By Iqbal Thokan
Don’t wait for tomorrow. Now is the time to do what you need to do to stay relevant, survive and thrive.
I was once sent a really motivational speech made by Denzel Washington and in it he quotes another famous motivational speaker, Les Brown, who said, “Imagine you’re on your deathbed—and standing around your bed are the ghosts representing your unfilled potential. The ghosts of the ideas you never acted on. The ghosts of the talents you didn’t use. And they’re standing around your bed. Angry. Disappointed. Upset. ‘We came to you because you could have brought us to life’, they say. ‘And now we go to the grave together’”.
How many of us feel that way about the ideas we had that we could have used or implemented in our business? Or how often do we procrastinate over an idea until its too late that the fear of it becoming too difficult or the fear of failure sets in or the most common business owner response, ‘I just don’t have the time’, and we just don’t do it, and then we find that someone else has done it and is succeeding. There are many other reasons many of us procrastinate but the end result is all the same, we end up at the last moment not doing it or doing it not to the best of our ability and this more than often is where most of our stress comes from and that is not managing our time effectively.
As business owners time is our most precious and valuable resource. Every person in the world, no matter who they are or how successful they are, they have the same time as each and every one of us, its how we make use of it that matters. Procrastination can be one of the biggest causes of stress, burnout, fatigue and inhibition of productivity. When we start procrastinating, we start forcing ourselves to do the task and this ends up taking much longer or worse yet costing us more in resources and as we know resources are the life line of any business or organisation.
As a business consultant I have seen business that procrastinate on the development and delivery of a product or service which most often leads to an inferior product or service being delivered to the customer and when the customer does not receive the value they expected, they find the next best person who can deliver value to them. There are three key methods to ending procrastination and to always keep us on top of our game to provide the best value to our customer. The first is to find out the reason why we procrastinate, could it be that we are afraid that we won’t be able to deliver or be efficient or that we might not be as good as the net person? Or is it because we find that we have a dislike for the task that needs to be done?
Once we have identified the reason the second thing we need to do is to completely understand the reason so that we can break away from it. If its fear, we need to understand what the fear is and ask ourselves if its real or not. If we find that it is because we don’t like the task then maybe we should delegate it or outsource it.
The third way of getting rid of procrastination is to stay motivated by the vision of what we want to achieve in our business and to write these goals down. Writing is a key strength of many successful business owners as it helps us to focus and redefine our thoughts as well as to communicate them effectively.
December 2018, I remember walking into the store at around 9am and waiting for the owners to find some time to meet with me. The store was chaos, a good chaos for retail, customers queuing up continuously waiting to be served, it was not until 1pm, when the store closed for lunch were the owners able to leave the counter and have a quick 45- minute meeting. When we sat down one of the first topics that came up was, “Iqbal, we are tired, day in and day out we sit behind the counter and serve customers”. I sat there thinking, well isn’t that a good thing, there are many businesses who don’t have a single customer walking in for some time and here were these two guys complaining of being tired of serving customers non-stop.
It all began 15 years prior for brothers Yusuf and Ismael. They had both being working within the automotive industry until Ismael found an opportunity for them to get a store of their own. Over the years, the brothers worked hard at building their business and what a success it had become, however, they found themselves being burnt out as they continuously found themselves behind the counter working in the business and not on it.
Money was not a problem, cashflows were good and they way the customers kept on pouring in, they were by far the biggest in the area.
They both had the vision of opening other stores in other areas and using the cash they accumulated to build a brand with a few chain stores, but they kept on putting it off with the age-old adage, “we don’t have the time”. Working with the brothers we kept on digging deeper as to what the real issue was for them not moving forward and what we found was that they kept on procrastinating their vision as they both had the fear that the store could not run without them and they had to be behind the sales counter.
After many frustrating months of changing their mindset and working with them to put in good processes in the store and finding the right manager, the brothers were finally ready to take the leap and move on to bigger things. Today they have opened up four other stores, built a successful online ecommerce platform and have also built a decent portfolio of other investments. Who knows how much more the brothers could have done had they started earlier.
“Procrastination is the thief of time”, Edward Young. Don’t procrastinate over what you need to do, now is the time to do it, to stay relevant, survive and thrive.
Iqbal Thokan is an experienced business management consultant and the founder and co-owner of breedingpositivity.com
Ex-University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe learned that doing something is always better than doing nothing.
Making thoughtful decisions is good. But thinking for too long before deciding is very, very bad, especially for a leader. If you don’t believe me, consider the fate of (newly) former University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe.
