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Tips, advice, and information for South African business owners

13 May

Procrastination Isn’t About Time Management

The problem many of us have in trying to fix our procrastination is that we muddle its underlying causes with its effects on time management and productivity. If what caused us to procrastinate were simply poor time management, then our solution to procrastination could lie in simply getting any decent time management app.

But this doesn’t work. Time management is about clarifying a goal, finding which tasks will get us that goal, then fitting those tasks into the time we have.

Instead, procrastination has nothing to do with “managing time”. Fixing procrastination is all about building emotional intelligence.

We procrastinate because it “saves” us from yucky feelings. Having pondered deeply about my and my clients’ procrastination, I wrote an article for my newsletter in 2005 titled “Procrastination is a Myth!” I’ve just re-discovered this nugget in it: “[We] only do things that we expect to have a positive result for us…So we procrastinate because we are doing something…more enjoyable or less unpleasant than what we should be doing.

Since that article, I’ve stumbled on many articles and videos on the topic authored by people much more qualified than me. The trend is an increasingly stronger affirmation of this hedonistic view of why we procrastinate. The most recent I’ve read is here, with a useful explanation of the emotional mechanics of procrastination. I’ll save you the “research” effort and summarise it thus: we expect to feel “bad” or stressed when doing a task, so we put off doing that task to avoid those feelings.

Getting better at procrastination starts with awareness: next time you’re procrastinating, pause and tune in to which emotions you’re protecting yourself from. Is it doubt and uncertainty? A lack of self-confidence or self-esteem? Fear of talking with strangers when you’re cold calling? Feeling rejection or insignificant?

Avoiding that task then causes a secondary layer of violence against ourselves. We chastise ourselves as lazy, or lacking will-power. Negative self-talk tells us we’re a failure. None of this is useful – a lack of self-compassion seldom inspires us to break our procrastination.

Instead, once we identify our pleasure-seeking-pain-avoiding drivers, we can find healthy ways to reduce our self-sabotage. It could even be that we eliminate “unhappy” tasks completely. For example, exchanging tasks with colleagues where each of us “offers” tasks we don’t like and take on more tasks we do like.

After all, have you ever really struggled to find self-motivation to do a task you like? I didn’t think so.

So while time management is concerned with goals and prioritising tasks, reducing procrastination is all about doing more of the work we like. In fact, it might be useful to reverse how we set goals and plan our work: instead of the goal driving which tasks are done, we could first work out which tasks we like, then filter in and choose only the goals we can achieve from doing those tasks.

This leads to an important approach to designing our business, spanning everything from choosing what we sell to how our business operates. As an entrepreneur, imagine taking this individual approach to solving procrastination and applying it metaphorically to your business.

Can you see your business as an organism that is quick at dispatching tasks it “likes”, but procrastinates with tasks it doesn’t like? Obviously, the inherent likes and dislikes of you and your staff will affect organisational procrastination, but are there collective factors that exist independently of any one person’s procrastination?

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