Recently, I started coaching an aspiring entrepreneur I’ll call Ted. Ted is an incredibly knowledgeable and talented guy who is smart as a whip. He knows his stuff, revels in gaining new knowledge, and has a ton of value to offer his potential clients. He has an excellent business strategy, fabulous writing skills, and is highly receptive to feedback. In short, Ted has all the characteristics needed to be wildly successful.
There’s just one problem. Ted has a pretty consistent history of not following through on his commitments to himself.
As a result, he is still slogging away at a full-time job he hates, taking small steps to build his business on the side, but stopping short whenever it’s time to pull the trigger by being more visible or putting an offering out there. So, despite all of his positive qualities, he has been underachieving for most of his adult life, but cannot for the life of him, explain why.
Across the years, I have worked with a lot of clients like Ted who have big dreams, but for one reason or another, stop themselves short of taking the actions required to achieve them.
And, like Ted, many of them have difficulty articulating why they find themselves in this holding pattern.
If this quandary resonates at all with you, read on for four of the most common reasons I have found people procrastinate, and what to do about them.
1. Deadline-Oriented Work Style
If you have this sort of work style, you get your juices flowing when a deadline is imminent (the classic example of this would be completing a 10-page paper the night before it is due). While this quality is great for being able to deliver under pressure, it becomes a lot less desirable when a task doesn’t have a set timeline. So, if you are an entrepreneur like Ted, or in a similar field in which deadlines are ambiguous and/or self-imposed, you may find yourself having difficulty mustering the motivation to work with the sense of urgency needed to consistently get things done.
Remedy: Map out timelines for projects, along with milestones and due dates. Then recruit an accountability partner (e.g. a friend, a coach, your boss) to check in with you on a regular basis regarding your progress. This second part is critical, because if you are the only one who knows about the deadline, you may be much more likely to ignore it, or delay it.
Are you someone who allows perfect to become the enemy of good? If you are, in your quest to make sure that whatever task you are working on is absolutely flawless, you can end up spinning your wheels unnecessarily fine-tuning it, but never completing it.
Remedy: Honestly assess how important it is that a given task be done “perfectly,” as opposed to being done “well.” Also, consider the cost-benefit analysis of spending additional time working on the task, versus completing it and spending time on other activities. Based on your assessments, use your time accordingly.
3. Feeling Overwhelmed
Sometimes the size and scope of a project can be so daunting that it can seem easier to do nothing, than to figure out how to proceed. As a result, you may find yourself feeling paralyzed, uncertain about where to begin, making no progress towards your goal.
Remedy: Remember the wisdom of Lao Tzu, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Instead of thinking about the massive amount of work it will take to reach the finish line, do you best to break your project down into more manageable sections. Then, set a goal of doing at least one thing to take action towards the goal every day (or week, or whatever time period is most appropriate). And, as opposed to simply focusing on whether or not you have accomplished the end goal, make sure to congratulate yourself for the progress you are making.
Sometimes, accomplishing a goal requires that you develop new skills or stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone. For example, in Ted’s case, he was scared to make himself vulnerable and visible by putting himself out there. After all – what if people didn’t like what he was offering? As a result, he was choosing the security of mediocrity (and life dissatisfaction), instead of taking the risks that could lead to his growth and success.
Remedy: Albert Einstein said it best, “A ship is always safe at the shore – but that is NOT what it is built for.” If you want to achieve your potential, it will require you to stretch yourself, grow, and take chances. Remind yourself that research shows that people recover from disappointments much more quickly than they generally predict. So, even if things don’t go exactly as planned the first time around, you can gain valuable feedback from potential mistakes, and come out better for it in the future.
To close, as Benjamin Franklin said, “Lost time is never found again.” I hope these tips will help get you well on your way to ending procrastination and becoming more productive in moving towards your goals.