Wolfe made headlines earlier today when he announced his resignation. He had little choice. In a state that’s been ripped apart for more than a year after a white police officer shot a black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Wolfe’s been accused of indifference to the hostility facing Mizzou’s black students.
Whether he actually is indifferent may be up for debate. But one thing’s for sure: He’s been too slow to act and react, too slow to make decisions, and too slow to communicate his thoughts at every stage of this controversy. It’s a mistake that’s easy to make. As president of ASJA, I’ve made it myself. Being slow to react can derail a career at the best of times. Being slow to react during a time of crisis almost always leads to dire consequences.
For Wolfe and everyone else, here are some reasons it’s essential to make leadership decisions quickly:
1. Time may work against you.
It’s human nature to think that conditions don’t change, and that whatever you have to decide can wait a few hours, days, or weeks until you’ve given the question thorough consideration. But that’s almost never true–few situations stay static for long in our changing world. Sometimes waiting can work to your advantage, for instance when you’re trying to decide whether to fire someone and he or she decides to quit. More often, the situation will deteriorate while you decide what to do, as it did at UM.
2. Your lack of response creates more problems than responding would.
This is a lesson Wolfe learned the hard way. A month ago, a small but very well-organized group of black students linked arms in front of his car during the school’s homecoming parade and made short speeches about racial inequality throughout the history of UM. This went on for about 10 minutes, during which the protesters were confronted by some white onlookers and then joined by others, till they were finally removed by police. Wolfe sat in his car saying nothing throughout the entire event.
Any response–from ordering the students to move to getting out of the car to talk with them–would have been preferable to just sitting there. In his subsequent apology, Wolfe explained that he was not uncaring, he was “caught off guard in that moment.” But that apology came way too late.
In the weeks that followed the protest, Wolfe stayed silent while tempers continued to fray. On November 2, one of the protesters went on a hunger strike–after a swastika was drawn in feces on the wall of a new residence hall. In fact, he did not issue his apology until this past weekend–after 30 Mizzou football players, joined by their coach, announced they would refuse to play until Wolfe resigned and the hunger strike ended. This move raised the stakes considerably, since canceling an upcoming game with Brigham Young could have cost UM $1 million.
It’s fair to guess that without the football players’ stance, Wolfe never would have apologized. Even if that’s not true, the move was rightly seen as much too late.
3. Your late decision affects others in unexpected ways.
In one non-race-related example, the university delayed telling graduate students it would no longer give them payments toward their health plan expenses until 13 hours before those plans were to expire. The university cited an IRS rule prohibiting such payments–a rule administrators knew about at least three weeks earlier.
The last-minute announcement backfired, as they often can. Graduate students walked out and the administration had to backpedal, eventually paying its portion of the health plans via fellowships. In another unintended consequence, the school’s incensed graduate students (who often work as teaching assistants or in other roles) have begun the process of unionizing.
4. Few decisions are irreversible.
Let’s say Wolfe had taken steps to send the students to jail. That would have led to more protests, and would likely have been the wrong decision. He could always have reversed that decision later, freeing them, welcoming them to his office for dialogue, and making public his intention to create greater racial balance in the faculty and curriculum.
Most decisions you make can be changed at a later point. You may fear being seen as a flip-flopper. But giving a clear explanation of what inspired you to change your mind should mostly silence those critics. In any case, it’s much better to flip-flop than to do nothing at all.
5. It gives you the opportunity to apologize.
Even better, if you need to backtrack from a bad decision, you may get the chance to apologize. Apologizing is an incredibly powerful thing to do. It can defuse your harshest critics and gain you respect from most others. If, as in Wolfe’s case, you are seeking to mend fences with an angry group of constituents or customers, an apology can be a big help. And you’re likely to gain the respect of those on the sidelines who know it takes wisdom and insight to admit that you were wrong.
Two caveats though. First, your apology must be sincere or it won’t work. And whatever you do, don’t wait–as Wolfe did–until you obviously have no choice.
Procrastination is often described as the art of putting off until tomorrow what you should be doing today. Unfortunately it can be a big obstacle to business success. Here’s how to beat it.
What is procrastination?
All of us have felt it at one time or another – the desire to put things off. Maybe your ‘to do’ list is full of boring or daunting chores. You might be dreading catching up on your paperwork. Or perhaps you just can’t face dealing with a troublesome client.
So you procrastinate – you delay these tasks and do something else instead. Unfortunately that can lead to bigger problems.
If you’re having trouble completing some of your business tasks, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Beating procrastination is a challenge for us all. This guide will help you do it.
