How often do you procrastinate? Be honest. Even the most organized and productive among us put things off from time to time. But if you’re a habitual procrastinator, like me, it can become a big problem.
But isn't procrastination always a problem?
I don’t think so. Actually procrastination can be beneficial for a small business owner—really. Here are three ways to harness its power.
1. It can spark creativity
If you’re like me, you often need the push of that last-minute deadline (accompanied by a healthy dose of adrenaline) to motivate you. Some of us do our best work under the gun. (I’m not just making this up; Harvard Business Review recently reported on a NASA study that found the shorter their deadlines got, the better scientists and engineers performed.) Think of this as the inverse corollary of “work expands to fill the time available.” When you don’t have a lot of time to do something, you’ve really got to put it in high gear.
2. It can make you more productive
In your efforts to avoid that one big task you’re procrastinating doing, you suddenly develop laser focus on all the little tasks on your to-do list. You knock them off at lightning speed, then push the task you’re avoiding to the next day’s list. My extremely efficient business partner is all too familiar with this. One reason she gets work done so quickly is that there’s always at least one project that’s so onerous that she’ll do anything to avoid it—for as long as she can.
3. It can save you time
I’m convinced that sometimes the real reason we procrastinate working on a specific task is because our intuition is signaling it’s not worth following up on. Have you ever put off a project for no good reason, only to have it get canceled right before you were finally about to start working on it? If you’ve truly got a gut feeling about something, it can be OK to let it slide for a while longer—or at least work on it in smaller increments rather than going all out.
Of course, procrastination doesn’t always have positive side effects. The NASA study I mentioned above found once deadlines became unrealistically short, performance declined. And even if pulling an all-nighter for every project did make you do better work, it’s not humanly possible.
So how can you tell when procrastination is a good or bad thing? Start by looking at what tasks induce procrastination. If you’re shy, you might put off making cold calls or scheduling meetings with clients. Perhaps you avoid reconciling your receipts or doing other boring, but essential, paperwork. Maybe you delay tasks that involve writing or research. Or perhaps you’ll notice there’s a particular customer who induces procrastination.
Once you identify the types of tasks you put off, dig for the underlying cause.
Do you delay the task because it’s something you’re not good at? Consider whether it’s something you need to be good at. If so, take steps to improve by taking some courses or practicing more. If not, figure out if it's something you can delegate.
Do you delay the task because it’s boring? Some boring tasks are simply part of being the boss, but others are a waste of our time and can be delegated. Outsourcing to a virtual assistant or other appropriate person is worth the money if it frees you to get moving on bigger, more profitable projects.
Do you delay the task because the customer is a pain? When you hate dealing with a client, there’s usually a good reason. Instead of spending your time spinning your wheels, assess whether you can afford to let this client go to focus your energies on finding new customers with whom you’ll be excited to work.
Do you delay the task because it’s overwhelming? That’s natural. But as they say, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Try breaking down the task into tiny steps, which take no more than 15 minutes to complete, and putting one step a day on your calendar. This can literally be as simple as “look up X’s contact information” or “print out documents.” Once you get started, momentum will build and you’ll find yourself making real progress.
Has procrastination ever paid off for you? How do you motivate yourself to get moving?
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