How Startup Founders Can Overcome Procrastination

Entrepreneurs have the confidence to give them a great advantage, but what happens when they want to put things off?
December 08, 2011

The key to understanding how to manage procrastination as an entrepreneur is to understand the unique qualities of the life of an entrepreneur. The first thing is that people who are startup founders are a little nuts.

In fact, investors like it that way. The New York Times reports that investors expect founders to be just on the border of clinically crazy, but not over the edge. Startups are so difficult that they require that sort of person to have the drive and ambition and wacky optimism to get past the tough spots.

The other thing about entrepreneurial life is that the founder wears a bazillion hats. There is not a team of experts to do the specialized work of sale, business development, marketing, PR, investor relations, etc. The founder does it all. Invariable, some of that work will be very challenging.

So most founders procrastinate because they are way out of their comfort zone but they are forcing themselves to perform there.

I’ve learned a lot about procrastination in my own life as a startup founder. So many moments feel like they’re make-or-break, and the stakes are always so high with startups that difficult things seem even more difficult.

It’s been said that startup founders exhibit a crazy self-confidence. And this is a competitive advantage. But what do you do when that confidence wanes and you want to procrastinate? Here are ways to get that crazy confidence back.

1. If you’re sleep deprived: Guzzle a cup of black coffee and then take a fifteen minute nap; researchers call it the caffeine nap. No kidding. Most startup founders skimp on sleep, but self-confidence slips away fast when you are exhausted. Caffeine helps with that—temporarily, at least. And the fastest way to get the caffeine rush is to nap while it’s taking affect. I have found this to be so reliable that I carry No Doz with me wherever I go. Bonus: No unnecessary latte-laden calories!

2. If you find yourself staring into space: Go to the gym. The serotonin rush helps you revive mental enthusiasm. The problem with this advice, of course, is that the self-discipline to go to the gym is almost as difficult as the self-discipline to pound on doors 'til you make your first sale. Adam Gilbert has built a business by being the go-to guy for workout motivation. Gilbert successfully helps people transform their lives by staying focused on their goals. You probably don’t need your life transformed—you just need a transformational moment, when you get yourself out of the chair and walking toward the gym. Most people who exist in a mindset close to crazy benefit from having a very stable friend to call for motivation. This is the time to call that friend, or hire a guy like Gilbert to get you off your butt.

3. If you want an adrenaline rush:  There’s a feeling startup founders have that makes them think they can do anything. It’s not rational, but it’s been said that this irrational exuberance is what gives founders an ability to succeed. So there are lots of things to get you that rush when it’s waning. Many of those things are illegal or bad for you. The trick is to pick something that gives you a rush but does not destroy you. Gambling fits this description. So check out a site that rates online casinos so that you don’t get screwed. Set a time limit, and as long as you can adhere to it, you can get a rush. Then shift to doing that difficult thing you were putting off, because here’s something interesting about gambling: you get an adrenaline rush whether you win or lose.

4. If you want to vegetate: Television is great for vegetating, and it’s an energy booster if you just watch 30 minutes. But be careful because the problem with TV is that after 30 minutes, TV becomes draining instead of energizing, according to behavioral economist Nick Powdthavee. (Looking for more essential research on what makes you happy? His book, The Happiness Equation, is full of it.)

5. If you want to focus: Calorie deprivation helps you get motivated. Of course, Anorexia is the extreme, and not to mention very bad. But a little hunger is good for your brain; it keeps it sharp. If you are already feeling full, you could try pharmaceuticals. They’re extremely popular with the younger set. Margaret Talbot writes in the New Yorker that Adderall use is so effective for making the mind attentive that it could transform our education system. For the better.

It’s true that you’re supposed to be a little crazy to get those medications prescribed, but it’s also true that most startup founders will qualify as being a little crazy. Which is why most of these tips will work for you.