7 Tips For Battling—And Even Embracing—Procrastination

It doesn't have to hurt so much. In fact, some procrastinating can lead to productivity.

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]

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  • Linda

    Great article, as you've so openly acknowledged, it's hard to stay on track when at home & solo. I know part of the solution is realising I have a problem with it & taking concrete steps to overcome it day by day. Love the deadline resolving ideas, I'm great when they're real but can easily lose focus when not.

  • Nicholas Cheng

    I'm definitely going to try this! Have struggled with procrastination my whole life and with the support of my wife, I have been trying task list (Wunderlist) to improve my discipline. Would love If you could help read my personal article and provide any more customised ways for me to curb procrastination and improve in discipline!



  • Zakka Datit

    Interesting write-up. However, procrastination is a condition of the mind and based on the fact that we have different attributes as human beings, we adjust to different situations differently. An important factor is that there is the possibility of turning this seemingly negative notion into productivity is worth noting. The tip I relate more with is the first one which is: Don't Beat Yourself Up. While we are being lazy, we should maximize it and relax very well as not to lose productive hours and rest hours at the same time.

  • Brian Killeen

    Great article Allison definitely worth the read I found a free 8 week course on curing procrastination it was awesome

  • Ian beano

    I have been keeping my task manager and calendar on a side screen that is always open. I use 'Things' because it allows me to quickly drag items in order of importance and quickly add items as they pop into my head. When I complete a task I get to check the box. Eliminating distractions has also been a huge help. I keep my email inbox cleared by archiving messages as quickly as possible. I keep my desk clear of non-essential papers. I have also begun to "game" my brain by finding foods and times of day that help me be productive. As a "solopreneur" the tasks can pile up quickly. One tip I have for client proposals is to review profit and loss reports from individual jobs before I try to write an estimate of costs. This keeps me in the black.

  • C_est_moi_même

    That's the first article about time management I really enjoyed. Thanks for the low-energy to-do-list! An incredibly precious hint for me! :-)

  • Chandler

    I'm glad I procrastinated into this article! Great read and now back to the grind.

  • glenn

    Great article. Loved it. End of my surfing, back to my to-do list. Thanks Allison!

  • It's Finally Done!

    Nice article, but knowing myself, I'm a bit skeptical of techniques which essentially tell you to will yourself to do the task whereas historically, there's little evidence for me that this actually works. For people wired the way I am, mundane, boring tasks actually cause our brains to go offline and cause us real trauma. This may sound like a copout, but I assure you I don't enjoy looking at that stack of bills and papers in my bin that's been piling up for months.

    There are techniques that work with us, but they are not the conventional "Go for it!"-type tricks. I've devoted an entire website to this.

  • Sam

    I also find that just "willing" oneself to tackle a mountain of (whatever) is not effective--but that it usually does work when taken in small concrete steps, such as committing to dealing with five items of paper work....

    What I find to be very useful when I catch myself playing solitaire is to ask myself, "What exactly about x am I avoiding right now?" and then follow up with "Why would this be worth avoiding?"

    Honestly facing what it is that is causing me to disconnect from what ought to be straightforward dissolves a lot of the sometimes unacknowledged stress around my performance and plus gets a body back in touch with what are often very relevant gut feelings on a project.

  • Tarek Ghobar

    One great tip I find that works with me, is to tell a friend about your deadline or your 'lazy habits', and sometimes a commitment to call you about your progress from him or her makes things happen quick!

  • Yasmin

    Fantastic article. I recently started scheduling EVERYTHING (Including time to check emails) to help myself stay on track. The low-energy to-do list is brilliant, too. Thank you!