Awesome Entrepreneur Hack: Avoid Procrastination

“Turning pro is a mindset. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we're thinking like amateurs. Amateurs don't show up. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin', no matter what.”

Steven Pressfield

It’s so easy to put things off until later, especially if it’s something you really don’t want to do. This is how dishes and laundry pile up. For the entrepreneur this could mean the accounting, the marketing, or really anything that drives you to surf Facebook and avoid doing.

 

Why Do We Procrastinate?

For entrepreneurs, procrastination is most often driven by fear. You start thinking things like:

  • “If this marketing campaign doesn’t work, my business will fall apart.”
  • “If I write this book and it doesn’t sell, everyone will realize I’m a fraud.”
  • “If I try to calculate taxes on the payroll, I’ll mess it up and go to prison for tax evasion.”

To make matters worse, putting off this task makes you feel guilty about not doing it.

When you stop and think about things realistically, you will realize that these thoughts sound pretty silly. You are very likely not going to fail, and even if you do, it’s not the end of the world. The best thing to do is to tackle the dreaded task with 3 easy steps and say goodbye to guilt!

3 Steps to Overcoming Procrastination

Step 1: Identify one thing you are avoiding.

What task can you just not make yourself start on? Getting clear on this is a great first step. Be sure to write it down.

Step 2: Identify why it is uncomfortable.

Why don’t you want to do this task? Are you uncertain about your math skills? Are you afraid of what this will mean for your future or your reputation? Consider what it is about this particular task that makes you uncomfortable and write it down. Usually at this point, you will breathe a huge sigh of relief. Writing down your fear will allow you to let go and move forward. Now you can get down to the business of getting things done.

Step 3: Identify an easy first step to get started.

Big complex tasks are daunting! There are many moving pieces and it’s hard to even know where to begin. Start by just writing down an easy, tiny little step to get things going. Make a call, write a short list, or set a meeting to discuss with a colleague or friend. The first step is the hardest, so make it easy and manageable. The smaller the better!

Great entrepreneur hack!

How to Keep Procrastination at Bay

Schedule time to do the task. Put it on your calendar and block out time just for that task. The key is to treat that time as sacred. Build the habit of respecting the time you have set aside; don’t let anything or anyone disrupt it. This habit takes time to perfect, so don’t worry if it doesn’t happen flawlessly right away. Be reasonable with your expectations and keep trying.

Get an accountability partner. Find someone to talk things over with or to help you with this task. When you know someone else is counting on you to perform, you will be more motivated to make it happen. It’s way too easy to talk yourself out of work, but when you know you are accountable to someone else, you feel more committed to doing it.

Destroy the blank page. This means just get started. If you think it will take you two hours to write that proposal, commit to writing a TERRIBLE first draft in 30 minutes. Set a time and get started! Get everything down as quickly as possible no matter how bad it looks. This gets the hard part over with; you can make it pretty later. You’ll be surprised at how much you get done.

Should You Be Doing This Yourself?

Just because you are responsible for getting something done doesn’t mean you have to do it yourself.

There are tons of people who are willing to do almost any sort of task – and many of them are experts. If you know the job isn’t something you should be doing (if it’s not your strength or critical that you do it) just outsource it. Use your staff or build a group of freelancers or contractors to do those things and save your energy for your highest value work.

Procrastination can make your day seem to stretch on forever until suddenly you are out of time to get things done. Not only did you not get the avoided task done, you may have also let a bunch of other things slide too.

Make it a habit to put everything you need to do on your calendar and don’t let anything keep you from that task at that time. Or better yet, find an expert to do it for you. An incomplete chore can be a barrier to getting everything else you need to get done.

Stop procrastinating and get your life back.

The Myth of Multitasking

Multitasking is the biggest myth of modern times. We are all addicted to being busy and talking about how much we have to do. Furthermore, we fool ourselves into thinking we can do more than one thing at a time and do them all well. 

We can’t. Multitasking has never been and will never be a real thing. We just think we should be able to do it because the expectation is that we, as Americans, should get the most out of every minute. We take pride in how packed our schedules are. But study after study has shown that our commitment to the idea of multitasking is hurting us rather than helping us. 

Task Switching 

It turns out what we are really doing is task switching. The human brain can’t actually think about two things simultaneously. Instead, when we force it to, the brain simulates working on multiple tasks at once by going from one task to another and another in rapid sequence.

With all that brainpower buzzing we feel like we are being really productive, but it is a fallacy brought on by the endorphins and adrenaline that multitasking brings about. We often become addicted to these brain chemicals, and continue to seek them out to get this buzz- but that’s another topic for a different day. If we were to measure what actually gets accomplished, we would be shocked that we were further behind than ever. 

Why does task switching slow us down? Because it takes a period of time to readjust to the next task. No matter how quickly we think we are producing, if we stop doing one task and change to another, it can take anywhere from seconds to minutes to get back up to speed. 

A study by Gloria Mark at the University of California Irvine* shows it can take as much as 25 minutes to continue a task after interruption.  Think about how many times you face daily interruptions. Now think about how that adds up over the span of a week.  You can see how interruption recovery time really threatens your productivity.  

Focus on One Thing At a Time 

Instead of trying to do it all at once, prioritize the work you need to accomplish. Select a first task and set a short time limit. Focus on only that task until it is complete, and then move onto the next. You may catch yourself breathing a sigh of both relief and accomplishment. That first thing is done. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. 

Focusing on completing one task at a time means our brain is humming along a single path with no break in momentum. Instead of working on several things for an hour, try breaking it into 15 minute increments with a single task planned for each one. You’ll get more done, and feel far less stressed. 

Give Yourself a Break 

As entrepreneurs, we feel the need to go faster and faster to build our businesses. There is more to get done than there are hours in the day. One way that you can help yourself get in the habit of doing one thing at a time is to give yourself short breaks.

  • Take some time to let go of the previous task and let your mind and body relax for a moment.
  • Gaze out the window.
  • Lean back and close your eyes.
  • Stand up and stretch.
  • Just let yourself go for a bit before diving into the next task. 

You will be surprised at how much more you get accomplished without becoming exhausted.

Trying to do two things at once won’t save you time; in fact, it will create a longer day with lower quality work and more mistakes. Choose one task, do it well, take a quick break and move on. The work will get done with fewer errors and less stress. Try it for an hour today, and enjoy the benefits of single-tasking. 

*Mark, G. (2008). The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress. Retrieved 8/12/2015 from http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1357072.

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