The science of procrastination
People who procrastinate are sometimes called lazy, but that’s not true. It’s more accurate to say that they have a conflict in their minds. That conflict takes place between the:
- prefrontal cortex, which is the brain’s planning center
- limbic system, which demands immediate reward
There are times when the limbic system’s drive for immediate gratification makes sense. But building and running a business isn’t one of them. That requires long-term planning by the prefrontal cortex.
Unfortunately it takes mental effort to engage that part of the brain. Yet the limbic system will kick in at any time – if given the chance.
A mental image of procrastination
Understanding your mind is the key to beating procrastination. To help with this, imagine two people in a boardroom:
- One is a serious individual who concentrates on the task in hand. This is your prefrontal cortex.
- The other is an impulsive child with no self-control. This is your limbic system.
You can see the problem. Only one of these characters should be running your business. It’s important to recognize when the limbic system is fighting for the controls. That’s not always easy in a world full of distractions.
By some measures, we’re five times more likely to procrastinate today than we were in the 1970s. The internet and mobile devices have had a lot to do with that. The first step in beating procrastination is to realize when it’s happening to you.
How to recognize procrastination
According to Joseph Ferrari of DePaul University, Chicago, procrastinators generally:
- overestimate how much time they have left to do a task
- believe tasks take less time than they really do
- think they’ll feel more motivated to do tasks later
- feel it’s suboptimal to work on a task when they’re not in the mood for it
The last point is particularly tough for business owners. We’d all like to be at our best when dealing with big issues. Unfortunately that’s not always possible.
Once you’re aware of these signs, you’ll probably notice them in your own behavior. Luckily, beating procrastination is possible. But you’ll need to take sensible steps to achieve it.
Beating procrastination – 12 top tips
- Prune your ‘to do’ list
‘To do’ lists aren’t always useful. Sometimes they make the situation worse. Many people feel daunted when faced with a long list of things they ‘must’ do. They become demoralised and end up doing nothing. So cut your list down to the bare essentials.
- Share the load
Delegation is one of the hardest things for business owners to do, but it’s vital. Learn to give up some control and put faith in your employees. And consider offloading routine tasks to service companies. You should save your energy for the big items.
- Break it down
Nobody can concentrate for hours at a time on a single task. Break big jobs down. You could try the Pomodoro technique of doing 25-minute sprints, for example. This is part of good time management for small business owners.
- Disconnect yourself
As anyone with a deadline knows, an internet connection can be the enemy of productive work. When you really have to concentrate, set aside some time – an hour or a whole day – then go offline to work without distraction.
- Don’t wait for the perfect moment
Do something now, even if you feel you’re not in the right mood. Making a start on a task is often the biggest step. It’ll be easier to come back and continue it, rather than starting from scratch later. It will help put you in the right frame of mind, too.
- Schedule your work sensibly
Use your natural rhythms to your advantage. Schedule big jobs for the morning if you’re an early bird, or evenings if you’re a night owl. And try to avoid doing heavy tasks in mid-afternoon. Most people suffer a physiological lull at this time, making them less productive.
- Find an app that works for you
There are plenty of apps available for beating procrastination, like:
- Freedom, which blocks distracting apps and websites
- Write Room (Mac) and Dark Room (Windows) which make the doc you’re working on take up the whole screen
- MeeTimer, which is a Firefox add-on that reports your browsing behavior so you can see where you’re wasting time
Find one that works for you.
- Sandwich your tasks
If there’s something you really don’t want to do, schedule it between two tasks that you enjoy. The first enjoyable task will set your frame of mind, and the later one will give you something to look forward to. If all your tasks are tough, try time-traveling – a mental technique where you imagine how good it’ll feel when you’re done.
- Make habits work for you
Schedule recurring tasks for the same time of the day or week so they become a habit. Forming a habit moves a task into areas of the brain that deal with automation – and you’ll be less likely to procrastinate.
- Create the right working environment
If you have a home office, make sure it’s in a separate room and keep fixed working hours. When you separate business and pleasure you’re less likely to drift from one to the other.
- Get a computer to do it
You’ll be surprised how many mundane tasks can be automated. Let technology streamline dreaded jobs, such as:
- inventory management
- expense reporting
- Reward success
Give yourself something when you complete a tedious task. Whether it’s a mental pat on the back or a more tangible reward, this is important. It’ll help you feel good about beating procrastination. That will make it easier to achieve next time.
