In many small businesses it is the entrepreneur who needs to pull the business forward. Staff and partners might help the entrepreneur, but it is unlikely that any of them will be the driving force. It is normal, human nature in fact, that over time the motivation within an entrepreneur decreases to a point that procrastination sets in.
This terrible state keeps the entrepreneur from carrying out necessary tasks, particularly boring ones. If left unchecked it can start having repercussions within the entire business, ultimately spreading to all the staff. This guide will not only show you how to stop procrastinating, but also how to prevent it in the future.
Prioritise your day
This needs to be the very first thing you do when you get to the office, or ideally, before you even leave for work. This allows you to think about the best ways to tackle your tasks for the rest of the day. Make sure that you do not have too much to deal with and that you identify the two or three most important tasks. Sometimes, if the task is important enough, you could just have one.
If you see that you have more than three important tasks, try to move the extra ones to other days or, if possible, delegate them to other staff. Set time limits by when to complete each of your tasks, ensuring that you allow enough time to do them, but not too much time that you end us wasting it.
Tackle your most feared task first
A normal person would see what tasks he or she had and do the ones which are easiest or cause less stress. A successful entrepreneur who wants to beat procrastination needs to do the opposite. Choose the task which you least wish to handle and tackle it first. Whether it is calling a client, speaking to an employee or updating your business plan, the sooner you get it done the sooner you will feel free of the uncomfortable feeling in your gut.
Keep a notebook handy
You might prefer a smartphone or tablet, but as I writer I prefer putting pen to paper. As an entrepreneur it is normal to have many ideas and thoughts of what to do. The notebook is there for you to list these ideas and tasks down, to be read when you have some free time. Very often, thinking and trying to remember a lot of ideas blocks your mind and tires it and this results in the state of procrastination.
Many famous entrepreneurs, including Richard Branson, make use of a notebook to jot down names, ideas, tasks and anything else that is worth remembering. As soon as you start writing things down on a notebook you will notice that your mind relaxes as it no longer has the responsibility of remembering so many things.
Alternate important tasks with smaller ones
As you are going about your day tackling two or three important tasks, you need to remember to give your brain a rest. After completing each important task find a task which will only take you a few minutes, such as answering an email, praising a member of staff or organising your desk. Choose tasks which are easy to accomplish as they will compliment the positive feeling you get when you complete your important tasks.
These smaller tasks, however trivial, often pile up and before long you end up feeling like you must tackle a mountain. This feeling often leads to procrastination. Therefore by handling these tasks a little by little, you keep them from piling up and not being dealt with.
Time, location, atmosphere
Not everyone works well in an office at 8.00 in the morning surrounded by the rest of the team. I, for one, work a lot better in the evening, at a quiet cafe, ideally with a view and, where I can work without interruptions. You should look at your work space and see whether it is contributing to your state of procrastination. Are you constantly interrupted by phone calls and employees? Is the workplace noisy, preventing you from concentrating?
If you have a background of working in an office, then the concept of working outside the office might be new to you. I recommend you exploring this and trying it out at different times of day. Do you feel your energy early morning, in the afternoon or in the evening? Are you most comfortable working in the office, at home or in a cafe? Do you prefer perfect quiet, background music or hustle and bustle? Understanding what works best for you can go a long way to help you tackle tasks quicker and remain motivated longer.
Take a breather
You are probably not a superhero, and that’s ok. You need to take regular breaks and drink plenty of water. This is what I do; every hour, almost on the hour, I stop what I am doing and get my mug filled with water. As I sip it I walk along the office seeing what my team is doing, I talk and joke with them and I walk out of the office for a few minutes to get some fresh air. The routine only takes five minutes but my body is able to recharge and would have more energy to get back to work.
Distractions be gone
One of the key causes of procrastination is the distraction. It can come in many forms, such as a curious email, a Facebook comment or a letter. Your body and mind will push you towards finding out what the distraction is and before you know it you would have wasted an hour by focusing on the distraction.
To prevent this, think which your biggest distractions are and seek ways to remove them. Set your email program to only check emails every hour instead of every minute or remove the notification sound. Put your smartphone on silent or remove notifications of any kind whilst you are working. Inform staff that you are not to be disturbed for the next hour or so until you complete your task and make sure you unhook the desk telephone too. Without distractions you cannot be tempted to do something else other than what you planned.
An unidentified distraction is the sometimes encouraged process of multi-tasking. Be wary of this as it means splitting your attention on two or more activities. Important tasks need your undivided attention. Anything else you are thinking of, even if it is another task, is a distraction at that time. Keep multi-tasking for the gym where you exercise whilst listening to a podcast, but do not do it at work.
Keep yourself motivated
Procrastination and motivation are interlinked states. Highly motivated people seldom procrastinate and major procrastinators are usually unmotivated. Fortunately there are many ways for an entrepreneur to remain or become motivated.
Whenever you complete a task, however big or small, congratulate yourself and give yourself a mental pat on the back. It might sound funny, but it does help keep you motivated for the next task. If the task is exceptionally challenging you may want to treat yourself upon completing it. I normally choose a dark chocolate muffin as my treat.
If you see that the task is harder than you expected and feel yourself getting de-motivated, arrange the rest of your day to allow you to continue working on the task. If possible move any other important tasks to the next day or get a staff member to help you out. Continue to take breaks even whilst you do the task as this can help you think of the tasks from all angles and could help you find a better way of tackling it.
Teamwork beats procrastination
If you find it really hard to focus on your tasks get a colleague or a trusted person to sit in with you whilst you work. This other person could be doing their own work but they would also keep an eye out to see that you are not distracting yourself in any way. Be careful if you do this as sometimes the person could become the very cause of distraction, so make sure you choose a focused and responsible person for the task.
Why you are doing it in the first place
Why are you working on this task? What is the end goal? How will your business prosper from your action? Ask these questions before you start a task. If you do not know how to answer all three questions then you will start doubting yourself as you work and you will find yourself stopping regularly.
On the other hand, if you have your goal clearly defined, then you would be eager to achieve it. If need be illustrate your goal as a desktop image to remind you constantly of the fruit of your efforts.