As many as 20 percent of adults in the United States identify themselves as chronic procrastinators, but it’s a safe bet the number of people who often delay making decisions or taking action is much higher. “For the most part, we don’t realize that it’s happening or that, in the process, we’re undermining our own happiness,” notes Health.com author Gail Salz, M.D. Procrastinators tend to be far more stressed than those who don’t have this habit; they get sick more often, too.”
Being a chronic procrastinator (or even a frequent one) can spell trouble for a small-business owner. There are too many things to take care of to make “putting things off until tomorrow” a viable strategy.
Here are some tips on how to change your mindset and behavior to stop procrastinating right now:
1. Do a lot in a short period of time. If you like working against the clock, get a timer, set it for 10 minutes and get cracking. “Work in a focused, perhaps even frantic, manner for that short stretch, and see what happens,” advises Amy Spencer in Real Simple. “Once a sense of satisfaction replaces the dread you felt before, there’s a decent chance you’ll continue.”
2. Get a friend involved. Enlisting the moral support of a friend or colleague can be enough to tip you into active mode. When you commit to getting something done and a person whose respect you value is looking over your shoulder, you’re likely to feel more motivated to do what you said you would do.
In the same vein, talking with someone about the important task you’re working on can produce fresh ideas about how to go about it and perhaps offer a perspective that never occurred to you. So even while you’re putting off what has to be done, you’re thinking about it in a constructive manner.
3. Work through your own negativity. You know best how your mood changes (and the excuses you make to yourself) while you procrastinate over a big project. Rather than fight these negative emotions, let them occur as they will and push past them.
“Say to yourself, ‘I can do this. I’ll feel better when I handle this,’” says psychotherapist Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T. “Say it over and over until it’s set in your mind. Any time you feel discouraged or are tempted to procrastinate, refocus on the goal.”
4. Break tasks into manageable parts. Is there one really big and complicated project you simply can’t get started on? Instead of taking it as a single to-do item, break it down into smaller action steps you can take care of and check off the list. This generates a sense of achievement and keeps momentum going for the next part on the list.
5. Give yourself reminders. To-do lists are useful for most people, as long as they actually pay attention to them. Remind yourself about what needs to be done via sticky notes, computer alerts, or Todoist, Any.Do, or a host of other to-do list apps.
6. Plan to complete the task at the last minute. If you’re the type who works best under pressure, incorporate this trait into your planning process. Block out a patch of time during the proverbial 11th hour so you know in advance that you’ll achieve your objective right up against deadline. Make notes along the way to capture ideas and strategies beforehand. This will all prove useful at crunch time.
7. Make anxiety work for you. The upside of freaking out as your deadline approaches is that anxiety can free your mind of excuses and distractions. “When you have to get it done right now, you get super creative, super fast,” notes leadership consultant Lisa Earle McLeod. “When anxiety kicks in, it blows the doors off your preconceived ideas, which opens the space for creativity to take over.”
Regardless of the strategy, addressing procrastination is important. If you’re putting off activities that are essential for the well-being of your business, now is the best time to meet your procrastinating tendencies head-on and get things done.