Friday, May 4, 2012

3 Tips to Stop Procrastination

So there I am last Sunday staring an my riding mower hoping it would somehow magically fix itself if I stared long enough. No such luck. A classic case of procrastination. So, why do we procrastinate? Because something deep down inside tells us there is a strong likelihood of failure. So we dupe ourselves into thinking we can delay this pain by delaying action. However, we all but guarantee the very thing we wish to avoid because failing to act only makes things worse and more difficult to solve. This post gives 3 simple steps to finally break the destructive habit of procrastination.

Entrepreneurs tend to fall into this habit during the phase I refer to as The Gauntlet. This is when the entrepreneur finally realizes things will be much harder than expected. They also realize their breakthrough technology is not great simply because mom and the neighbors think so. The inevitable reckoning is at hand and they must hit the streets and sell like crazy. Those who have learned to view procrastination as a mortal enemy take swift action. Those who allow themselves to be haunted by the possibility of failure choose to procrastinate, turning attention to "busy work" instead of important work.

Take the following steps to break this habit.

1. Use History as Your Guide

Malcolm X often said, "History is best qualified to reward our research." In all of your history, when has procrastination proved to be a winning strategy? If past experience proves procrastination ultimately leads to failure, then you really have no other choice but to take immediate action. To make this an effective exercise, think of a few of the worse times in your life when procrastination lead to disaster. Ponder on these experiences intently then consider the outcome of your current situation. Based on history do you really think putting things off is the answer?

2. Use Fear of Failing as a Tool

Perform an honest evaluation of the cost of procrastinating. Do not just think about it. Say it out loud or write it down. For example, what are the consequences of not following up with that customer? An honest evaluation will conclude you will likely lose the sale. No customer will call begging you to take their money. If fear of losing the sale is the concern and procrastination increases the likelihood of this outcome, then shift your fear to the consequences of procrastinating!  Procrastination is a common cause of lost sales. Just when the prospect is ready to purchase, no one bothers to follow up because they want to avoid what they think is inevitable failure. Instead, the competition calls just in time and wins the business after you did all of the work! So instead of trying to eliminate your fear, simply redirect it at the one thing that will certainly make things worse-procrastinating. If you can successfully shift your fear, taking action will be a lot easier.

3. Take Baby Steps

If after all of this you are still afraid to take action, then start with small steps.  Even though you know a phone call is in order, send an email as a first step. Then, follow up with a phone call. Each small step creates momentum and gets you into the habit of taking action.

If you still find it difficult to break this terrible habit, then you may have a bigger problem. Perhaps you have a mild case of decidephobia, the fear of making decisions. I do not see how any entrepreneur survives if they suffer from this. Entrepreneurship is all about making decisions, many of them quickly and with limited information.

No Lawn Ferry

So as I continued to ignore the mower, I noticed the grass just kept getting longer and longer. Each morning I woke to find the lawn ferry did not show up to cut the grass while I was sleeping. Then, finally last Sunday I ran out of excuses. I was all alone as the wife and kids were away on a road trip with our local community's youth club. My schedule was wide open and the lawn started resembling a jungle. I had never taken this thing apart before and was a bit doubtful. So, I took a deep breath, pulled out my manual and some YouTube how to videos. A few hours and several Advil later I had a mower that sounded like new and a perfectly groomed lawn. Then, I said to myself what most of us say when we finally complete a long overdue task--Why didn't I do this sooner?

Nothing magically happens by putting things off. We know this intellectually but it is the emotion of fear that controls our behavior. So, I say take that fear and turn it on its head. Direct it toward the impending disaster that will result from procrastinating. You will have a clearer conscious and a much prettier lawn because of it.

Godspeed and I look forward to seeing you in The Players Lounge.

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