Procrastination can be a killer for small business owners. Whether it’s chasing payments, sorting your tax return, or even just getting started in the morning, when you’re your own boss it’s important – and all the more difficult – to keep on top of things.
6 September is national Fight Procrastination Day, so we’ve put together a list of tips and tricks to help you get on top of your workload and make sure your business thrives.
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Why do we procrastinate?
While there are plenty of techniques to help you manage procrastination, working out why you’re procrastinating in the first place can make a huge difference.
There may just be one reason, there may be a combination, and you might need to employ different techniques to combat the different reasons you’re putting off certain tasks.
To that end, we’ve married up different methods with different reasons for procrastination, along with some general habits it’s good to get into towards the end of the article.
Problem 1: dull chores
For many, the most common reason for procrastinating is when the task seems unpleasant. While you may love some aspects of running your business, it’s much easier to put off the ones that you’re less keen on.
Solution 1: chunking. For tasks like this, breaking them down into smaller chunks can help. Do part of it now, then reward yourself with a more interesting piece of work, then come back and do more work on it later.
Solution 2: time blocking. If you’re the kind of person who works well under pressure, setting yourself a time limit could help. If you say that you’ll work on a task for just half an hour (or 20 minutes, or 10, depending on how long it is and how much you feel like you can do) then you know its unpleasantness is only going to last that amount of time.
You may not get it all done, but you can come back to it at a later date knowing you’ve made good progress. On the other hand, you might find you power through it quickly, and that can be equally useful – unpleasant tasks can seem monumental, and if you know for next time that it will only take you 25 minutes to get it done, it’ll be easier to sit down to work on it in the first place.
Problem 2: anxiety
While for some it’s the thought of how boring a task might be that puts them off, for others it’s the fear of how difficult it could be. This can be particularly true when you’re new to running your own business, or you’re branching out into something new.
If you’re worried about something, even in the back of your mind, dragging it out into the light and giving it a thorough appraisal is often the best way forward.
Solution 1: plan ahead. One of the main reasons for task-related anxiety is that you just don’t know what it’s going to entail. So instead of fretting about it and putting it off, do your research. You don’t have to do the task now, but if you feel like you understand it more, you’ll feel much better equipped to tackle it tomorrow.
Solution 2: make a list. Much like with unpleasant chores, breaking things down into smaller parts can help with the ones that seem overwhelming. In this instance, it’s also important to write them down, as it can help demystify what you need to get done.
To take it up a level, you could also code the tasks. Use colours or symbols to indicate the tasks you think will be the most difficult. Then you can mark the easier ones, we well as the most urgent and those that can wait a while. It will help you prioritise what to do and work out where to make a start.
Problem 3: distractions
No matter where you work, distractions are often a problem. For employees it might be colleagues or emails about doughnuts in the office, but when you’re self employed, you get a different type of distraction.
If you work from home, there’ll be a whole host of distractions to contend with. Sorting your laundry, hoovering the landing, mowing the lawn. If you live with children or pets or even a significant other, they may also make demands of your time.
Solution 1: change location. To stop yourself getting sucked into all the other things you could be doing, or to let your family know you’re not to be disturbed, try setting up a corner of your home that’s specifically for work. It can help you get in the zone, as well as signal that you’re busy working.
Alternatively, getting out of the house can help. If there’s something in particular you need to get done, try a local café just to focus on that task. As well as getting away, you can reward yourself with a hot drink and a pastry.
Solution 2: structured distractions. If you know you’re the kind of person who won’t be able to sit still while there’s a load of laundry waiting to be folded, plan that into your day. Instead of letting it derail the task you’re on, block out time to get it done so you can focus on what you need to finish now.
How to fight procrastination
While knowing why you’re procrastinating is half the battle, and tackling things task by task can be very effective, setting out structural changes can make a huge difference to our day-to-day work.
Project management tools can help you get a better organisation view of your business and the tasks that need doing - sometimes procrastination can just be a case of things slipping down the pile because you have so much on.
There’s plenty of software you can use to help with this, like Trello and Jira. Or, if you prefer to do these things offline, a calendar and a set of post-it notes may be exactly what you need.
And when you have so much on, managing your time becomes all the more important. Check out our list of the top time management apps for small businesses to get you started.
Are you a master procrastinator? Tell us how you get around it in the comments.