The secret sauce to start-up success is not intelligence or access to funds, it’s the ability to make effective decisions and follow through on actions.
Procrastination is postponing decisions and actions. So, it’s not surprising that procrastination is linked to lots of negative consequences such as lower income, increased stress and higher rates of health issues.
We wrongly assume that procrastination is purely about will power. In fact, it’s much more complicated than that. Motivation is required when completing a task. To be motivated there is usually a reward or a consequence for not doing it.
Our brains have evolved to take action that is in our best interest. So when presented with demotivating factors such as fear of failure or tiredness, these can outway any motivation – and that can cause procrastination.
This 3 step process is here to help you find ways to overcome procrastination and keep you on your success roadmap.
Step 1: Work out when, why and how you procrastinate
The most important thing you must do to tackle procrastination is to understand what is going on first.
Think about how you avoid the important tasks. Do you keep checking emails, the news, look at social media, buy birthday gifts or do small unimportant tasks?
Do you distract yourself with future ideas and issues instead of focusing on the task at hand? For example, thinking about your branding and website instead of establishing a business plan.
Consider when you do this. For example, is it before you start the task or once you’ve started working on it, does it happen more in the morning or evening?
Understand why you procrastinate. Here’s a list of common reasons that people put off important things – which ones resonate with you?
- Disconnection between future rewards and your current situation. A good example of this is not going to bed on time. Even though you know you will feel tired the next day, you don’t care at that moment. Quite simply, it’s about prioritising your current mood.
- Feeling anxious or overwhelmed
- Fear of failure, negative feedback or failing to be perfect
- A perceived lack of control. People often put off things because their goals are too vague.
- Lack of motivation. Perhaps the value of the outcome is not strong enough or, let’s face it, it’s just boring. Being constantly distracted is an indication of boredom.
- Lack of energy
For example, I haven’t taken the steps to start my business because every time I sit at my desk to plan my next actions (when) I watch Youtube videos to avoid the task (how) because I’m overwhelmed and don’t see it happening in the future anyway (why).
Step 2: Set clear and realistic goals
Once you’ve worked out what’s going on it’s time to set very clear goals.
“Start a business” is a very vague goal but if you set a task to “research my business idea by completing a review of competitors by the end of the week” is a much more specific, achievable and deadline oriented.
Your goals need to be set at a rate of progress that is realistic for you. Your goals should be the most important tasks you need to take for your current situation.
There’s no point thinking about logo designs or office equipment until you have a solid business plan for example.
Step 3: Create a strategy to overcome procrastination
Only when you fully understand what you want to do and why you’re not doing it can you create a plan to get things done.
Luckily there are a huge number of strategies for getting things done that involve a mix of mindset techniques and behavioural adaptations.
In our example earlier:
I haven’t taken the steps to start my business because every time I sit at my desk to plan my next actions (when) I watch Youtube videos to avoid the task (how) because I’m overwhelmed and don’t see it happening in the future anyway (why).
You can see here that we need a combination of both mindset support for “I don’t see it happening” and behavioural techniques for “I’m overwhelmed”.
How you feel has much more to do with productivity than how much time you have. When putting together your plan you need to consider the different moods you experience at different times of the day and how particular activities provide feelings of accomplishment.
Different techniques will resonate differently from person to person and you may use different approaches depending on the tasks you’d like to complete.
Strategies to beat procrastination
Never underestimate how important sleeping, eating and exercise routines are for productivity. Being tired makes you far more likely to procrastinate than any other reason! Invest this time in yourself and your results will be astonishing.
Having a routine for your days doesn’t just manage your energy levels, it also helps you see good times for activity, helping you plan the times when you’re most likely to be productive.
Aside from the basics, here’s a description of lots of ways successful people get stuff done. Don’t let the list overwhelm you and cause procrastination! Just pick one at a time and experiment.
Decide when you tackle tasks depending on when the tasks need to be completed and how important they are. Are the tasks you’re working on the best ones to help you towards your goals?
List everything you want to complete the next day, the evening before in priority order. Decide what is your daily big task and ensure that it is always completed. Listing tasks and being able to tick them off can be highly motivating.
Break large tasks into small manageable chunks.
This is a great way to stop getting overwhelmed and will help you identify what is required to achieve your overall big goal, and what to do in which order.
This is not just an approach for getting things done, it’s something that we should apply to any project to ensure it happens efficiently. Once you’ve identified the next most important actions of your big goal, keep breaking down the chunks to as small steps as possible by days and hours.
There are times in the day when we work at our peak performance and other times we are less productive. Some people are early birds, others are night owls. Perhaps you’re more productive when you’re hungry. Perhaps you work better in different settings, like a quiet corner at home, or a bustling coffee shop.
Plan to complete your most challenging tasks during your peak performance hours, and ones that require less concentration (like checking emails, cleaning the house) during your slump periods.
Body clocks are hugely important when deciding when to complete certain tasks. 14% of people are early risers or “larks”, 65% of people are referred to as “third bird”, meaning you’re most active during the middle of the day and 21% of people are night owls.
To work out which category you are, work out the midpoint between when you sleep and when you wake up.
- 1-3am = larks
Analytical tasks and decision making should be completed early in the morning. Creative work, ideas should be planned late afternoon.
- 3-6am = third birds
Analytical tasks and decision making should be planned early to mid morning. Creative work, ideas should be planned late afternoon to early evening.
- 6am onwards = night owls
Analytical tasks and decision making should be planned late afternoon to evening. Creative work, ideas should be planned in the morning.
