As a psychologist and business coach, I’m always intrigued about the place where a person’s psychology impacts their business. In a way, this is happening all the time- our individual psychology (how we think, feel, interpret, perceive) is constantly impacting our business. It defines whether we feel hopeful or pessimistic, confident or fearful, whether we extend ourselves to clients (or not) and how we think about ourselves and the contribution we make.
All of these can be subtle though; it’s not easy to step away from your own personal worldview and adopt a different perspective. It can be done- and is helpful, but sometimes the subtle psychologies are elusive to observe and change.
The other interface between a person’s psychology and their business demonstrates in situations of perfectionism and procrastination. In these instances, how a person is thinking or feeling about a task has a direct and obvious impact on the way in which s/he behaves and approaches that task. At this level, the behavior is noticeable.
One main reason people procrastinate is because they don’t feel the rewards of completing the task are worth it. The effort required feels to be so much more than what will be gained.
Psychological studies have suggested that procrastination is the product of poor self regulation- a gap between intention and action. There is also a misperception that procrastination is not harmful, or “hurts no-one”- procrastinators, in general, tend to experience more stress and lowered well being.
Chronic procrastinators can also miss out on opportunities- and this is very evident in business.
Let’s say, for example, that you have been invited to take part in email list building giveaway. This all sounds great, and they’ve asked you to provide your free gift and optin page by Thursday. You know you want to create something new and special. You think about it. Make a list. Define the steps- and yet nothing gets done. You’re aware that the days are slipping by, one after the other, and you perceive the stress you’re feeling as positive – “this will really motivate me to get this done. I work better under deadlines.”
And then, Wednesday night comes and you find yourself feverishly working late, trying to get the gift and optin page done on time. Or, instead, you do what I call “moving the finish line”- where you negotiate for a deadline change, not for any reason except you didn’t get it done.
In my experience, opportunities come to those who are ready for them- not those who say yes and then delay and defer. Eventually, the opportunities will stop coming. This isn’t to scare you or make you feel badly; just to explain that procrastination does have some real costs associated with it.
You lose out when you chronically procrastinate.
The challenge with chronic procrastination is that you don’t tend to learn from experience. You end up repeating the same cycle over and over again.
So how do you begin to shift your psychology and your behavior towards greater completion and timeliness with your tasks?
Here are some steps that will help:
Break the task into chunks.
What this means is that you define the desired outcome and then work backwards, filling in the steps from end to beginning. You will likely see “clusters” or “chunks” of tasks that can be done together. This process can be especially helpful when you think about doing a task and feel immediately overwhelmed. That overwhelm is a sign that some logic and structure is needed.
Set up your environment for success.
I used this tip a lot when I first began working out with my personal trainer. Prior to that, I was never a person who exercised consistently. I would always have lots of excuses for why I didn’t have time to go to the gym. I felt overloaded with having to get up and out early in order to be on time. So I started pulling out my workout clothes the night before, and changing into them as soon as I woke up. Once I was changed into my gym gear, it reduced the friction and hesitation about going. Of course, paying for training and knowing my trainer was waiting for me also helped too- I’ll talk more about both of those next.
Invest in your chosen outcome.
As I mentioned above, I was much more motivated to go to the gym when I knew I was paying to be there. The same goes for your clients- they are likely to be more motivated and to procrastinate less when they have made a big investment to work with you. Most of us want to rise to whatever bar we’ve set for ourselves- and so, sometimes, putting money into outcome is a way to overcome procrastination.
The other element of something like personal training or business coaching is the element of accountability. It’s a unusual fact that most of us are more likely to do something we’ve promised someone else before we do that same thing for ourselves. We want to uphold our word to other people- and so accountability; committing to another person, is a way of overcoming procrastination. A skilled mentor can hold you accountable to keep moving forward, until you are able to do this for yourself.
Set up contingencies/make it a game.
For the not-as-entrenched procrastinators, either setting up contingencies or gamifying the tasks can help. Setting up contingencies is when you make a reward contingent upon completing something- like “I’ll go for a walk as soon as I finish writing this blog post.” Gamifying might be turning the same task into points – “I get 10 points for writing this blog post, and 10 points for replying to emails, and 25 points for completing that proposal- once I hit 45 points, I’ll take the afternoon off.” (It’s similar to a contingency, except sometimes gamified goals feel lighter and more fun to some people.)
Reduce the number of essentials.
At times, people procrastinate because their to-do list is too long. They know, underneath, that they will never get it done- and so they don’t want to try. It’s difficult, I think, to live constantly in a state of incompletion- to end each day without any satisfaction that you got the most important things done. If you are a person who has a to-do list that keeps getting longer and longer- and you feel like you’re running to keep up with it; I suggest stepping back and reviewing that list for what’s most essential.
When I start to feel like my “to-do” list is too long and my “done” list is too short; I take 10 minutes to look over everything that I have to do. In a process I learned from Mike Michalowicz in his book, Profit First, I mark my items with one of four symbols. A dollar sign ($) is for items that will generate income for me within the next 60 days. A smiley face 🙂 is for items that will make my clients happy (or happier.) An infinity symbol (∞) is for items which are about systems or processes in my business. And a forward slash (/) is for items which don’t fit any of those categories. Since my core areas of focus are improving profitability and increasing customer happiness, I focus on those items first. This is a great process for paring down your to-do list into what’s most important.
(And yes, sometimes the systems and uncategorized stuff keeps being pushed off, but often, once I’ve cleared out the income and customer satisfaction items, I can usually find a bit of energy here and there to work on the rest.)
I know we’re all under a lot of pressure to get more done, and to keep up with everything all at the same time. Unfortunately, that only works in our minds- not in our bodies. We can’t do everything at once.
And, in some cases, we list things that we shouldn’t ever be doing- or won’t ever do anyway.
Which leads me to my bonus tip for ending procrastination:
Get more help.
If your business can support it, outsourcing some of your work, especially the parts that you don’t like, aren’t good at, or which make you feel draggy and unhappy can be a very good strategy. There is something very freeing about turning over a task to someone else, and having them work on it. I used to spend a lot of time building my own sales pages and opt-in pages. I can definitely make these, but it always took me a really long time. As my business grew, I began to off-load those tasks to other people, so I could focus on ones that were more profitable and which I liked better. We don’t tend to procrastinate on tasks we enjoy.
Procrastination isn’t new (the Greek poet Hesoid wrote in 800 B.C. ” do not put your work off till tomorrow and the day after.”) – but it seems to be more and more of a problem as we have more options and more opportunities.
The steps I’ve shared here are the exact ones I use to stop procrastination in its tracks. Let me know how they work for you.