Does something (or everything) on your to-do list simply never get done, because you're procrastinating?
Do you know you need to do something for your business, but somehow it always ends up at the bottom of the pile? Does a spot of procrasti-vacuuming seem oh-so-much more attractive than actually doing the things that you know NEED to be done? Have you ever thought there might be a deeper reason behind your procrastinating?
Procrastinating behaviours can be so frustrating, because they stop you achieving that elusive potential you know you’re capable of. And it might just be a simple case of a lack of time-management skills or an inability to prioritise. But if you’ve addressed these things and still can’t seem to take action, there may well be a deeper issue.
Working with clients in coaching sessions, I’ve often noticed even the most driven and successful people can have blocks on completing actions around certain topics – and usually they’re not even aware of it! They come to me for coaching because they know they can’t seem to get momentum in their business or role, but they blame themselves. They tell themselves, “I just can’t get motivated.” Or, “I’m lazy.” Or, “I just need some accountability.” And yes, coaches really are fantastic at providing accountability and getting you to action. However, they can do so much more than that. There are often deeper issues behind procrastinating that people just don’t realise. Working with a coach, they can root these out and address them. And this leads to real and lasting results.
The fog lifts, and the procrastinating suddenly stops
The results are astounding. When these issues are found and resolved, it’s like the fog lifts, and my clients suddenly find taking action easy. They wonder why they ever had a problem in the first place. But, if they hadn’t identified and addressed these key issues, they’d still be procrastinating.
One of my fave coaching books, ‘The Coach’s Casebook’, by Geoff Watts and Kim Morgan talks about four deeper reasons behind procrastination. The books talks about a Fear of Failure, Perfectionism, Lack of Assertiveness and Lack of Autonomy. And this is also what I’ve found from my experience of coaching (and my own procrastinations – yes, no one is immune!) too.
Let’s take a look at these in more detail. Do you recognise any of these (or maybe a combination) in yourself?
Fear of Failure
The stakes are simply higher on some tasks than others. It may be a teensy weensy little task, like sharing something on social media. But if sharing that thing is the first step towards a new direction you really want to take, that can be really daunting.
For example, if you want to start your new dream business, or take your business in a new direction, you might be so scared of failing that you don’t want to tell anyone about it. The skewed logic in your head might be, “If I don’t tell anyone, I can’t get rejected, and I won’t fail.” Kind of true – yes, you won’t be rejected. But the hard truth is you’ll fail anyway as no one will even know about it.
The best way to get around it is by proving to that fearful part of yourself that actually it’s no big deal.
You won’t die if you share a social media post about your new business, even if no one’s interested at this stage.
I have been here. Can you believe it took me TWO whole years to launch my podcast, Creative Slurp? Yup, I recorded the first interviews pre-pando in December 2019, yet I couldn’t pluck up enough courage to launch the podcast until December 2021. By then the interviews were completely defunct and I had to re-record them. The stakes were especially high for me, as I’d been a radio professional and had always dreamed of being a radio presenter. My bar for myself was high, and it would have been a huge dent in my self-esteem if it had flopped. But when I got over myself, I managed to launch a podcast that I’m not only proud of, but reached the Top 30 for Entrepreneurial Podcasts in the Apple Charts in less than a year.
Some of us are more perfectionistic than others, but (just like a fear of failure) perfectionism can rear its head more when the stakes are higher. We desperately WANT things to be ‘right’. But of course, they’ll never be perfect. If you’re putting something off that you’ve been working on for a while, then maybe it’s time to start letting go of perfection a tad.
Because in my experience, there are two important things to know about perfection:
- It doesn’t exist.
- You won’t suddenly get good at something overnight, it’s the result of taking small consistent actions…therefore if you’re waiting for perfection, it’s just not going to happen.
Again, this was a problem for me when I launched my podcast. The stakes were high and I was demanding perfection of myself. Which actually meant I was paralysed from taking action.
Joe Wicks (aka the Body Coach) is now mega-successful in his fitness business. But he didn’t start off with perfect media channels and a beautiful website and app. He started off with a little trailer attached to his old bike, which he used to carry his fitness gear to the park every day to run boot camp sessions. Sometimes nobody even turned up. But he just kept turning up every day, determined to help someone. And after he kept on turning up every day to that park (and on social media), those little actions turned into something bigger. Until, one day he became a household name. If he had waited to create the perfect website, well I’m guessing he wouldn’t be in this blog article.
Lack of Assertiveness
People pleasers put your hands up! Yup, you at the back there. If you’re the kind of person that’s always putting everyone else first, then no wonder you can’t get your shizzle together to do your own stuff.
If completing actions for yourself feels a wee bit selfish, then how about thinking about it like this:
You owe it to the world/your family/your customers/your colleagues to be the best you that you can be. You can only do this if you are doing things you value and that are important to YOU. If you’re forever putting others first, you’ll never get the chance to share the best of you with the world. And what a tragedy that would be – not only for you, but also for them.
It’s a cliche, but think about that eponymous oxygen mask example from those air safety vids. You need to fit your own oxygen mask and save yourself, before you go saving others.
Think about that thing you could do that could change your life for the better, and just do it.
Lack of Autonomy
Is the action you’re putting off something that’s been foisted upon you? Maybe you’re not really on board with it? Well, this could be the reason you’re not acting on it.
When we’re not in control in a situation, and not bought in, we can sometimes use delay tactics to slow things down (which is why it’s important you get team members and employees on board with your ideas through great communication) before you ask them to implement anything.
