list?
- Are you perpetually waiting for the “right time” to tackle certain tasks or projects?
If you answered “yes” to any of these, you may be a practicing procrastinator.
Admitting there’s a problem is the first step to addressing it.
While there are many underlying causes of procrastination, some are particularly common and easily identifiable:
- You’re afraid you’ll fail.
- You feel unable or unwilling to make a decision.
- You’re overworked or too tired (and the added stress of looming deadlines is disrupting your sleep!).
- You are too disorganized and distracted to effectively organize and budget the time.
- You don’t want to commit to starting a task unless you know it will be perfect.
- You just don’t want to do it.
Deferring some tasks, especially low-level, unimportant tasks, is not necessarily procrastinating. Part of the art of self-management is being able to prioritize and, where possible, delegate. It might also be a good strategy to intentionally hold off on mission-critical tasks if you’re unable to focus due to fatigue–but that should be the exception, not just another excuse.
Deferring mission-critical or simply unpleasant work does not make it go away–it just builds up in the background, lurking, adding to your stress and sense of overwhelm. It's a vicious cycle.
As satisfying as it may seem to feel busy all the time, you’re probably not getting the results you want.
For some people, the greatest hurdle is perfectionism. If it can’t be perfect, it can’t be done. OK. I’m going to ask you to just stop that. It’s not going to happen. Nothing is perfect, and striving for perfection is just another way of putting things off indefinitely. Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough. Leave room to improve and innovate–but give yourself something to start with.
Plan your work and work your plan. Write it down.
That first part is a popular cliché. I added the last part because we know here at EMyth that there is extraordinary power in putting things on paper. There is an extra force introduced when you make your intentions visible.
Developing effective countermeasures will not happen overnight. It’s a process, not an event. Confronting your own particular procrastination demons will not be comfortable or pleasant. But overcoming them is a gift that pays you back exponentially. Reclaim your time, your sanity, your peace of mind and your life!
As legendary football coach Don Shula once said, “The start is what stops most people.” Don’t let that happen. Contact us to set up a Free Coaching Session to help you take the first step on a new path forward.