Get it done – and don’t feel stressed about it
Procrastinators sometimes believe that they perform better under pressure. But in fact they tend to perform worse than their peers, according to a study by Dianne Tice and Roy Baumeister of Florida University. They’re also more likely to suffer from stress.
So beating procrastination is vital if you want to perform to the best of your abilities, and also stay happy and healthy. That’s all the incentive you need to get started – right now.
If we weren’t human beings but, instead, totally rational robots, time management would be easy. We’d just program in some time management algorithms and we’d be done with time management forever.
But humans don’t work that way, and the sooner you accept that you are an irrational human, the sooner you can start working to offset some of the more severe human shortcomings.
When it comes to time management, one of the most severe and pervasive problems is procrastination. And it’s worth spending some time examining it.
In Marshall Cook’s book with the rather simple title of Time Management (which I published at Adams Media), he came up with a rather clever section heading entitled “Five Reasons Why We Procrastinate and Five Strategies to Put Off Putting Off!”
Here are Cook’s reasons we procrastinate:
Reason 1: You Haven’t Really Committed to Doing the Job
Cook says when he teaches a workshop for would-be novelists, he often starts by asking them why they want to write a novel. Such an extended project, after all, demands a huge commitment of time, energy, and emotion. Most of the answers he gets fall into one of three categories.
The first reason, simply stated, is that the writer feels good while writing or, conversely, feels wretched when denied the opportunity to write. For some, writing seems to be almost an addiction or a compulsion, although a relatively harmless one.
The second reason clusters around the notion of communication and storytelling: “I have something to say, and a novel seems to be the best way to say it,” or “I’ve got a story I want or need to tell.” I’ve even heard folks say that the story seems to be using them to get itself told.
The third reason stems from the mistaken notion that novelists become rich and famous with relatively little effort. Many of the folks in this group don’t want to write a novel; they want to have already written a novel, so they can reap the supposed rewards.
Most of the people in the first category and many in the second actually go on to write that novel. Few in the third group ever do.
Occasionally, Cook says, he gets a reason that doesn’t fall into any of these categories. “My English teacher back in good old P.S. 134 said I’d make a good novelist,” one student might say, while another might state, “Folks in my book group think my life story would be inspirational.” Assuming that they aren’t being coy, that they don’t really mean, “I think I’d make a great novelist,” or “I think my life story would be inspirational,” my response to this sort of reasoning borders on Mom’s old admonition: “If somebody told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?”
The key here is the source of the motivation. We generally don’t need to prioritize or otherwise force or trick ourselves into performing actions that are internally motivated. But the more the source of the motivation comes from the outside – the English teacher or the book club or the mate or the boss or any other external source – the less likely we are to complete the project.
Do you know anyone who got into the family bakery business, or became a lawyer, or joined the Marines because somebody expected or demanded it? If so, you probably know an unhappy baker or lawyer or Marine.
You may chronically put off an activity because you aren’t really sold on doing it at all. Reasons might include:
- You don’t think it’s your job.
- You think it’s somebody else’s job.
- The job’s a waste of time.
If that’s the case, you need to answer two fundamental questions:
- What’s in it for me if I do it?
- What will happen to me if I don’t?
The first question may redirect and increase your motivation. You’re no longer doing it because someone said you should. You’re doing it to impress a boss, help a friend, make money, or get to a task you really enjoy.
The second question is the negative of the first. Your motivation may become avoidance of something unpleasant, like a lousy job evaluation, an angry and alienated spouse, or a disappointed child, for example.
If you can find no internal motivation – no benefit for doing the job and no penalty for not doing it – you may well decide not to do it at all.
Even if you can see a benefit to doing the job, you may still decide that the costs in time and energy (and whether the job prevents you from doing other things) outweigh the benefits. In that case, you can:
- Do what you have to do to get out of the job. That’s not the same thing as simply putting it off. This is a definitive decision not to do it and to accept the consequences, if any. In the long run, that sort of decision costs less in time and stress than the passive resistance of procrastination.
- Do it anyway, but for your own reasons.
Reason 2: You’re Afraid of the Job
Fear of doing a task is a hard thing for many of us to admit to ourselves, let alone to someone else. But it may be what’s keeping you from doing a job you need and want to accomplish. If you can identify your reluctance as fear and track it to its source, you can deal with the problem and get on with completing the job.
Here are three of the most common varieties of performance anxiety:
- Fear of failure. Consider the student who never studies and flunks out. He can always tell himself, “If I had studied, I would have passed the stupid course.” But what if he had studied and still failed? For most of us, “won’t” is a lot easier to deal with than “can’t.” If you don’t try, you don’t have to confront the possibility that you can’t do it.
