Inspired by a short article in BNET, “Why We’re Wired for Procrastination”
Do you ever procrastinate? Stop kicking yourself! The linked BNET article says it’s not a moral failing; it’s just the way the brain is wired. Here are the first three “brain quirks” and the resulting “procrastination effects.” (There’s more detail in this Psychology Today article.)
- Quirk 1: The brain is built to firstly minimize danger, before maximizing rewards.
Procrastination Effect: We avoid tasks that threaten the self, and we discount future rewards in favor of immediate gratification.
- Quirk 2: Too much uncertainty feels dangerous. It feels like possible pain so we avoid it.
Procrastination Effect: Uncertainty — not knowing what to do next — is scary. Delaying a task becomes a way of coping with or avoiding that fear.
- Quirk 3: Our conscious processing capacity is small, which makes us terrible at a lot of things, including predicting what might make us happy.
Procrastination Effect: It’s difficult for us to set realistic goals — or stick to them.
Well, okay, procrastination is not a moral failing, but we still have to run a business, and get things done.
My clients are small business owners, and I see this behavior everyday in them (yes, and in myself). This springs up whenever they need to get out of their comfort zone and dive into the new, e.g.:
— Making marketing calls
— Expanding into a new niche
— Hiring a top level manager
— Investing in growth
— Preparing their business to sell
— And the #1 Procrastination Generator: Writing a book! Hey, many of us get frozen up trying to write a blog post!
So how do you counter procrastination? I was excited to note that the way I work with owners helps limit their procrastination due to these “brain quirks.” Here’s how: I put together groups of 10 owners. Each ongoing group meets half a day a month. The purpose is to tackle the challenges to growth you face, using the group as your problem-solving panel and sounding board. But these growth challenges are the very ones that generate the most procrastination, because you are forced outside your comfort zones. Thus a big part of what we do is have members set commitments, then report back to the group the following month.
Being held accountable by a group of peers you respect is a powerful force. As one woman said, “There’s no way I’ll go to the group and not have my commitments done! I’ll stay up till 2:00 am the night before if I have to.”
The 9th Circle in “Procrastination Hell” is reserved for people who write books. And business owners who write books are in the center of that circle. Running your business is a full-time job, and writing a book is a full-time job. The business pays you now; the book might pay you something way off in the future. The business gives you instant feedback on how you’re doing. The book? Will anyone ever read the dang thing? Writing a book–even a business how-to book–is complete self-exposure.
Thus writing a book scares the bejebbers out of people. (I’m saying this as a guy who’s published four books, and many workbooks.) I tell people a book takes two years to complete: 10% of the time writing; 90% agonizing over it.
An example: A consultant I’m working with has been writing a book about his field for the last couple of years. The early parts went really well, but the closer he got to the end, the slower it got. He’s down to writing the lead ins for each chapter, and progress was zero. Every time he set aside time, something would come up. Paid client work! Can’t miss that. The wife needed his help. The dog had a problem. Etc.
We talk by phone 10 minutes a week, setting goals, then reporting how it went. Every time there was no progress, we problem-solved how to do better the next time.
Finally one week, he made a bit of progress. Elation! Congrats!
Then the next week, he reported that he had completed all the rest of the chapter summaries. “Once I got started, and generated some momentum, I just kept rolling,” he said.
1. Having a coach really helps. When I write my books, I hire a coach to keep me on track.
2. When you are stuck, find a way to get unstuck that will allow you to make a bit of progress.
3. Once the logjam is loosened, and you build some momentum, keep going. Stay on a roll as long as you can.
4. Strike while the iron is hot! When you feel a bit of inspiration, go for it RIGHT THEN. If you wait even 1/2 hour, it’s gone.
In my e-book “Recapture Your Time,” I have a section on getting creative things done while you’re running a business. Overcoming resistance. Carving out time for development. Finding your best creativity work style.
And I’m also doing an e-book on “Cash Flow From Your Creativity.” When will it be done? Depends on how well I practice what I’m preaching here. If you’re interested, bug me, then I’ll be more likely to get it done sooner.