For more information read WHEN: THE SCIENTIFIC SECRETS OF PERFECT TIMING by Daniel H. Pink
In the Pomodoro Technique you follow a set working pattern with dedicated breaks. It works like this:
- Work on a task for 25 minutes, doing absolutely nothing else but that task
- Then take a break of 5 minutes to do other things
- Then another 25 minute stint
- After 4 sets of 25 minute cycles you take a 30 minute break
It’s called the Pomodoro Technique because its inventor used a timer in the shape of a tomato!
Rewards are a great way to make boring tasks more motivating. Completing a number of tasks in a row e.g spend 30 minutes everyday for a week to receive a reward.
It can be extra motivating if you can easily see your results on a whiteboard, list or calendar so you can check them off.
You can even go the extra mile and introduce consequences for not doing them – perhaps denying yourself a biscuit with your next cup of tea!
Perhaps write just one line, or put your trainers on and walk to the end of the street and decide at that point whether you’d like to do any more.
For lots of people the act of committing to something small can motivate them to do a little more. Turning up regularly for your task just to do a little bit helps the brain to recognise this as a habit, and will be much easier to continue with once it becomes part of your routine.
Remove distractions and decisions
For most people, a messy desk or other visible tasks are very distracting. It’s also a visual reminder that you are not on top of things which is very demotivating.
Put your phone away or put it on silent. Check your phone at set times and make any calls then.
Check and respond to personal emails once or twice a day and do not look at them in between.
Make your daily tasks easier by doing all the prep the night before. Plan for the next day just before you finish your current work day. Try to minimise decisions by deciding what you will wear & eat the day before.
The less mental energy you spend making decisions the more likely you’ll be able to stay on task.
Use visual prompts
Create a vision board that’s visible in your work area to remind you of why you want to start your business. It could show freedom or the financial things you’d like to achieve.
Use countdowns to start work, make decisions or break habits
Count back from 10 (or any number) to start work, or to make a decision or before you decide to engage with a habit you’d like to break, such as checking the news or your emails throughout the day.
Work out if you’re more motivated starting with the best task, worst task or easiest tasks first
Sometimes getting some small tasks completed can motivate you to be more productive in the following few hours. Other people work best when they start with the most difficult thing first, knowing they have the rest of the day to enjoy.
If you get stuck on a particular task it might be helpful to switch to another for a set amount of time rather than procrastinating.
Take regular breaks away from your working environment
Leaving your working environment for a short time should leave you feeling more energised. But be careful not to indulge in time draining habits like checking social media.
What we think, we feel. Consider frequently how you feel throughout the day. If you’re not in a great mood, pay attention to the thoughts in your head.
Consider how you can reframe your thoughts. If you’re feeling negative about yourself it’s time to think about what you have been successful at.
If you’re complaining or angry, think about what you are really grateful for.
If you are worried about making a mistake it’s important to remind yourself of how destructive the perfectionist mindset is and the fact that you can’t get things right until you have made lots of mistakes!
Surround yourself with positive influences
Aim to be part of a group of smart, motivated people who seek out success. Surround yourself with people who work hard, never stop learning, setting goals and hold themselves accountable.
It’s important that your social group encourages you to do the same and is happy when you succeed. It’s just as important that you can approach them with any concerns and they will support and offer advice.
Look for people you really admire and copy how they behave. Consider how they handle challenging situations. Perhaps they would mentor you?
An accountability buddy is also a useful tool for getting stuff done. Agree what tasks you will complete by the next time you meet. Write your list down, and the next time you meet, discuss if you have completed those tasks and set new ones. It’s amazing how a deadline and making a commitment to someone gets the job done.
It’s essential that you have belief that you are capable of reaching your goals, that you have the ability to find a solution to any challenge you face. It’s all too easy to be self critical so it’s important to get into healthy habits of reminding yourself what you have achieved rather than focussing on what you haven’t.
Create a mood board you can easily see, use images and or words of all the things you are most proud of. This could be family, friends, your biggest successes. Remind yourself of all the challenges you have overcome.
Regularly complete a success review. Focus on what you have achieved that week. Write it down and read over previous entries. We tend to always focus on what we need to do next rather than spend some time celebrating what we have achieved.
Focus on the end goal
When a task is boring or challenging, it can be useful to think about why you are doing it and how good you will feel once you have completed it. If you have planned your tasks properly and understand how your tasks are aligned with your values and motivations then a reminder of your WHY could be the kickstart you need.
Visualisation is a very powerful tool. It works best when you do this regularly and can be as detailed as possible.
For example, if you want to earn more, decide how much money you would like to earn per year, each month. Decide how you would manage that money, how much in savings, how much on holidays. Visualise a bank vault with the money in it. Imagine how you would feel when you have that amount of money. How would you behave if you had that amount of money?
If you want a sports car, imagine the colour, the smell, how it would feel to drive it. It can be helpful to have pictures visible of what you would like to achieve.
This technique is particularly powerful because it helps you to connect your present self with your future self which is something that we generally find pretty difficult. We tend to focus on what’s best for us in the current moment. It’s easy to think we can do something tomorrow because we are not aware of how we will feel tomorrow. The more connected we are to our future selves the more we care about them.
The other way regular visualisation works is that the brain can be tricked into thinking that we have already reached our goals so we automatically begin to act and make decisions as a person who is able to achieve this goal.
Time to stop wasting time and start your business
Anyone can learn new helpful habits and change the ideas and behaviours that hold you back. The right behavioural strategies will enhance your ability to get stuff done. However, when you feel good you will do your best work. With the right mindset, routine and habits, anything is possible.
It takes commitment to achieve any task and most people slip up from time to time. When this happens accept this is normal behaviour and forgive yourself. Think about why you slipped up and how you might avoid this in the future. Most importantly don’t give up.