- Fear of success. On the other hand, if you do pass the course, folks will expect you to do it again, or to go out and get a job, or to apply what you’ve learned. If you never try, you’ll never have to face the consequences of success.
- Fear of finishing. “If I pass the course, I’ll graduate. If I graduate, I’ll . . .” You’ll what? If you don’t pass the course, you’ll never have to find out what happens next. If you never write the novel, you’ll never have to know whether a publisher would have rejected it. If you don’t finish basic training, you’ll never have to know whether you could have really hacked it in the military.
Sometimes not knowing seems more acceptable than the possible consequences of finding out for sure. But how sad to let such fears prevent you from ever trying.
Identify your fear. Give it a name and confront it. Imagine the consequences of your actions or non-actions as objectively as you can.
The fear won’t go away. But if the goal is worth pursuing, you’ll be able to act despite the fear.
Reason 3: You Don’t Place a High Priority on the Activity
You’re sold on the idea that somebody ought to do the task. You’ll even agree, if pressed, that you’re the person to do it. You may even actually want to do it.
But you just don’t want or need to do it enough, and there are always things you seem to want or need to do more.
Thus, the poor task – cleaning the leaves out of the rain gutters in autumn, to cite a mundane example – keeps getting bumped down the list below other, more pressing jobs. You’ve got to go grocery shopping first, because you won’t have anything to eat if you don’t. You’ve got to mow the lawn next, because it will look awful if you don’t. And, anyway, nobody can see the leaves in the rain gutters.
This sort of procrastination may eventually work itself out. As the other tasks get done, those leafy gutters work their way up the list. Or the problem may take on a higher priority after the first hard rain of the season.
Establishing priorities is subjective, especially when dealing with activities that are neither urgent nor particularly important relative to other activities. Take a look at the job that just isn’t getting done and see if you can redefine it in terms of the ultimate benefit you’ll receive for doing it.
In your first time through this process, this definition may be negative:
“If I don’t clean out the rain gutters, there’ll be a flood in the garden after the first hard rain.”
But positive motivations tend to be much stronger, so try recasting the problem in the positive form:
“If I clean out the rain gutters, I’ll protect my garden from flooding.”
Is that important to you?
Finally, are there other ancillary benefits to getting the task done?
- “I’ll finally stop worrying about it.”
- “I’ll get some nice exercise out in the sunshine.”
- “I can listen to a ball game on the radio while I work.”
Are these considerations enough to move the task up the list? If so, get at it. But if they are not, you must either resign yourself to living with the consequences of your non-action or find a way to get the job done without actually having to do it. You could, for example, hire the neighbor kid, thus trading money for time. Or you could add an ancillary benefit to your list (“It won’t cost anything if I do it myself”), tipping the balance in favor of doing it.
Reason 4: You Don’t Know Enough to Do the Task
When I get “writer’s block,” it’s often my subconscious mind’s helpful way of suggesting that I don’t really know what the hell I’m talking about.
This is true for other sorts of motivational blocks as well. You may simply not know enough to do the job right. You haven’t consciously recognized or admitted this to yourself, but you know it deep down, and this knowledge is manifesting itself in strong aversion.
Gather the information you need. If all else fails, read the directions (a desperate last resort for many of us). Then plunge into the task.
Learn to discern between the legitimate need to gather information and a stalling mechanism whereby reading the book or going to talk to the guy at the hardware store is simply a way to put off the job.
If your problem is lack of “want to” rather than lack of information, you’ll need a different strategy, namely, what to do when…
Reason 5: You Just Plain Don’t Wanna!
On a preference scale of 1 to 10, giving Rover his flea bath rates a minus-2.
It isn’t merely unpleasant. It isn’t merely disgusting. It’s downright dangerous. Rover does not like his flea bath. The last time you tried this little experiment in torture, you wound up scratched, Rover was traumatized, and the bathroom looked as if it had been hit by a tidal wave. Meanwhile, the fleas are back and Rover is scratching. If you don’t do something, and fast, you’ll have fleas all over the house.
You’ve got two choices, and you don’t need a book on time management to tell you what they are:
- Gut it out and do it, or
- Farm it out.
You can either put on the old raincoat, put a tarp down around the tub, and pop Rover into the suds. Or you can make an appointment with your friendly neighborhood dog groomer.
So identify the reasons for the procrastination. Confront your attitudes and fears. Weigh the consequences. Then deal with it.
Sometimes doing the tasks we’d rather put off is tough, but actually putting it off can be tougher.