It’s our human nature to want to be in control (and some people need that control more than others). If this is you, then maybe find a way that you can get on board with this idea, by reframing it to fit your values and strengths.
How to ditch these procrastinating behaviours
If procrastinating is becoming a real problem and stopping you from making progress, it’s time to take action. First of all I’d advise you check out improving your time management skills, and break down the task into tiny chunks. But if that hasn’t worked and you’re still in procrasti-city, why not try out these tips:
Prove to your subconscious there’s nothing to be scared of by doing the thing.
This is kind of easier said than done as, hello, you’re struggling to do the thing in the first place. But one of the most powerful ways I’ve found to get over procrastinating is to just do it (a coach or someone else to be accountable to is helpful with this). I’ve had clients who’ve been procrastinating about doing the same thing for several weeks in a row. In the end, their embarrassment about coming to their session with me and have to admit not completing said task was much scarier than actually doing it. The great thing about this is that once you’ve done the thing and some terrible fate hasn’t befallen you, then it’s so much easier to do it next time. You’ve proven to yourself that it’s ok. It’s safe.
Declutter your mind (and life)
I’ve had clients who just could not see the wood for the trees (and therefore just could not commit to taking action) because there were other things going on in their life dominating their thoughts. As soon as they reached a decision on these other things, it was like a magic wand had been waved and KABOOM! they were suddenly getting momentum again.
So, if you feel stuck, consider whether there’s just too much going on and prioritise simplifying your life. If you think this might be you, free writing is a great tool to access your subconscious mind and help you identify the deeper issues going on. Just set a timer for 5-10 mins and write non-stop, answering the question, “Where am I feeling stuck right now?” or “What is holding me back?” Journalling in this way can be a brilliant tool for really getting under the surface and finding out what’s really going on. Then, once you’ve identified what’s holding you back, it makes it easier to get clarity on that issue.
Reframing the task in your mind
If you’re not bought into something, or maybe you’ve built it up waaaayyy more than you should (like I did with my podcast), then try to reframe it in your mind. Is it really that big a deal? Does it really close down future options? Is this idea (if it’s someone else’s) really that bad, maybe there are some advantages to it?
When I launched my podcast I realised the idea of launching it ‘perfectly’ was holding me back.
I knew the perfect marketing strategy would be to build up momentum by publicising it before the launch. Yet in the back of my mind I was thinking, “What if the podcast is terrible, and everyone hates it? If I’ve promoted it then I look like even more of a flop.” The result – the podcast didn’t happen. So, I changed my strategy. I knew I was getting nowhere fast if I carried on this way, so I decided to carry out the ‘anti-launch’. In other words, publish my podcast for the first three episodes without telling anyone at all. Yes, it sounds totally bonkers, and completely goes against the grain of all the marketing advice. But, do you know what? It worked for me.
Lifting the added pressure I’d put on myself over the launch of the podcast meant I could get it finished. Then after I’d put three podcast episodes out there in the world and my life hadn’t crashed down to earth, I felt more happy to promote it. Now, it’s going really well. My dream podcast guests have even started approaching me to come on the show (which I find bonkers!). But I know it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t got over myself and put the best version I could out there in the world. And not worrying about it having to be perfect.
Big yourself up
Recall a time in the past when you did something that you didn’t think you could. When have you surprised yourself (in a good way) and done something amazing? Bonus points if it’s something that you look back on now and think, “Wowsers, I can’t believe I did that!”
When I was 19 I went to work in France for the summer on a campsite. It was one of the most miserable times of my life.
I lived in a disgustingly dirty caravan for 2 and a half months, with no running water or fridge. Then I had to cycle over a mile to the shop to get all my grocery shopping and my bosses contradicted each other and wouldn’t let me use the customer swimming pool to cool down (even though I had rampant heat rash). I lived in the middle of nowhere with no transport and it turns out ‘A’ Level French didn’t equip me as well as I thought for living in France. But I’m stubborn and I was 100% determined to see the whole thing through to the end. I told myself, if I got through this, I could get through anything.
So, I did it, and near the end of my time there I went to Paris and bought myself a gorgeous ring, with the intention of wearing it every day to remind me of what I was capable of. I wore that ring for more than 15 years (and only stopped wearing it when my fingers swelled up due to pregnancy!) That ring was a symbol of how resilient and brilliant I am, and I used it to remind me of that on those inevitable down days when I felt a little less brave.
Accountability is a brilliant way to get stuff done and stop procrastinating, simply because it can make not doing something more painful than just getting it done. Very often we avoid things because of the pain we perceive it will cause us.
But if you’ve told: your coach, your colleague, your BFF, your dog (ok, maybe not your dog) that you’re going to do something, you’re probably going to feel worse by not doing it than actually doing the thing in the first place. This is why, sometimes, when I’ve got something new to launch I tell my community asap. This forces me to do it because it means that NOT doing it actually becomes more painful than doing it in the first place. And as humans are designed to avoid pain, it means the thing gets done – hooray!
If that sounds confusing, just remember:
Humans avoid pain – turn the thing you want to do into the least painful option and voila, bye-bye procrastination.
If you’re frustrated by procrastination and you’ve tried all the obvious things, why not try going deeper and try some of the methods above?
And if you’ve got any other tips around procrastination, please share with my community below, and we can all lift each other up!
If you need some help with overcoming procrastination, it’s often easier to get help. I offer coaching sessions and you can find out more about them here or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org