There are days when business owners just don’t feel like working—especially solopreneurs who work from home. With no one watching over your shoulder, it’s easy to let hours—or even days—of unproductive time evaporate despite our best intentions.
Here are some tips to help you overcome daydreaming or the doldrums of TV watching, surfing the Net, playing with your dog, and doing anything but work.
1. Don’t beat yourself up.
Procrastination can have positive impacts, such as giving you time to recharge. Relaxation plays an important role in productivity, but feeling guilty about relaxing will destroy any chance of achieving the full refresh that comes from shifting gears. Embrace whichever mode you are in to maximize its impact. When it’s time to relax, really relax.
Procrastination can also be a serendipitous way of stalling a project that needs some further percolation before completion. Often holding off on a client proposal means I will run into someone with new information that shifts my approach and enables me to seal the deal.
The same is true with articles. After a decade of writing for publications, I’ve finally accepted that when the article doesn’t flow, it’s better to set it aside and try again later. Inevitably by doing so, an idea will click and then it will just flow.
2. Create a real deadline.
Some procrastination experts suggest you create a self-imposed deadline to inspire action. The problem is that if you set an artificial deadline, it’s pretty easy to give yourself an artificial extension. In the midst of procrastination versus action, an illegitimate deadline will lose every time. To the contrary, if a client is expecting completion, there is no choice but to get it done and entrepreneurs will stay up all night to make it happen. It’s a disciplined few who will pull an all-nighter to accommodate self-imposed, fake timelines.
So, if you really want to light a fire under your behind, reach out to your client, mentor, colleague or accountability buddy to ask for a quick phone call to discuss an element of the project. Commit to sending the completed information prior to the call.
3. Change your environment.
Nothing shifts your mojo better than forcing yourself to be "on" by stepping into public in a professional capacity. It’s easy to lounge in pajamas with your laptop and while away the day at home, but once you have a scheduled meeting, networking coffee or public outing, voilà, you can motivate yourself to turn into being a high-productivity superstar. Once you return, you’ll be in business gear and hopefully inspired to get to work.
4. Tackle projects from a different angle.
Break projects down into the "next step." This is a tip I learned from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. So rather than have "Sales" on your to-do list, break the overarching tasks into actionable steps. For example:
- Define the target buyer.
- Create a list of target buyers. Be specific so it’s easy to take action. For example, "locate VPs of business development at investment firms" or "conference planners specializing in associations" or "dentists within 100 miles"
- Research warm connections to them.
- Reach out to contacts to ask for warm intros.
- Follow up with leads and so on. This provides a more task-oriented approach to a to-do list rather than sitting down to a seemingly insurmountable vague ideal of achieving sales, which would make anyone who doesn’t like selling procrastinate.
5. Refer to a procrastination low-energy to-do list.
Create an entire list of nice-to-do-items for when you’re not in the mood for the important stuff. This will give you fun or low-energy activities to do when the rest doesn’t flow while still keeping you on track for productivity and ensure you aren’t completely wasting your time. For example, reading industry magazines, organizing folders on your computer, rearranging your filing cabinet, exporting and reviewing your contact lists on social media. The list of activities that can be included on your low-energy list is endless.
6. Shift the Habit.
What is your go-to procrastination habit? Do you turn on the TV? Let the blinking red light on your phone divert your attention? Surf the Internet for random musings? Play squeaky-toy catch across the living room with your dog? There are so many ways to distract ourselves from our to-do lists.
Recognizing your patterns and shifting your approach to procrastination could have an impact on your productivity. For example, if your go-to is watching TV, opt to read a book on business instead. If you surf the Net or social media feeds and next thing you know hours have passed (how does that happen?), set an alarm for a reasonable amount of time for surfing.
In June, Fast Company ran a series on the movement to #Unplug. This prompted me to turn off notifications for emails on my BlackBerry. This small change significantly impacted the number of times I was interrupted during the day, allowing for a more focused work experience.
7. Initiate force.
Ultimately it’s up to you to make things happen. If a task is on your to-do list and is legitimately important to move your company forward, then you need to take action. According to Newton’s Law of Motion, you’ll need to create a force stronger than your procrastination mode to get you moving on the right track. Sometimes it’s just opening the word document and committing to writing the first paragraph. Block out distractions around you, and once you get started, there’s a good chance you’ll keep going.
Procrastination plays an important role in productivity. Yes, sometimes you have to dig deep and just get the work done, but other times a little distraction is a good thing. It’s important to know the difference, accept the ebbs and flows of productivity, and embrace the moments away from the heavy lifting that business ownership demands. It’s like when your dog brings you his favorite squeaky toy and drops it at your feet. How can you resist and not take a little fun time away from the computer? My dog just did, and I, for one, can't resist.
[Image: Flickr user Rennett Stowe]