Many business owners end up sabotaging their own business without ever having intended to do so. Self-sabotage means damaging your own credibility or competence. There are many reasons we sabotage our own efforts, mostly tied to fear or apprehension, low self-esteem, or lack of motivation. In a survey asking people to name the most common ways they have sabotoged themselves, clinical psychologist Dan Neuharth found that procrastination was at the top of the list. Procrastination is the act of putting off until later the things we—and our businesses— should be doing now.
Procrastination is not only a form of self-sabotage, it is also a major source of stress. As you probably know, stress is damaging both physically and mentally. If procrastination is stressful and ultimately damaging, then why do we do it? The obvious benefit is that we can put off an unpleasant task until some later time. Hidden benefits of procrastination exist as well. These include being able to get back at people who are making demands on us, being able to avoid unpleasant tasks, and perhaps getting to feel special by not working as hard as our subordinates.
Steps to Stop Procrastinating. Procrastination is an intentional choice. Because we have made a choice to procrastinate, we can also make a choice to stop procrastinating. The following suggestions can help us get started on those tasks we put off.
• Get going on the task. Don’t wait for motivation to appear on its own, as if by magic. When you get started with a task or project, the motivation will begin to come to you. It doesn’t take long to get on a roll, or get up the momentum, to keep going and complete the task.
• Make a plan. It is easier to say to ourselves that we will get a task started “one of these days” than it is to actually begin the task. Instead of putting it off, make a plan. When will you start it? Today? At what time? What pieces of the project will you do today? How much time will you spend today on each part that you’ve planned for today?
• Reduce the task to smaller components. Break big projects or jobs down into smaller parts. Start with, say, 30 minutes of work on a project before switching to something else. You don’t need to do it all at once. When you look at a task in its entirety, chances are you may feel too overwhelmed to get started. Plan the smaller piece you will do today, finish that part, and then you can decide either to quit for the day, or go ahead and work on another part.
• Think positive. What negative thoughts are you having about yourself and this task? Think about what is making you put it off. Does failing to complete the project make you feel you are a loser? Do you feel insecure in worrying that customers or subordinates will belittle your work? Are you afraid your work will be wrong? Concentrate on replacing negative thoughts with more reasonable and positive thoughts.
• Reward yourself along the way. Give yourself a small reward after finishing each smaller task. There is no need to wait for the entire project to be finished first. You will find a boost to productivity and self-esteem when you give yourself a reward in the form of self-congratulation, a short break, taking a walk, renting a movie you’ve been waiting to see, or fixing up a treat from the kitchen.
• Give yourself credit. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. You need not have completed the entire project in order to give yourself some credit; you can still recognize the parts of the job that you did finish. Congratulate yourself for managing your time efficiently. And give yourself credit for not procrastinating!
When your business is freed from an owner who puts things off, productivity is bound to increase. You and your business will be the ones to benefit the most.
Lowell H. Lamberton is Professor of Management at Central Oregon Community College. You may call Professor Lamberton at541/ 383-7714 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.